Heading into Tuesday night’s Caps-Flyers game at the Verizon Center I was anticipating a raucous arena and an incredible amount of intensity from the Washington Capitals in a contest that figured to be competed at a playoff-like level. However, for about 35 minutes it was a very quiet building and the Caps were struggling to control the play and more importantly, get the puck by Philadelphia goalie Ray Emery. In fact, after defenseman Braydon Coburn scored the Flyers second goal of the game to put the Broad Street Bullies up 2-0 immediately after Washington had failed to score on a 101 second five on three advantage, things looked bleak for the boys in the red sweaters.
But then the Caps got a bit of a lucky bounce on a Jeff Schultz dump in and Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 3 assists) set up Alexander Ovechkin (2 goals) in the slot and the Great #8 buried the puck by Emery to suddenly give the Caps and the Verizon Center life. Then Backstrom scored on a one-timer off of a perfect pass from Alexander Semin (1 goal, 2 assists) on the power play to tie the game just over two minutes later at 18:12 of the second period. The Caps power play had been in a major drought (0 for 14) but Keith Aucoin made a good play on the boards to get Semin the puck to start the whole scoring sequence. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau credited Aucoin (1 assist), who was called up from Hershey last week due to injuries, with sparking things for Washington with the man advantage.
“It was really important [to end the drought] and Keith Aucoin was the catalyst for the whole thing and that is why he leads the league in the American League. He might not have the size or anything else but he sure knows what to do with the puck when he gets it,” said Boudreau.
Washington then scored the winning tally 5:24 into the third period and even though Boudreau called the goal “lucky” I say that only a player with the talent and skill of Semin could have pulled that maneuver off. Semin, after a nice breakout feed from defenseman Mike Green (1 assist and +3 overall), skated across the blue line down the left wing and started looking at a streaking Backstrom down the middle of the ice seemingly tipping everyone off that he was going to get the puck to #19 down the slot. Then #28 let go of a laser quick snap shot that fooled Emery and everyone else and just like that it was 3-2 Caps and the sea of red went nuts at the “Phone Booth.”
After the Caps killed off a Mike Knuble hooking penalty and a Flyers onslaught (Philly had 20 shots on goal in the third period), the Great #8 sealed this game with his NHL leading 11th goal of the season into an empty net.
Here are some thoughts, notes, and quotes from the win over the Flyers, which has to taste nice for Caps fans:
- Jose Theodore (game’s #1 star) was phenomenal in goal on Tuesday night stopping 41 of 43 shots including a penalty shot by Darroll Powe when Caps defenseman Tom Poti was called for tripping him on a clear breakaway. I thought that Poti hit the puck before getting Powe’s skate but in fairness to the officials, they have a split second to make that call and I had the luxury of seeing a couple of replays. Powe skated in and fired a shot into Theo’s pads once again sending the Capitals fans into jubilee. As I mentioned after the Caps win over the Islanders on Saturday night, #60 has seized the #1 goalie job with a vengeance. Jose also said the Caps played tonight with an edge.
- “It seemed that after [Ovechkin's first goal] everyone got going and we wanted to win really bad,” said Theodore.
- This was the fifth win in a row for the Caps and they are now 7-2-2 overall. Tonight’s game was the first of 4 in 6 nights.
- “We always have a thing, the first game of the week is the most important. I always like the baseball analogy it is like a doubleheader and winning the first game is very important so we knew, especially in a big week like this where it is the most games we’ve played this season in one week, that it would be great, against a good team, to start off really well. It was well earned but I hope it didn’t take too much out of us that we don’t have enough left in the tank for the next three,” said Boudreau.
- Aucoin logged 10:29 of ice time and he is making a difference being a spark plug for the Caps.
- “He is instant energy, I can identify with him so well, I think, because that is pretty well what I was when I played, a full time minor league guy and when you get the chance to get in the NHL you just go, go, go. He is as smart as any NHLer, he just doesn’t have the physical attributes that a lot of them do. That is why he was overlooked, a division three player, and coming out he is a self made player. Those kind of guys are driven. When we played against him when he was in Albany [AHL] in the playoffs, even though we [Hershey] won in five games, everytime he was on the ice he was a threat and I thought he was so much better than I originally thought, he is a good player,” added Boudreau who was clearly enthusiastic to talk about #20 and his contribution to the Caps.
- As advertised heading into Tuesday’s contest, the Flyers had a very good power play operating at over 25% efficiency and they took advantage of two lazy penalties (hooks by Brendan Morrison and Tyler Sloan in non-threatening areas) to get two goals with the man advantage. Overall the Flyers were 2 for 5 on the power play.
- “Well I’m happy with the effort but we can’t be satisfied with what’s going on. We’re not scoring goals right now. We’re getting a lot of chances but we got to do more. We got to dig in around the net. We got to find a way to get those pucks in the net. And we got to start winning these tight games,” said Flyers Coach John Stevens, whose club dropped to 5-4-1.
- The Caps won for the second straight game after trailing 2-0 and they have fallen behind by two only twice this season and have responded with goals 2:18 and 1:39 later. Backstrom talked about the confidence the team gains from wins like the last coupl.
- “It means a lot. Last season I think we did it a couple of times too. I don’t know what happened, we were down 2-0 and it just turned around….You can’t panic, it is just two goals, you know it is half of the game left, so you keep working and hopefully something good happens, like tonight,” said Backstrom, who now has 3 goals and 12 assists in 11 games this season.
- Washington was better in the face-off department tonight going 37-32. Dave Steckel was 16-11 but Backstrom was only 6-10. I spoke with #19 afterwards about the advantage, from the dot, that he receives at home (the home team player gets to put his stick down second).
- “I think it is a lot. You have the advantage of seeing how [your opponent] puts his stick down first and I get to go after him so that is a good thing, especially when you’ve been struggling,” said Backstrom, who is winning only about 40% of his face-offs this season.
Next up for Washington is the Thrashers, who lost star forward Ilya Kovalchuk for at least 4 weeks due to a broken foot, in Atlanta on Thursday. The Caps return home on Friday night against the Islanders and then face the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday afternoon at 5pm at the Verizon Center.