Ovechkin Leads Caps Again
Alexander Ovechkin scored two more goals tonight to push his league leading season total to 54 in a Caps 3-1 win at Buffalo. The Great #8 also set up the other Caps goal with a hit at the blueline (Sabres fans wanted a penalty call but in my opinion it looked like the Buffalo player lost his balance) that led to Nicklas Backstrom’s 11th goal of the season to make the game 2-1 in the second period. Backstrom once again turned in a phenomenal performance and his pass to Ovechkin that led to the game’s first goal might have been the best pass I’ve seen all year. Backstrom hit Ovechkin in stride with a long range bomb from just past the Caps goal line to just before the Sabres blue line. The thing that made the pass so amazing was that Backstrom saucered the puck over the stick of a Sabres player who was standing at the Caps blueline and then it landed flat and slid smoothly onto Ovechkin’s stick. From there Alexander the Great skated in and deked Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller down and slid the puck around him into the vacated net. It was definitely a highlight goal. While Ovechkin is making a case for the Hart Trophy that will go to the league’s MVP, Backstrom is showing that he should be the front runner for the Calder Trophy that goes to the NHL’s Rookie of the Year. If the Caps make the playoffs both of these guys should get those respective awards.
Another key component of tonight’s win was the very solid play of Caps goalie Olie Kolzig who stopped 25 of 26 shots. Kolzig played well and the Caps defense did a superb job of limiting any second shots and allowed Olie to see the first shot on many occasions. When the goalie sees the first shot there rarely is a rebound and Washington’s defense played very well tonight doing just that on most occassions. Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn logged over 25 minutes of ice time and Mike Green and Tom Poti each chipped in over 23 minutes on defense allowing Coach Bruce Boudreau to limit the amount of ice time he had to give to his number four through six defensemen making those three guys (Jeff Schultz, Milan Jurcina, and John Erskine) much more effective.
The luxury of three goalies: With goalie Cristobal Huet out of the lineup tonight due to back spasms third goalie Brent Johnson was almost called into action when Kolzig was run into by Buffalo in the second period. Kolzig appeared to get hit in the neck but shook it off and stayed in the game.
The only goal the Caps gave up was a power play tally in the second period (Kolzig was screened by Tomas Vanek). Buffalo was just 1 of 5 on the power play and the Caps did a very good job of killing penalties. As for the Caps power play, well there were none until 20 seconds to go in the game!
Washington has now won four of its last five games and by adding Sergei Federov and Matt Cooke to the team Boudreau has more talent and depth and he can continue to roll his lines and keep the Caps playing the up tempo, aggressive forechecking game that makes this team successful. The Caps did a great job of causing chaos for the Sabres in their own zone tonight and did not allow Buffalo to get their free wheeling skating game going. Credit should go to the grinders such as Cooke, Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich, and Dave Steckel who neutralized a good group of Buffalo forwards.
All in all this was a total Caps team effort in Buffalo and will be one that Boudreau will be hard pressed to find things to correct. The only things that he might be able to pick on were the penalties.
This was a very critical road win for Washington because Carolina did the expected and beat up on the hapless Atlanta Thrashers tonight, 6-3, thanks to another big game from red hot forward Eric Staal. The Hurricanes are 20-5-3 when Staal scores a goal. The Caps still trail Carolina by three points (75 to 72) for first place in the Southeast Division but do have a game in hand. More importantly, Washington crept closer to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference now finding themselves only two points behind the Philadelphia Flyers (74 points). The Flyers do have a game in hand on Washington. Sandwiched between the Caps and Flyers and in ninth place are the Sabres at 73 points.
Wednesday afternoon’s on Hockey Night in Canada Radio (Sirius Channel 122) are always interesting to me because former NHL goalie Kelly Hrudey is on the air with host Jeff Marek. Today we got to hear an interesting story about the pre-game habits of former Islanders goalie Billy Smith (he of four Stanley Cup rings). As many of you know, goalies tend to be a different breed, and according to Hrudey, Smith was often found reading a Louis L’Amour novel before each game. Hrudey said that one of the great features of legendary Islanders coach Al Arbour was that he let the players do whatever they felt comfortable with before the game. He didn’t make guys turn off the radio or not play ping-pong as long as they produced come game time.
As I suspected in my blog yesterday there is indeed something wrong with Ottawa Senators forward Daniel Alfredsson and he is sitting out the contest with the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night due to back spasms.
Speaking of the Sharks, San Jose is on a tear since they acquired puck moving defensemen Brian Campbell from Buffalo at last week’s trading deadline and have won all four games he has played in. Another big help has been the sudden resurgence of center Patrick Marleau who has reportedly feuded with Coach Ron Wilson most of this year. According to Hrudey, who says he’s traded voice messages with Marleau, the Sharks forward’s resurgence has more to do with him feeling better overall and he hasn’t asked him about any reconciliation with Coach Wilson.
Defensemen Brian Rafalski returned to the line-up tonight for the Detroit Red Wings and he scored a goal to help lift Detroit to a 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues. Rafalski played 21 minutes in his first game back after missing the previous eight contests with a groin injury. Nicklas Lidstrom and Chris Chelios are still out with injuries on defense for the Wings.
Caps fans all become Minnesota Wild fans Thursday night as Marian Gaborik and company take on the Carolina Hurricanes at 7pm in Raleigh. If you have the Centre Ice package and can stay up late, I recommend tuning in to the Nashville Predators-Vancouver Canucks contest on Thursday at 10pm. Both teams are fighting for the last couple of playoffs spots in the Western Conference. The Predators are currently in 8th place with 76 points and the Canucks are in ninth with 74 points. Nashville has played one more game than Vancouver.