Pre-season game #5 for the Washington Capitals took the team to Madison Square Garden to face the New York Rangers on Thursday night and a late defensive breakdown ended up costing the Caps the game, 3-2. Washington’s last pre-season game will be Sunday at the Verizon Center against the Rangers before the season opens on Thursday, October 1st in Boston.
Thanks to Japers Rink I was able to get a link to the game (MSG feed with Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti) on the internet and caught the third period. Based on what I saw the intensity and speed of the game was above that of a normal pre-season game. The game was tied 2-2 going into the third period with Washington getting goals from Alexander Semin and Keith Aucoin in the second period while the Rangers got two from new free agent acquisition Marian Gaborik (including one shorthanded) in the second stanza.
Early in the third period (2:15 in) former Capital Donald Brashear and Caps forward Brandon Sugden had a spirited bout, their second of the night (in their first matchup, which is already posted around the internet, Sugden wins a quick fight when Brashear loses his balance). After that the Caps and Rangers each received two power plays and on the first Washington power play Alexander Ovechkin turned the puck over in the offensive zone to Chris Drury who skated in on a breakaway but was denied by Jose Theodore (21 saves). However, the Great #8 did slash the Rangers captain giving New York a power play.
Washington would kill off that power play and was a perfect five for five on the night in the PK department but the power play was 0 for 4 and gave up a shorthanded goal. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau won’t be happy with the power play although new free agent forward and major net presence, Mike Knuble, did not play (he had the night off after a big game against Chicago on Wednesday).
Now back to the Rangers winning goal on a play that I’m pretty certain Boudreau and assistant coach Bob Woods will show and go over multiple times with his team on how mental and physical mistakes can lead to a puck ending up in the back of your net. Given that this happened in a tie game with just 1:10 to go in the contest it should get the players attention. Anyways, here is how the goal shook out:
First, Caps defenseman Tyler Sloan was very late in trying to hit Marian Gaborik at the red line when he really had no chance to get there in time. Sloan’s mental mistake (he should have stayed back and let Gaborik make the cross ice pass) effectively took him out of the play. Gaborik’s pass then hit Brandon Dubinsky on the right wing boards and #17 had some speed and got around Matt Bradley, who tried to hit Dubinsky but missed him, allowing the big winger who scored the game winning goal in game 1 of last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs against the Caps to take the puck to the front of the net. Sloan’s defensive partner, Milan Jurcina, then flattened Dubinsky but the puck squirted free to the slot where Christopher Higgins outworked and outmuscled Dave Steckel for the biscuit and he backhanded it past Theodore. On the replay you could then see Sloan at the top of the screen trying to get back in the play, but he was far too late because he made a bad decision in the neutral zone.
On a positive note, I really liked the play of Quintin Laing and Jay Beagle. It was Laing’s pass to a streaking Beagle that provided Washington with their final power play of the night when Alexei Semenov of the Rangers was called for holding a very strong on his skates #83. Beagle also had a good shift with about two and a half minutes to go almost stuffing the puck past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (23 saves) drawing the following comment from Rosen, “Beagle very impressive here.”
Based on what I saw, I still stand by my prediction that both Beagle and Laing make the opening night roster and will be the 11th and 12th forwards (the other 10, if healthy, are Ovechkin, Knuble, Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, Chris Clark, Bradley, Steckel, Boyd Gordon, and Brendan Morrison). Alexandre Giroux played with Aucion and Clark and had a couple of chances in the third period, including one on a shorthanded two on one break, but he could not convert. I still see Giroux going to Hershey to start the season while Aucoin could stay up if Morrison’s neck becomes a bigger issue (missed the game tonight).
On defense, I liked some of what I saw in the offensive zone from Karl Alzner, who was very aggressive while playing the final 30 seconds of the Caps last power play but I didn’t like the tripping penalty he took at 5:59 of the final period. I tuned in to a few minutes of Steve Kolbe, Mike Vogel, and Brett “Stretch” Leonhardt on Caps radio between the second and third periods and Vogel talked like he still thought Alzner could make the team out of camp. Alzner, like John Carlson, has a bright future in the NHL but I don’t think he cracks the top 6 unless GM George McPhee trades another defensemen before next Thursday. The defensive pairings for the night were John Erskine-Mike Green, Jeff Schultz-Alzner, and Sloan-Jurcina.
One final Washington note, the Caps sent forwards Andrew Gordon, Oskar Osala, and Kyle Wilson to Hershey this afternoon.
NHL Note: Wayne Gretzky officially stepped down as Phoenix Coyotes coach (he had not been with the team during training camp due to potential conflict of interest issues – depending on who ends up owning the club the Great One is owed millions of dollars) and GM Don Maloney announced that former Capital Dave Tippett will take over behind the bench. For those of you who read this blog you know I think very highly of Tippett and said he would be back in the league with some team very soon (I still think New Jersey should have hired him but thank goodness for Washington’s sake they didn’t).