The Washington Capitals attempt to sweep the season series versus the New York Rangers for the first time ever in Caps history was denied, 5-4, in a shootout tonight as Ryan Callahan, who was one of the best players on the ice on Wednesday, scored in the fourth round on a shot that hit the cross bar and then banked off of the skates of Caps goalie Jose Theodore (28 saves on 32 shots) and into the net. Brooks Laich’s shootout try to tie the game was then denied by the Rangers Henrik Lundqvist (26 saves on 30 shots). The Caps, who went 3-0-1 against New York season, and are 34-16-5 overall, did get a point this evening, and are now tied for second place overall in the Eastern Conference with the New Jersey Devils, who beat the Islanders, 4-2, on Wednesday night.
Caps defenseman Mike Green continues to be RED HOT and he tied an NHL record for defenseman by scoring a goal in his seventh straight game (tied Mike O’Connell, who did it with Boston in 1983-84). #52 lit the lamp twice in the second period and now has an amazing 21 goals on the season in just 42 games played (Green missed 13 games due to a shoulder injury). The Caps other offense came in the first period from the Tomas Fleischmann, Sergei Fedorov, and Eric Fehr line with both Fleischmann (16th goal of season) and Fehr (7th goal of season) scoring in close while the Rangers got on the board in the first period when Caps defenseman Karl Alzner picked the wrong player on a three on two allowing Callahan to easily score past Theodore. Alzner made a rookie mistake on that play and I’m sure the coaches will show him the film and he’ll correct how he plays those type of rushes in the future.
Outside of Green’s two goals in the second period, the middle stanza was one of the worst periods I’ve seen the Caps play defensively (but not as bad as the Kings game last Thursday) as they turned the puck over numerous times and failed to clear the front of their net as the Rangers employed a tactic that Washington will see more and more of down the stretch and in the playoffs – opposing forwards crashing the net. Alzner and Dave Steckel had horrible periods and at the end of the night young Karl was a minus 2 while Steckel was a minus 3.
After a bad second period, the third period got even weirder as the Rangers were given 9:24 of power play time, including 36 seconds on a 5 on 3, but for the second straight game the Caps were great on the penalty kill and did not allow a goal. Some of the calls were rather shaky, like the diving on Tom Poti and the cross check on Alexander Ovechkin, but anyone who regularly reads this blog knows that I am not a fan of the referees and overall they were pretty bad tonight (Marc Joannette and Dan O’Rourke). The call on Shaone Morrisonn, however, was a good one and #26 continues to take too many bad penalties (he has to learn to be in better control of his body and his stick). Even with all of the power play time New York only had a 9-6 shots advantage which really highlights how great a job the Caps penalty killers did. That is encouraging but the careless penalties do need to stop because a good power play, and the Rangers do not have a dangerous one (worst in the Eastern Conference), would typically bury a team in that situation.
In the first period there were two fights that clearly were negotitated before the puck dropped, something the NHL needs to look into this off-season, with the first being a spirited bought between Donald Brashear and Colton Orr and the second just three seconds later between Matt Bradley and Aaron Voros. Neither fight gave the Caps or the Rangers any type of momentum or advantage.
Overall I thought Theodore was above average tonight and he was out of position on Paul Mara’s goal that gave the Rangers a 4-3 lead but with all of the traffic he was facing in front of him he had to have a tough time playing the angles and challenging the shooters like he normally does. He was very good in the third period when the Caps were shorthanded and needed some big stops.
It will be interesting to see if Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau puts the more physical John Erskine back into the lineup for a game this weekend (Washington is in Tampa on Saturday and then Florida on Sunday) and if defensemen Staffan Kronwall takes the body like his brother Niklas does in Detroit he could help control traffic in front of Theodore going forward. I’d expect to see Milan Jurcina and possibly Morrisonn sit out this weekend if Kronwall or Erskine are inserted because neither of those guys are playing real well right now. Alzner struggled tonight but he is a guy that will bounce back next game.
The other question is will goalie Michael Neuvirth get to play one of the games, which would be his first ever NHL contest? Tampa would seem like the obvious choice for that to happen.
Notes: Alexander Ovechkin extended the shootout by scoring the only Caps goal in the third round in that sideshow circus event that I despise (I still have no problems with a game ending in a tie, but I am a traditionalist). The Great #8 had an assist, five shots on net, and an amazing 13 hits! Forward Jay Beagle, called up from Hershey today, became the 35th player to suit up for Washington this season with Viktor Kozlov still out of the lineup with a bad groin and Alexander Semin missing due to an undisclosed injury. Neuvirth and Steffan could make it 36 and 37 this weekend. Ranger fans clearly do not like defensemen Wade Redden, who was given a ridiculous six year deal at $6.5M a year by GM Glen Sather, and he was booed often by the hometown crowd (many of which were probably in the famed blue seats!). I’d gladly take a matchup between the Caps and the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs but if Washington can finish second they likely would not face New York, who should finish in the top six of the Eastern Conference. It is now only 21 days until the NHL TRADE DEADLINE on March 4th!!!