Caps Beat Devils 5-2
The New Jersey Devils came into Tuesday night’s home nationally televised game (VERSUS HDTV) against the Washington Capitals having won eight straight games. That streak is now over. Michael Nylander scored two goals while playing his best game of the season and defensemen Mike Green scored a goal (his league leading 16th by defensemen off of a great pass by Alexander Semin) and added an assist to lead the Washington offense while goaltender Jose Theodore was outstanding in net for the Caps stopping 32 of 34 shots. The only goals New Jersey scored were on special teams as Brian Rolston unleashed one of his rockets to put the Devils on the board when trailing 3-0 on a five on three power play and then early in the third period Jamie Langenbrunner scored on a shorthanded breakaway to make it a 3-2 game. Nylander’s second of the contest on a power play with 9:01 remaining restored a two goal Caps cushion (and for once a bad call by the referee helped Washington because the goalie interference call on Mike Rupp should have been called a trip on Caps defensemen Tom Poti).
Despite giving up 34 shots, I thought this was one of Washington’s better efforts this year and they controlled most of the game except for a 10 to 12 minute stretch in the second period. But New Jersey isn’t leading the Atlantic Division for nothing so one would expect Brent Sutter’s team to continue battling when trailing. Theodore did get called upon to make some big saves, especially early on, and he delivered so Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau has to continue to be pleased with the play of #60, who is now 19-9-2 on the season.
The Caps had four power plays and there was a goal scored on each instance, although one was the Langenbrunner shorthanded goal. Alexander Ovechkin had assists on the first two goals but he was relatively quiet on Tuesday night and only had one shot on net. Penalty killing wise, the Caps did give up a power play goal for the 12th straight game but overall they did a good job of stopping the Devils by blocking shots and getting big stops from Theodore (who controlled his rebounds well once again). I thought this was one of the best games that the Capitals defensemen have collectively played in their own zone all year as both goals were not the result of defensive zone miscues.
With the win Washington increased its second place lead in the Eastern Conference on the Devils to three points. The Caps were 2-0-2 in the four games with New Jersey this season and both losses were in the shootout. Washington’s lead in the Southeast Division is 14 points over the Florida Panthers, who have two games in hand on the Caps, and 15 over the Carolina Hurricanes who are playing late in Vancouver on Tuesday night.
Notes: Goalie Michael Neuvirth was called up from Hershey this morning to back up Theodore as Brent Johnson is day to day with what is believed to be more problems with his hip (Tarik El-Bashir said this evening that GM George McPhee hinted that Johnson could need surgery). Nylander now has eight points in his last nine games making him more attractive for any potential takers as we approach the trade deadline (only four weeks away). As I’ve been saying since November, Vancouver seems like the only logical place for #92 (despite the Chicago rumors). If Nylander can’t be moved, and that is likely due to his high paying contract, at least he is starting to get more involved offensively. Now if Boudreau and the coaching staff can just get Semin to be more consistent and play like he did back in October then this team would really be top notch. Green led all Caps in ice time with only 24:54 so Boudreau did a very good job of spreading ice time to many players on Tuesday. The Caps are now 12-12-3 on the road this season. Viktor Kozlov did not play the last two periods and El-Bashir said it was due to a minor groin injury. Next up for the Caps are the Los Angeles Kings at the Verizon Center on Thursday Night
Interview with Eric Fehr
Forward Eric Fehr, who had an empty net goal and an assist on Tuesday night in New Jersey, gave members of the media an interview after Sunday afternoon’s 7-4 win over Ottawa. Here is the transcript of that session:
Q: How about talking about your goal that made it 3-1 against Ottawa?
Fehr: I’ve been getting a lot of chances the last couple of games so it is good to finally get a goal and I just crashed the net and knocked it in.
Q: What did that do for your confidence because you’ve been getting a lot of chances?
Fehr: It definitely helps to raise that stick. I’ve been getting so many shots on goal and they just haven’t been going in. It is kind of ironic that the one chance, that really wasn’t a chance, went in.
Q: What have you been doing to try and be more consistent night after night?
Fehr: I’m a shooter and I like to shoot and I have great linemates who are passing the puck to me and the other night as well so that is kind of what I have to stick to. Backstrom and Fleischmann are two of the best in handling the puck in the league so I’m just trying to get open and put something in for them.
Q: Did they say anything to you about where you should be on the ice or where they like to put the puck?
Fehr: I’ve been watching Backstrom for the last couple of years so I kind of see what he does with Kozlov and Ovechkin and I’m trying to find those same spots. Fleischmann, I’ve played with for a couple of years as well so I’ve seen what they’ve been doing and just trying to get in the right spots.
Q: What is it like going to the net now in this league? Do you get beat up much?
Fehr: It is not quite as bad as it used to be with obstruction and everything. You have to go to the front of the net to get goals and I’m definitely willing to do that.
Q: When you see Ovechkin get five goals in two games like that what is it like watching it?
Fehr: It is just amazing how he manages to get shots through the defensemen’s legs. He just has an amazing shot and an amazing release and he gets a lot of goals.
Q: Getting a dirty type of goal that you got today, do you think that will help your confidence and get you over the hump?
Fehr: Oh definitely, I’m just going to keep shooting and hopefully the accuracy can get better and I hit more of the corners but I really don’t want to change too much of the things I’m doing right now.
Q: Do you think the coaching staff has more confidence in you right now?
Fehr: I hope so. I’ve been working hard in practice and that is all I could be doing when I was getting scratched and being able to come back in the lineup with two of the best players on the team is a great opportunity for me and hopefully I can use it.
Last season there was little pressure on the Montreal Canadiens and they went on to have a great regular season capturing first place in the Eastern Conference as they headed with confidence into the playoffs before losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round. This year, in the 100th anniversary of Les Habitants, Coach Bob Gainey’s crew was expected to once again do well and win the East, especially after they added scoring forward Alex Tanguay and tough guy George Laraque in the summer. However, nothing has really gone according to plan although the Habs are still 29-16-6 and in 4th place in the Eastern Conference. The bad news is that forward Alexei Kovalev, who had one of the best years of his career in 2007-08, has been brutal so far and even got benched for some of the third period in the loss to Boston on Sunday afternoon. Add to that an achilles tendon injury to Robert Lang, who is a good scorer and great team guy, and things don’t look so rosy for Montreal heading into the stretch drive.
Don’t look now but the Dallas Stars, who were in the basement of the Western Conference standings earlier in the season, have caught fire ever since crazy pest Sean Avery was suspended and they are now 24-18-7 and in 6th place out west. The Stars, who beat Calgary 3-1 on Tuesday, are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games. Goalie Marty Turco is playing better and Coach Dave Tippett has done a good job of getting his team to believe that they could turn things around after the bad start (and losing forward Brendan Morrow for the year with a knee injury). Dallas is 16-7-3 since the $16M head case who can’t shut his mouth was suspended and then told to go away. Co-GM’s Brett Hull and Les Jackson are very lucky that Avery sealed his own fate early because, as I’ve mentioned in this blog before, some of the big name players on Dallas did not want Avery signed in the first place.
The Pittsburgh Penguins continue to struggle with their slow defense and shoddy goaltending and if the playoffs started today they would be on the outside looking in. The Pens are currently three points behind the Panthers for the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference. Defensemen Sergei Gonchar is due back in the lineup very soon so that should help Pittsburgh. I still see them sneaking into the playoffs and if the Caps finish 2nd you could see another Penguins-Caps first round playoff matchup.