Well it wasn’t pretty at all, but it was a win. The Washington Capitals survived an atrocious night from their special teams but thanks to a lucky bounce and several goals as a result of Caps forwards going hard to the net, they defeated the Thrashers, 5-4, in front of only 13,192 at Philips Arena. Defenseman Jeff Schultz (goal, two assists) had one of his best games as a Capital (despite taking a bad cross checking penalty late in the game) and had the fluky goal that put them up 3-2 in the second period to start a three goals in 88 second outburst by Washington.
The second goal in those 88 seconds came as a result of a hard point shot from Schultz (+3 on the evening) that led to an Ondrej Pavelec (9 saves on 14 shots, pulled in the second period) rebound that Matt Bradley poured in for his third goal of the season. Then Keith Aucion (credited with only 1 assist but had two, in my book) won a face-off against Todd White and the puck went back to Mike Green who rocketed a blast wide of the net and off of the back boards right to captain Chris Clark, who deposited it into the open net, and put the Caps in what appeared to be full control of the game at 5-2.
However, the Caps opened the third period by receiving their fifth power play of the night and they proceeded to give up a lazy shorthanded goal to second year Atlanta defenseman Zach Bogosian on a shot that Semyon Varlamov (22 saves on 26 shots) should have easily stopped. So it was 5-3 with just over 15 minutes to go and when the Caps received their sixth power play advantage with 4:41 remaining this one looked to be in the bag and even more so when Pavel Kubina was called for slashing with 3:39 left giving Washington a five on three advantage. Washington would go an AWFUL 0 for 7 on the night and even worse Mike Knuble took a penalty and suddenly the Thrashers had some life. Schultz took his bad cross checking penalty with 57 seconds remaining and then Ilya Kovlachuk scored his 2nd goal of the night on a slap shot blast with Nik Antropov screening Varly (Milan Jurcina could not move him) with 39 seconds left.
On the ensuing face-off Alexander Ovechkin, who had a very off night with 0 points, was called for tripping and that gave Atlanta an offensive zone face-off with the power play and their goalie pulled. However, Varlamov made three saves and Washington cleared the puck as time expired to move their record to 5-2-2 (12 points) while Atlanta fell to 4-2-1 (9 points).
Here is my analysis of tonight’s win:
Last year if the Caps went 0 for 7 on the power play, gave up a shorthanded goal, took eight penalties, and allowed two power play goals they would have EASILY lost the game. But not this season’s team because of one reason: the forwards, and primarily the third and fourth line players, are going hard to the net and scoring the gritty goals.
Here are your Caps goal scorers tonight: Eric Fehr on a breakaway on a nice pass from Schultz, Hershey call up Alexandre Giroux on a nice cross ice feed from Aucoin (the assist he was credited with), Schultz’s miracle hop goal, then Bradley and Clark’s rebound goals scored in tight. While the first two were pretty and the third one just plain luck, the fourth and fifth goals that won the game were grinding tallies, something that Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau should be pleased about.
After that, there were a lot of things that likely got Boudreau’s blood boiling. The special teams were pitiful and assistant coach Dean Evason needs to figure something out with this power play because it flat out STINKS right now. There is no movement and guys are trying to be too precise with their passes. Ovechkin and Green are fiddling with the puck too much and Nicklas Backstrom seemed to fight the biscuit all evening in Atlanta. Evason has got to get these guys rotating and shooting PLUS making sure they don’t give up shorthanded opportunities. This current configuration seems very exploitable shorthanded to me right now because the play away from the puck is terrible with players way out of position.
Varlamov was not very good tonight. Although he made a big save right out of the gate on a breakaway by Chris Thorburn and saved the last three Atlanta tallies he should have had Bogosian’s blast and the first goal that Maxim Afinogenov scored through the five hole on the power play was very stoppable. I am not sure what is going on with Varly but he did win the game and according to former goalie Kelly Hrudey of Hockey Night in Canada Radio, that is the stat that matters. #40 is 4-0 but his save percentage continues to slide lower and is under 89% on the season.
Washington still has trouble moving opposing forwards from in front of their net and Jurcina had a tough time with Antropov. I also thought Brian Pothier had a below average game. He was out of position on the play that led to Thorburn’s breakaway and then on his second shift the Caps could not get the puck out of their zone with #2 running around half-hazardly. His play away from the puck was atrocious tonight (he only played 13:27).
I am not sure what was up with Ovechkin and Backstrom but they were not clicking. On a 3 on 1 break late in the game the Great #8 had a chance to finish this contest but instead of shooting on Johan Hedberg (14 saves on 14 shots in 26 plus minutes) from a prime scoring position he tried to make a cross ice pass to #19 that bounced all over the place. Ovie needed to shoot the puck more on Thursday night.
Aucoin and Giroux,who were summoned from Hershey with Alexander Semin out with the flu and Boyd Gordon dealing with a bad back, played only 5:39 and 5:23, respectively. They did do their job scoring a goal and Aucoin won the the face-off that led to Clark’s goal (where is the assist NHL?) but they were on the ice for an Atlanta goal and clearly Boudreau was concerned about putting them out there against what looks to be a very fast Thrashers team.
Washington outshot the Thrashers 28-26 and won the face-off battle, 33-31.
The Caps next game is on Long Island against John Tavares and the New York Islanders at 7pm on Saturday night in what should be goalie Jose Theodore’s first game between the pipes since injuring his back in the San Jose Sharks contest last Thursday night.