The Washington Capitals went into Philadelphia tonight without bruiser Donald Brashear (knee injury) and Tuesday’s hero in Nashville, forward Sergei Fedorov (sick), and knocked off the Flyers in regulation for the first time this season, 2-1. Alexander Ovechkin, who was booed every time he touched the puck by the Flyer fans, had the game winner in the second perioid after Alexander Semin stole the puck behind the Flyers net and centered it to an all alone Great #8, who then deposited the puck top shelf past goalie Martin Biron (28 saves). Ovechkin was all over the ice tonight and could have had several goals including a hit post late in regulation that would have given the Caps some insurance. The Great #8 also set up the first Washington goal by Brooks Laich (17th of the season) on the power play with a beautiful pass to the crease where #21 deflected it home by Biron. Semin was also very good all game, once again.
Washington received great goaltending tonight from Jose Theodore (35 saves), who was at his best in the second period when Philadelphia had 19 shots on net. His sprawling save on Kimo Timonen, who thought he had an open net, was amazing. Afterwards I was surprised to see that Philly had 36 shots for the game as the Caps defense did a very good job against the Flyers forwards by forcing most of the shots from the outside, by clearing any rebounds (and Theo didn’t give up many) and preventing the Flyers from getting to the net (something that Philadelphia has had success against the Caps in the past). Washington also had the puck for a large portion of the game and didn’t allow Philadelphia to get its hitting and cycling game going while the Caps seemed to get their’s going and punish the Flyers defense.
Here are some more thoughts and comments on the game:
Special Teams: Washington did a very good job of stopping a physical, net charging power play and the biggest key was Theodore, who did not give up many rebounds. Also, the Caps did a good job of clearing the puck when they got it except for a brutal giveaway by Boyd Gordon late in the third period. The Caps would kill off all four Flyer power plays and go one for two on their limited man advantage chances.
Another Odd Man Rush: For the third consecutive game the Caps gave up a 2 on 1 rush and for the second time the puck found the back of the net. Philadelphia’s only goal by Mike Knuble was the finish of a beautiful passing play between Simon Gagne, Mike Richards, and then Knuble. Washington was caught on a bad forward change and neutral zone turnover which allowed Philly to get a 3 on 2 odd man rush and when defensemen Milan Jurcina stepped up to play Gagne near the blueline he fed Richards who only had Jeff Schultz back against him and Knuble. As he did on Sunday, Schultz did not successfully cut off the pass, although it was an outstanding one by Richards, and that allowed Knuble to deposit the puck into the empty net.
Missing Pieces and Add-Ins: Without Fedorov the Caps were just awful on face-offs going 16-32. However, without Brashear and “Brooklyn Brawler” Matt Bradley unable to mix it up because of facial cuts, the Caps were not intimidated by the Flyers and, if I am Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, that is re-assuring. As Captain Chris Clark said when he was on the Caps post game show on Comcast after the win tonight, Washington is one of the bigger teams in the league so you don’t have to fight to play tough. Alexandre Giroux was the emergency call up from Hershey and he had some scoring chances but he also took two penalties and was one of the guys who changed too quickly on the play that led to the Flyers goal. Michael Nylander returned from an upper body injury and played 12:08 and my review of him was mixed. #92 did a good job of possessing the puck at times but he made a lazy play at center ice that led to the Flyers going quickly the other way for their only goal.
More Theodore: The Timonen save was great and he also got some revenge on Aaron Asham, who had a big goal in the Flyers win at the Verizon Center back on February 24th, stopping #45 when he was all alone in front of the Caps net in the third period. Theodore, who caught fire down the stretch for Colorado last season en route to leading the Avalanche into the 2nd round of the playoffs, has been very, very good since that game in New York two days before Christmas where he was pulled but re-inserted in a 5-4 Ovechkin led overtime victory. Coming into tonight he had a 1.95 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage in his last three games.
Take that Chief: When I was coming home this afternoon Hockey Night in Canada Radio hosts Jeff Marek and Cassie Campbell Pascall were talking with Flyers assistant Coach Craig “Chief” Berube and he was bragging about how well the Flyers play the Great #8 and that Timonen and the Flyers defensemen know how to not give him room and have success. Thursday, March 12th: Ovechkin goal and an assist, Flyers 1. SCOREBOARD Chief!!
What Celebration??: For those Don Cherry worshippers who critique Ovechkin’s celebrations and say he is over the top, tonight’s post goal antics consisted of the Great #8 standing in place, a quick kiss of the glove and left arm raise as a salute to his brother Sergei (died in a car accident), then raising both of his arms as everyone does when they score, and yelling while waiting for Semin and the other teammates to come over for the required celebratory hug. This was a key goal and would be the game winner but there was no jumping into the glass or people falling over. I don’t see how anyone could have a problem with the celebration tonight.
Southeast Division Lead Widens: With the Caps win and the Florida Panthers 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, Washington leads them by 13 points (Panthers have a game in hand) and if Carolina loses to Dallas in regulation (they are down 3-2 late in the third period) the lead over the Hurricanes will be 12 points (Caps have a game in hand on Carolina). Carolina is at the Verizon Center on Saturday night and will be playing their third game in four nights. Washington is now 42-21-6 for 90 points. Boston (97 points) and New Jersey (91 points) both won tonight so the Caps are still the #3 team in the Eastern Conference standings.
Road Warriors: Perhaps Mel Gibson T-shirts should be worn tomorrow at practice since the Caps have now won a season high five straight road games and are 12-3-2 in the their last 17 games away from DC. They have not been beaten in regulation in their last 8 road games (6-0-2). The Caps play 8 of their last 13 games on the road, mostly against Southeast Division opponents, so the success away from home should really help their confidence for this upcoming stretch.
Making the Smart and Simple Plays: For the second straight game the Caps limited turnovers at the opposition blue line by either making good safe passes, shooting the puck, or dumping it deep. These smart and simple plays allow the Caps to get their cycling game going and wear out the opposition. Other than the Knuble goal I don’t recall any Flyer odd man rushes and if Philly got any manpower edge coming out of their own zone the Caps forwards were able to back check quickly and effectively (see the great play Ovechkin made on Gagne to thwart #12′s near breakaway after he had stolen the puck from Mike Green at the red line).