Wednesday night brought on another Capitals-Islanders battle and for the 7th time in the last 9 contests these two teams went to extra time to decide the outcome before a packed house (18,277) at the Verizon Center. When overtime did not yield a winner on came the shootout and it took 11 players for each team but Washington’s Chris Clark scored and Semyon Varlamov (25 saves), who was great in relief of Jose Theodore tonight, slammed the door on Mark Streit to give Washington a 5-4 victory. The win moves the Caps to 11-3-4 on the season, tops in the Eastern Conference, and they are now 3-1 this year with Alexander Ovechkin (upper body injury) out of the line-up.
The Caps, for the 15th time in 18 games scored first, and it took only 8 seconds as Alexander Semin took a Brendan Morrison pass in the neutral zone and blasted a rocket by Dwayne Roloson. The goal tied a team record for the fastest goal to start a game (March 14, 1987 at St. Louis). Semin, who Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau said on Wednesday morning was battling through an undisclosed injury, showed talent and determination on that early effort.
But the lead didn’t last long as the Islanders took advantage of a Washington offensive zone turnover and skated back the other way and threw what looked to be a harmless shot on Theodore. But Theo flashed his left pad erratically and threw the puck up the slot and right on the stick of Matt Moulson, who notched his 8th goal of the season to tie this one up just 62 seconds in.
A several minute horror show stretch for the Caps then continued as they made numerous mistakes in their own end, including a Mike Green golden giveaway when he and #60 couldn’t communicate properly on a puck behind Washington’s net, but Theodore did manage to make his only good stop of the night in that instance. Theo, however, then gave up a Streit point shot off of the face-off and it was 2-1 Islanders just 5:10 in. The blast appeared to be a very stoppable shot but it could have hit a Cap defensemen on the way in. Theodore’s night would end shortly thereafter as Semin made one of his patented offensive turnovers when trying to do too much. #28 tried to go horizontally across the blue line through several Islanders and Sean Bergenheim picked him clean. With both Caps defensemen in too far below the blue line (Shaone Morrisonn and Green) in bad position, #20 had an easy breakaway and he faked Theo to the ice and deposited the biscuit in the basket on the backhand making it 3-1 just 6:54 in.
With Varlamov in net Washington settled down and started finding their legs after the 10 minute mark. Then the line that Boudreau put together in the 3rd period explosion against the Panthers last Saturday night, Nicklas Backstrom-Mike Knuble-Tomas Fleischmann, got it going and they cycled the puck for over a minute before Jon Sim held Morrisonn behind the Islanders net and the Caps received what would be the only power play of the first period. The magic line of 19-14-22 went to the bench to rest for the first half of the power play but once they came out Backstrom took over and skated around the New York defense and fed Flash for an easy one timer to make it 3-2. It was Fleischmann’s sixth goal in just seven games this season since returning from injury.
Washington came out strong in the second period drawing two penalties and on the second one Green made a beautiful rush taking the puck around the Islander net and he fed a wide open Semin in the slot. #28 then buried it top shelf for his second goal of the night at the 5:35 mark to tie things up at three. The Caps were thoroughly outworking the Islanders and it finally paid off again when Mathieu Perreault made a nice back check at the Caps blue line that allowed Green to feed Eric Fehr on a rush. From there #16 fed the puck to Clark who then gave it back to Fehr. Fehr then put a nice backhand shot, that afterwards #16 said was intended to be a pass to Perreault, by Roloson to put the Caps up 4-3. Washington dominated the second period outshooting New York 14-8 and it was 12-3 in shots for the period, at one point.
Brendan Morrison took a lazy penalty (stick infraction) to start the 3rd period but the Caps killed it. Washington would then dominate much of the next 12 minutes of play and Semin had a couple of good chances to get the hat trick but Roloson kept the Isles in it. Dave Steckel took a penalty for holding at 4:50 and the Caps held strong with Varlamov making some big saves but then Milan Jurcina took a boarding penalty, and Boudreau said after the contest that the Islander forward embellished the hit, to give the Islanders another shot with the man advantage with 2:46 remaining. This one would cost the Caps a regulation victory as Trent Hunter fired a laser by Varly to tie it up at four with 2:08 remaining and send this contest to overtime.
The overtime did not have a whistle as the Caps controlled much of the play but could not beat Roloson. In the shootout, Backstrom went first and didn’t connect. Jeff Tambellini then led off for the Islanders and he blistered one top shelf by Varlamov putting pressure on the Caps to answer. Semin then came in with alot of speed and faked the Islander net minder to the ice and beat him with a backhand. From there we went to the “Twilight Zone” as numerous Caps and Islanders could not score with Varly having to make the tougher and more spectacular saves (and he showed off his amazing flexibility too). But finally, in the 11th round Clark beat Roloson top shelf and then #40 thwarted Streit to give Washington the victory.
