On Sunday night I blogged about the Washington Capitals trying to find some consistency after an uneven opening nine game stretch that still saw them win seven of those contests. Tonight, against the Anaheim Ducks, the Caps continued their “Clint Eastwood” version of hockey as they were both bad and ugly in the game’s first 30+ minutes to fall behind 3-0, before the good came in waves en route to a 5-4 overtime victory. Nicklas Backstrom tied the game with Tomas Vokoun (11 saves) on the bench with 42 seconds left, then he won it 2:18 into overtime on a great pass from Jeff Schultz. Washington got a superb performance from their third line of Joel Ward, Brooks Laich, and Jason Chimera while the Ducks rode the Saku Koivu, Teemu Selanne, and Andrew Cogliano unit for the first part of the game. The win improves the Capitals to 8-2 heading into Friday night’s tilt in Carolina against the Hurricanes.
Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis of the Caps sixth home win in six tries this season (1st time in Capitals franchise history):
– How good were Saku Koivu (1 goal, 1 assist, +3) and Teemu Selanne (2 goals, 2 assists, +3) in the game’s first 30 minutes?! Those two seemingly ageless hockey players made the Caps defense, particularly Roman Hamrlik (-3 and on for all four Ducks tallies), look silly. I’ve seen several Anaheim games this year and it looks like the 41 year old #8 could play another five years the way he moves on the ice. What a great player! Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau felt that the Ducks were flying early but he was also smart to keep rolling all four of his lines and that paid off over the second half of this contest as Washington wore down Anaheim.
“It’s really difficult to keep up the pace they had in the first 30 minutes. It was like, ‘Whoa, are they fast?!’ We just stayed close enough. I thought when they got the fourth goal it might be something. It says a lot for the resiliency of the team. The third goal that we got (by Troy Brouwer), which might have been a bit on the lucky side, it sort of bouyed the guys up again and reinvigorated them. After that they thought they were going to tie it, they believed they were going to tie it,” said Boudreau on his club, who out shot Anaheim 40-15 in the game, including 31-9 over the last 42:18.
– The third line of Laich-Ward-Chimera continues to be Washington’s best through the first 10 games. That lunchpail crew is big, skates well, and are tireless workers. They were a combined +9 and had 7 points among them. Credit Boudreau for deciding to put that unit out with Backstrom with the goalie pulled late instead of using Alex Ovechkin(1 assist) or Alex Semin. Both the Gr8 and #28 were not getting it done, particularly Ovie, who just seemed to fight the puck all night. When he carried the puck, he should’ve been passing or dumping it, and vice versa, but over the course of 82 games those things will happen. The good thing though was that when his number was called in OT, he went to the front of the Ducks net and distracted Jonas Hiller (35 saves), allowing Backstrom to pot the winner. Some people will look to villify Alexander the Great for being sat on the bench late in regulation but when his coach put him on the ice in OT, he did what he could to help his team win the game. That’s leadership in my book.
– Those who’ve followed this blog know that I have been praising Backstrom’s play in the early going particularly pointing out his improved strength and conditioning. #19 seems to have his upper body strength back after a bad shoulder injury that he suffered against the Canadiens in the 2010 playoffs. He also is a step quicker then he was last season. The result is four goals and 10 assists in 10 games.
“I thought Nicky was going to do something. I didn’t know about the overtime thing though,” added Boudreau on his player decisions late in regulation.
– The Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan line is arguably the best in the NHL but tonight they were a combined -6. Perry drew a penalty on Vokoun and then scored on the ensuing power play to make it 4-2, but overall he was neutralized well by Washington. Size doesn’t seem to hurt the Capitals defense but they have been having some issues with speed lately, especially with Mike Green out of the lineup. The good news is #52 practiced on Tuesday and will likely do so again on Wednesday. So there is a strong possibility he will be back on the ice on Friday in Raleigh.
– John Erskine returned from shoulder surgery allowing the Caps to ship d-man Sean Collins back to Hershey. For his first game this season #4 was outstanding with an assist and a +1 rating. In addition, Cody Eakin received his first NHL start and he skated well also nearly scoring on a couple of occassions. He did weaken late but for his debut in “The Show” he more than passed the test.
“With John I was really, really pleasantly surprised. He looked like he didn’t miss a beat. He’s probably pretty tired right now, but I thought he played a great game. Considering he’s been off for so long and hasn’t even had a meaningful scrimmage yet,” said Boudreau on the left handed defenseman.
“He handled himself quite admirably…You can see he can skate with these guys…I thought he was going to score on his first shift,” started Boudreau on Eakin, who also pointed out that #50 did get nervous in the third period and had a bad giveaway.
– In summary, tonight’s game once again proved that this Capitals squad is not a one line team. They are very talented up front and when playing five on five hockey are very hard to beat. They are big and can wear opposing teams down when they stick to the coaches game plan of getting pucks deep and working the cycle. The special teams were off in this one as the Ducks scored on their only power play while the Caps went 0 for 3 with the man advantage. A big part of the issue on special teams is the absence of Green, but other guys need to pick up the slack. At the end of the night Boudreau, who sometimes does not get the credit he deserves, pushed all of the right buttons in this thrilling comeback victory. He stuck to his game plan, changed up his d-pairs when Hamrlik and Wideman were struggling together, and he went with the right four forwards when the chips were down late. Those moves played a role in the win and should not be overlooked at all.
Notes: Karl Alzner unsuspectingly went +3 on the night in 18:02 of ice time. #27 is so smooth sometimes you don’t even notice him…Wideman (1 goal, 1 assist, +1) played well after struggling early when paired with Hamrlik…Anahiem won 30 of the 56 draws with Marcus Johansson the best Capital at 10-7. Backstrom only won 6 of 18 face-offs…Brouwer got hit awkwardly into the right wing boards late in regulation and did not return. It could be a right shoulder injury so stay tuned.