Nicklas Backstrom notched his fifth two goal game of the season and also added an assist to lead the Washington Capitals to a 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night at sold out Verizon Center. The Caps are now 26-11-6 on the season and continue to dominate teams at home improving to 14-3-3 at the phone booth. No other NHL club has fewer regulation home losses and only San Jose is tied with Washington. Jose Theodore made his first start in 2010 and earned his first victory since December 15th when he defeated the Avalanche in Colorado.
Let’s get to the highlights, quotes, and analysis:
The Caps played a very good first period outshooting the Sens 13-8 while taking a two goal lead, were a little too loose in the middle period when they failed on two power plays and gave up a late Senators tally that cut their lead in half, then came out smoking in the third period scoring three straight before allowing a consolation goal to Ottawa late.
Backstrom was the game’s number one star and he had Ottawa goalie Pascal Leclaire’s number scoring from a severe angle to start the 3rd period then faked him out of position at the left post and completed a wraparound for the tally that made it 4-1.
“The 3rd period was a very important goal and it was an important win for us,” said the game’s number one star.
Washington is now 2-0 with Alexander Ovechkin as team captain. The Great #8 (1 goal, 1 assist, 10 shots on goal, +4) was all over the ice again and he absolutely abused Matt Carkner on the rush that led to his backhand goal late in the contest. Wearing the “C”, which can be a difficult thing for a player, has actually elevated Ovechkin’s game, if that is possible.
This victory was likely biggest for Theodore who has struggled with his focus and rebound control since November. He did not have issues with either of those on Thursday night and neither goal was his fault. Ottawa’s first tally went in off of Mike Green’s skate and the second, in the final minute of the game by Jonathan Cheechoo, came with the Senator all alone in front on the Washington goaltender and no Cap defender in sight. The 2002 Hart Trophy winner has had the tough job of sitting and watching rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth get the nod in six of the previous seven starts.
“It is not an easy position, there is always somebody behind you pushing. It was like that alot on other teams I played for in the last 12 years. I did not play alot the last couple of weeks, but I worked hard in practice and Bruce had really good practices with a lot of shooting to get me ready tonight. Right off the bat I felt like I controlled the game, controlled my rebounds, which is something I’ve been working on the last couple of days,” said Theodore, who is now 10-6-4 on the 2009-10 campaign.
“Tonight was just a solid game from every aspect. D-men played well, PK played well at forward, it was just a solid win. Tonight was a solid 60 minutes effort and on my part, I am just gonna build on that game and keep working at it. I am just going to be ready for every game, there are 40 games left. I just want to get the ball rolling and get on a really good groove and from there make the decision easier for the coaching staff,” added #60 on the play of the team and his focus for the second half of the season.
“Theo showed today why he is a good goalie,” added Backstrom.
If Theodore can regain his form then Washington will have three good goalies (#60, Neuvirth, and Semyon Varlamov) at the NHL level and make things very interesting for Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and GM George McPhee. In addition, Braden Holtby, who was drafted in 2008, has been very good in both South Carolina with the Stingrays and now with Hershey in the AHL this season, so the Caps are loaded with excellent goaltending in the system.
Speaking of goaltending, it was weak for Ottawa coach Cory Clouston as Leclaire (33 saves) gave up three very shaky tallies (Backstrom’s two goals and Mike Knuble’s wrister from the top of the right wing circle in the first period). Leclaire made some excellent stops tonight, a good glove save on Alexander Semin’s early game breakaway slapper and Tomas Fleischmann’s quality opportunity in the third period come to mind, but he could not make the routine ones and nothing deflates a team like a goalie giving up a soft goal.
“Probably inconsistent. He made a couple of key saves there in the second which allowed us to score that goal. But the first shift in the third period – that goal really seemed to break our back,” said Clouston when asked about his goaltending against the Caps.
Washington scored in the first period for the just the first time in five contests and it was the fourth line that broke that streak. Dave Steckel, Matt Bradley, and Boyd Gordon came down the ice on a 3 on 2 break and after #39 over passed from the slot, the line kept chugging and their relentless pressure led to Gordon notching his first tally of the season while laying on the ice. #15’s shot beat Leclaire upstairs and helped the Caps get their opening stanza swagger back. Gordon, who has battled back issues all season, was happy to contribute on Thusday.
“It has been kind of an up and down year for me; kind of like starting the season again right now. But I am getting more and more comfortable and hopefully sailing up. You have to adjust your game speed. You can skate all day in practice, but in games it’s a little bit different. It will come and hopefully it keeps getting better,” added the 2002 Caps 1st round pick and penalty killing specialist.
On defense, Washington was pretty good except for a couple of breakdowns with John Erskine rebounding with a much better effort after four shaky ones.
“The defense has been doing their job. They’re vastly underrated and you get Brian [Pothier] in there today and you don’t miss a beat. It’s an underrated defense that I don’t think will ever get the appreciation,” said Boudreau on his Rodney Dangerfield-like defense.
Boudreau’s decision to move Fleischmann to center for the last two games is also looking to be a wise move and Flash was 12-3 on face-offs on Thursday.
Next up for the Caps is a three game road trip that starts Saturday night in Atlanta. The Thrashers are in second place in the Southeast Division, 14 points behind Washington.