It was pretty much a meaningless game for the Washington Capitals on Monday night against a very desperate Boston Bruins squad yet the Caps received some great goaltending from Jose Theodore (28 saves) to keep things even and then Brooks Laich scored a power play goal in overtime to lead the 2009-10 Presidents’ Trophy winners to a 3-2 victory. The win at sold out Verizon Center pushed the Caps overall mark to another club record at 52-15-12 (116 points) with three games remaining. For Boston, they recieved a point but they have to be disappointed that they couldn’t defeat a Washington team that, at times, went through the motions, and were also without their best defenseman, Mike Green, who was given the night off by Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau.
Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, stats, and analysis:
That two game blip last week by Jose Theodore is now a distant memory. #60, who mentioned after the win in Columbus on Saturday that he worked with goaltending Coach Arturs Irbe to correct some technical issues, was simply sensational, as Caps television play-by-play man Joe Beninati would say. Theo, who played behind a defense that struggled quite a bit on Monday, particularly the pairing of Tyler Sloan and John Erskine, was super at not giving up rebounds and gloving or freezing the puck on several occassions when the Bruins were threatening. The sequence in the first period where he made three straight saves, with the third acheived by trapping the puck between his skates, was amazing. The only two markers that got past him were a screened and deflected point blast with 1.6 seconds remaining in the first period and then a partial breakaway goal by Patrice Bergeron.
“They came charging the net and I was able just to pretty much react. I didn’t really know what happened, but when you’re in your game you make those desperation saves and I got lucky to be able to react on both saves,” added Theodore on his huge saves in period one.
The other good news on the evening was the return to form of Alexander Ovechkin. The Great #8 basically set up all three Caps goals but only received two assists. On the first tally, a Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 2 assists) shot that just trickled by Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask (27 saves) and needed a six minute plus review to confirm, Ovechkin made a super cross ice pass to set up #19 all alone in the slot. Then on the goal that tied this one at two late in the second period, Ovie took a deft Backstrom feed at the Bruins blue line, stormed down the left wing, flicked the puck in front, and it hit #22, who was doing a good job of going to the net, and #22 outmuscled Zdeno Chara to knock it home. Finally, when Washington received a power play in overtime (Dennis Wideman was whistled for a high stick on Tomas Fleischmann), an errant clear was blocked nicely inside the blue line by Ovie, who fed Backstrom at the right wing circle. #19 then slid a slick cross ice pass across the Bruins triangle to Alexander Semin (1 assist), who fired it on net and it went right to Laich, who tapped it home for his career high 25th goal of the season.
The thing I liked about Ovechkin tonight was that his moves were more of the north-south variety and less of the east-west kind that were leading to turnovers. The Great #8 made a point to drive harder to the net and he nearly scored on a backhander off of a powerful move in the second period but Rask stood tall to make a nice stop. Ovie had 6 shots on goal in just 18:14 of ice time! He also had three hits and was more physically involved. Ovechkin is now at 46 goals and 58 assists, just two points behind league leader Henrik Sedin of Vancouver in the race for the Art Ross Trophy.
“He competed. He got involved. He wasn’t afraid to hit today. Well, he’s never afraid, but ever since that suspension, I think it has been on his mind. When he was going in and hitting guys, he was turning away a bit. He’s got to be him. I said, ‘You’re not a dirty player, so just play the way you normally play’. Yeah, that’s the first multiple-point game he has had in a while. You can see him getting on the cusp of breaking out. That’s a positive sign,” said Boudreau, basically warning the rest of the NHL that the Ovechkin onslaught is cueing up just in time for the playoffs.
Laich, who is still playing with the full cage like a college hockey player (protecting a fractured facial bone), took a bad tripping penalty with 5:01 to go in the third period but Washington’s PK unit was strong, anchored by Theodore, and made their third consecutive kill of the evening. #21 paid his team back with the winning goal and it is no surprise that the club is 3-0 since he returned from injury. Laich was interviewed after the game on Versus and had the following to say:
On his GWG: “That’s how we scored our second one too going to the net. They play very tight defensively, they don’t give up many goals. We wanted to get traffic in front, we got a lucky break at the end. We were able to capitalize on it so for us it was a good win.”
On teams trying to play physical on Washington: “We’re gonna have to play really physical because I think every team looks at us as a very talented, very skilled team and they are going to try and play physical on us so we have to be prepared for that. I think we play our best hockey when we are physical and aggressive on the forecheck and turning their defense around and attacking them.”
On if the team took their foot off of the gas with the Prez Trophy locked up: “No, I get upset when people ask me that. We try and work hard. We want good habits going into the playoffs. The Presidents’ Trophy is wrapped up now but there is still club records that we can achieve. There are still things we can achieve in the regular season. We want to iron out our game and make sure we are playing as well as we can going into the playoffs.”
So after watching this one I would prefer that the Caps face Boston in the first round instead of the Canadiens, Rangers, or Flyers. The Bruins struggle to score and Washington matches up well with them. Don’t forget, in addition to Green resting, Boudreau was without defenseman John Carlson, who is still nursing an injury. The Sloan and Erskine pairing was not very good prompting many to wonder that if one of the regular top 6 d-men were injured (Green, Carlson Joe Corvo, Tom Poti, Shaone Morrisonn, and Jeff Schultz) in the post season that perhaps Karl Alzner might be recalled (if Milan Jurcina was not ready to play as well)? The answer is not clear but the bottom line is if Erskine and Sloan don’t improve over these next four games then it would be a scary situation for Boudreau to have to insert them in the post season if one of the regulars were injured.
It was good see Green get some rest because Washington needs #52 at 100% for the post season, something they lacked in the 2009 playoffs. With tomorrow night’s tilt in Pittsburgh also pretty much meaningless it will be interesting to see what line-up Boudreau goes with? There is talk of Hershey goalie Braden Holty being called up for the contest, although the Bears are in Syracuse on Tuesday night, and I would not be surprised if some other regulars are given the night off. The 2007-08 Jack Adams trophy winner did do a good job of keeping the ice time for his club fairly equal against Boston. No forward logged over 19 minutes and only Poti (23:23), Schultz (22:53), and Corvo (20:26) went over 20 minutes on defense.
Neat Stats courtesy of the Caps super PR team:
– The Capitals are now 29-5-5 at Verizon Center, and with two home games left are within reach of the club record for home wins (30) and home points (62).
– The Capitals have scored first in three consecutive games, and are now 36-7-6 on the season in games where they score first.
– The Capitals are perfect in their last three games on the penalty kill (9-for-9) and improved to 29-2-3 on the season when their opponent fails to score on the power play.
Bad stat of night: Washington lost the face-off battle 34-26. Digging into the numbers, Dave Steckel was an uncharacteristic 5-10, including losing a key draw that led to the B’s first goal and Fleischmann was 6-12. Only Backstrom had a good night for the regular draw-men, going 8-4. Bergeron was 18-8 for Boston.