The Washington Capitals are now 7-2 without Alexander Ovechkin in the lineup this season, but before anyone gets too excited about that statistic, please remember that four of those wins have come against the Florida Panthers (and the two losses were against the New Jersey Devils while the Caps were 1-0-1 against NJ with Ovie). The Caps received a super game from the Jason Chimera-Brendan Morrison-Eric Fehr line (they scored three times) and also got two tallies from Brooks Laich to bury the Cats, 7-3. The victory allowed the Capitals to sweep the season series (6-0) from Florida and they are now 16-3 against Southeast Division foes in 2009-10. Even more impressive is their overall record of 47-14-9 (103 points) and Washington’s magic number to clinch the Eastern Conference is just 11 points (h/t Nate Ewell). In addition, when San Jose loses in Dallas on Tuesday, and they are down 7-2 in the 3rd period as I post this blog, the Caps will have a seven point lead in the race for the President’s Trophy with the Sharks having one game in hand.
Here is the analysis from a game that really wasn’t much of one after Washington broke things open in the middle stanza:
Perhaps the best thing about Washington’s offensive performance against Florida was the way in which they stormed the crease and tallied on hard working goals from in front. The Caps went 2 for 4 on the power play and both lamp lighters, by Alexander Semin and Laich, were on rebounds. Washington fired 39 shots on net, many of them from in close, which is a good sign for the post season. This team is much more offensively potent than the one that tended to primarily rely on pretty passing goals last year.
Good to see Morrison (1 goal, 2 assists) have a huge night as he has struggled a bit since the midway point. His tally was his first since January 26th. #9′s line was super fast all evening and Chimera and Fehr were stong in transition and on the boards in the offensive zone. It will be interesting to see if this combo stays together and if so, will they be able to keep that type of play up against a stronger opponent?
Washington’s penalty kill held the Panthers off the board on all three of its attempts, which is encouraging, but you have to factor in that the Panters are 29th in the NHL with the manpower advantage.
Jose Theodore (34 saves) received his second straight start and was really good in goal, especially in the first period when Florida fired 13 shots on net. The Caps still need to tighten up in the defensive zone before the playoffs but if they continue to get this type of goaltending from #60 they will be very hard to beat come April and beyond.
At the other end, Tomas Vokoun was not very good but he had grounds to sue for lack of support from his defense. #29, who surprisingly was not moved at the trade deadline, was yanked after allowing 5 goals on 21 shots. He was replaced by Scott Clemmensen, who gave up two goals on 18 shots, but if the Caps hit the net a little better in the last 20 minutes his numbers would have rivaled those of Vokoun.
Nicklas Backstrom had another strong game notching a goal and an assist plus he doled out 4 hits in just over 18 minutes of action. #19 was only 4-6 on face-offs though.
About the worst news of the night was that penalty killing specialist Boyd Gordon re-injured his back (h/t Tarik El-Bashir) when he was tripped by Shawn Matthias in the first period (wait, an injury on a hockey play, does that mean we are going to see another NHL suspension??!!). This is bad news for the Caps and Gordo, who told me during the Olympic break that he was finally feeling good again healthwise beginning shortly after the New Year (which was right before Washington went on that 14 game winning streak).
Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau scratched Tom Poti and John Erskine on defense while Dave Steckel and Scott Walker were the forwards who sat with the suspended Ovechkin. Clearly Boudreau picked the right contest to get Quintin Laing and Tyler Sloan some much needed game action.
Basically, this one was a mismatch pretty quickly in a contest that used to be tight between these two teams (think Florida misses former defenseman Jay Bouwmeester?). Next up for the Capitals are the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday in Raleigh. Ovechkin will sit out the 2nd game of his suspension and will return on Saturday night in Tampa. Speaking of the Great #8, here is his comments on what happened in Chicago and the subsequent action taken by the league:
“I am very sorry that Brian was injured and I hope he is able to return to his team soon. NHL hockey is a physical game. We all play hard every time we are on the ice and have battles each shift in every game we play so we can do our jobs and win. As players we must accept responsibility for our actions and I am no different but I did not intend to injure Brian and that is why I was disappointed with the NHL’s decision yesterday. Every time I have the honor to play for my team, I will continue to do what I have done since I was taught to play. I will play hard, play with passion and play with respect for my teammates, opponents and fans. I look forward to returning to my team and doing everything I can to be the best player I can be.”