When prognosticating Tuesday night’s Boston-Washington hockey game on paper beforehand, this looked like an easy win for the Bruins. The B’s have been one of the hottest teams in the league the last two plus months while the Capitals have been struggling to score goals. With Alexander Ovechkin out due to suspension and Nicklas Backstrom missing his 10th game because of a concussion, surely the highest scoring team in the NHL would have an easy night against the Caps, right?
Well to quote the Sundance Kid, “You figured wrong, Butch!”
The Caps came to play on Tuesday night and displayed as much effort and energy as they have all season. They battled a much bigger Boston club and in the end, the Bruins were done in by Washington’s little guys. Mathieu Perreault played the “Little Engine That Could” on this night notching his first career hat trick, including the game winner in the third period, and Cody Eakin chipped in a goal that Tuukka Rask should’ve had as the Capitals were victorious, 5-3, to improve their record to 26-19-3 and reclaim first place in the Southeast Division as a result of Florida’s 3-2 loss to the Flyers in the shootout.
There was a lot to like about this game despite the fact that the Bruins outshot the Caps, 32-23, and attempted 73 shots to just 50 for Washington. Despite the attempt imbalance, the Capitals had lots of scoring chances primarily because they seemed to develop a consistent offense to defense flow for the first time in awhile since Backstrom’s injury. The passing, after a shaky first several minutes, was much crisper and the Caps were coming through the neutral zone with some speed. The Capitals still have issues up the middle of the ice, but for the last two tilts, Perreault has really stepped up and filled a gaping hole in the pivot position by using his excellent offensive skill. You will still get the occassional MP85 defensive zone poor coverage or penalty (his trip in the second period led to the Bruins third goal on the power play) but at this point coach Dale Hunter needs to continue to take that risk because you can’t win without scoring goals. Plus, Perreault seems to have some nice chemistry with Alexander Semin (1 assist) and we saw glimpses of that in the first half of last season (before Perreault broke his nose in Carolina).
On the backend, the Caps still have some cleaning up to do. The first Bruins goal may be considered lucky to some since it went in off of Karl Alzner’s own stick but there were four big mistakes in Washington’s end before King Karl put a wicked backhander past Tomas Vokoun (29 saves). First, Dennis Wideman throws the puck up the right wing boards without checking on the position of his winger (Semin). Second, #28 gets beat to the puck by Bruins d-man Dennis Seidenberg, third, Wideman then loses Rich Peverley coming off of the boards giving Boston a two on one down low, and finally, Alzner goes to the ice to try and cut off the pass but he does it too quickly and that allows Peverley to slide the puck behind #27, who in a last ditch effort to breakup the centering feed, swings his stick around and puts the biscuit in his own net. I am a big proponent of defenders NOT leaving their feet in their own zone because, like in basketball, you give the offensive player a huge advantage. Alzner should’ve stayed on his skates there.
In addition, the Bruins second goal came on a terrible cross ice attempt by John Carlson. Sophomore Tyler Seguin picked that one off and went in easily to beat Vokoun upstairs. Carlson has been making far too many giveaways lately and needs to be more responsible on his breakouts.
Vokoun once again turned in a solid performance in goal. He is in a groove right now and that is primarily coming from the fact that the Capitals, under Hunter, have drastically cut down the number of odd man rushes they allow. In addition, #29 is in better position to stop the puck because he has a very good idea where the opposing shots are coming from. Both of those things correlate directly to a higher save percentage.
At the end of the night, Hunter’s squad overcame their defensive zone mistakes because they played with energy, effort, and passion. The Bruins are a bigger team but Washington actually out hit them, 30-16. It was a victory that many could not see coming but one thing about this Caps club is they very often seem to be able to elevate their game against the league’s elite. Perhaps Boston was a bit distracted by their Conn Smythe winning goalie, Tim Thomas, and his decision to bail on the President and the White House yesterday? Maybe. But once the puck is dropped those type of things kind of disappear, so credit Washington for a hard working win that gives them the ability to take the week off sitting in first place in their division.
Notes: Ovechkin announced today that he will indeed skip the All Star Game this weekend in Ottawa due to his suspension…Marcus Johansson returned to the lineup after his illness but only played 12:28. He did have an assist and was +2 playing left wing with Perreault and Semin…Jeff Halpern was 11-4 on faceoffs, including a big win with 30 seconds left that directly led to Wideman’s lengthy empty net goal that made it 5-3…John Erskine, Joel Ward, and Jay Beagle all played under 10 minutes. Ward needs to show that he is worth the $3M a season General Manager George McPhee shelled out for him over these last 34 games and then the playoffs. Right now he is not skating well and as a result won’t see the ice much in Hunter’s system that relies heavily on speed and skating ability…the Caps return to practice next Monday at 2pm before departing for the Sunshine State. They play in Tampa on Tuesday and then face the Panthers on Wednesday night…speaking of Florida, congratulations to former Caps radio play by play man Steve Kolbe for landing a new gig with the Jacksonville Suns calling AA baseball. I spoke with the Baltimore native and Mount St. Joes grad last Thursday night and he was excited to be back in broadcasting after his 14 year run ended with the Caps this past offseason.