“Once you go to overtime that much you always believe that you are able to catch up but I believe [the players] never thought they were out of it and even after we were down early I never thought we were out of it, it was too early. There were 50 minutes left in the game and we were down 3-1, I thought we had a good chance of coming back,” said Boudreau.
Here are some quotes and post game analysis from this hard fought victory:
Boudreau’s line combinations seemed to gel tonight but the line of Perreault, Clark, and Fehr seemed to especially make things happen all night even though they were together just under 10 minutes of ice time for the contest. Had the Islanders not converted late, Fehr would have had the game winner.
“I thought we had alot of energy today and we had a lot of scoring chances. It was big for us when we were down, just keep pushing and put pucks on net, I think we had the will tonight to get to the puck and guys were competing hard. Every time there was a loose puck it just seemed that we were jumping on it” started Fehr on his line, “When I got it back from Clarkie I was trying to pass it back door to Perreault on the backhand and I guess the goalie thought I was doing that as well and it just snuck in,” finished Fehr on his goal that appeared to go in off of New York defenseman Jack Hillen.
“He’s a real spark plug. He makes some plays that are really nifty. I don’t want to, five games into his NHL career, make comparisons, but there’s a lot of small players that go side to side and make a great career being as competitive as they were. He looks like he’s got that little something that sparks any line he plays on,” added Boudreau on #85, agreeing that his line was good on Wednesday evening.
The Caps defenseman and Theodore were very shaky in the first 10 minutes but Washington got back to what made them successful on Saturday night after it was 3-1.
“We just wanted to outwork them. They are a hard working team, they’ve shown that against us in the past and it’s cost us. So we wanted to make sure that we worked it and tried to out work their team,” said Fehr who also mentioned “he feels great and strong and that he will be able to play the best hockey he has in awhile.”
“We had some lapses in our play. I don’t think we played our best game that we have in a while. But we showed a lot of character and fought and got the timely goals again and put ourselves in a position to win,” started Brian Pothier on the victory, “We should be closing teams out with a one goal lead with five minutes left in the game, we should be able to shut the door,” finished #2 on the recent trend of Washington taking late penalties in regulation to give up leads.
Theodore did not have a good night giving up three goals on five shots but Pothier said it was a team effort that led to the early hole.
“Unfortunately our goaltender getting pulled [turned it around]. We take that pretty seriously, he is one of our teammates, one of our brothers so to speak and he gets pulled and its embarrassing for him and it is not even his fault. The goals weren’t his fault, they were our fault. You get really upset with ourselves over that and we know we can play better and perform better and we didn’t want the same thing happening to Varly and we stepped up and performed,” finished Pothier on the team’s goaltending.
“He looked a little down and the last time he was pulled Varly came in and shut the door so I thought he would be able to do it again. But Theo’s played so well for us and he will come back this week, play another game, and he will be great for us,” said Boudreau on his goaltending decision tonight and going forward. Boudreau seems to have a pretty good pulse on his goalies and his switch tonight was a big reason why the Caps were victorious.
The Caps, as mentioned above, are now 3-1 without Ovechkin and I asked Pothier about it.
“It says we have a great team [that we are still winning], we have the best player on planet Earth and that always helps when he is in the lineup. When he is not we still have to have a good functioning team and we can score goals, we can prevent goals, and we have what it takes to win and I think we’ve shown that and we just have to continue that,” finished Pothier.
Semin had two goals but also had several missed opportunities and had the costly giveaway that led to the third Islander tally.
“He looked like he wanted to play and when he wants to play he can, he could have had 6 [goals] and he makes some moves and he can shoot the puck and he is scary good when he is motivated. There was the good and the bad, the goal, the giveaway, the miss. He is like alot of us in Washington, at least he is exciting,” said Boudreau on Semin.
The Caps outshoot New York 41-31 and they are 1-0-1 this season with 40+ shots on goal. Washington was 6-7-1 with 40 or more shots last season. Washington won the face-off battle 39-30. Dave Steckel led the way at 11-6 while Backstrom was 10-6 and Morrison 10-7.
It appears that Michal Nylander is destined for the Russian KHL league but nothing official has been announced. Clark did discuss the topic afterwards though when asked about it.
“We didn’t have much of an issue [in the locker room], he was a great guy, he did what he had to do, he worked so hard on the ice and he kept himself in shape. I don’t think he knew what was going to happen. He wanted to put himself in the best position and he wasn’t one of those guys that was sulking and getting mad or sitting in the corner and being that guy. He actually was very professional about it and I’m glad that he finally gets a chance to play because he is a heckuva a player. If he couldn’t play here I’m glad he is not going to another team in the NHL because he is such a good player so it will be good for him,” finished Clark on the Nylander saga.
The Capitals next game is Friday night at the Verizon Center against the Minnesota Wild.