Caps Devastate Carolina
The Washington Capitals stormed into Raleigh tonight and blew the doors off of the Carolina Hurricanes, 5-1, to take over sole possession of first place in the Southeast Division. This was the game Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was looking for from his top line of Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal, 2 assists), Alexander Semin (2 goals, 3 assists), and Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 3 assists) and they were each plus four on the night playing their best game of the season. Boudreau also felt that the team’s overall performance was the best of the season edging out last Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Rangers at the Verizon Center.
After tonight’s contest Semin leads the entire NHL in scoring with 13 goals and 14 assists for 27 points and currently has to be considered the league’s MVP this season. It was Semin’s great defensive play that started the Caps outburst as he stole a pass headed between the Canes defensemen at the Washington blue line, broke away two on one with Ovechkin, then took the lone defensemen with him while dropping a perfect pass to the Great #8, who quickly deked Canes goalie Michael Leighton to the ice, and then deposited the puck into the vacant net on the forehand. That goal energized Ovechkin and the Caps and the first line was on fire the rest of the night. Ovechkin now has a goal in the past two games after going nine games without one so look out, a goal scoring streak is likely coming.
Unfortunately for Washington, there was some bad news on the night as red hot goalie Brent Johnson, who stopped 13 of 14 shots in the first period, was injured in the final seconds of period one and is now listed as day-to-day. The positive that came out of this was that the Caps other goalie, Jose Theodore, came in and was outstanding stopping Carolina’s top player, Eric Staal, with a great pad save on a two on zero break and shortly thereafter #60 got the paddle of his stick on an attempted close in move by Sergei Samsonov to preserve the Caps 3-1 second period lead. Theodore’s strong immediate relief work seemed to calm the Caps and from there on out they were all over Carolina. Jose stopped all 13 shots he faced tonight.
With the injury to Johnson the Caps have three potential goalies available for call up should they need to go that route in Daren Machesney, Simeon Varlamov, and Michal Neuvirth. Machesney and Varlamov are both in Hershey and Neuvirth is playing in South Carolina in the ECHL for the Stingrays and is 2-0 with a .933 save percentage this season. In the past the Caps have gone to the Stingrays for a call up, on occassion, so as not to disrupt Hershey so don’t be surprised if they do that again should Johnson not be able to go in the back to back series this weekend with the New Jersey Devils.
Viktor Kozlov returned to the lineup tonight from injury and he took Eric Fehr’s spot on a physical skating line with Dave Steckel and Brooks Laich. For Fehr, this had to be tough to take given that he had arguably his best game of the season and as an NHLer on Tuesday night scoring the eventual game winning goal and earning the team’s “hard hat” for the contest. But Boudreau is in charge and he made the call and given the outcome of the game it is hard to argue with the decision, especially since at the start of the season Fehr was not among the Caps top 12 forwards. But Fehr has a bright future if he keeps working hard and building strength and I expect him to get to play one of the back to back games against New Jersey. Also missing from tonight’s lineup was Sergei Fedorov and Shaone Morrisonn who are also both day-to-day with injuries. GM George McPhee has to feel pretty good about the depth he has on this team right now because despite several early season injuries the team continues to play well and are now 9-4-2 overall. Carolina dropped to 8-6-2.
As I mentioned above, the Caps now play the Devils in a home and home series this weekend and Friday night is at the Verizon Center. Don’t forget the first 15,000 fans get a Bruce Boudreau bobblehead so get their early if you want one.
Surprise! Surprise! Well not really…Anaheim GM Brian Burke stepped down today and will be a free agent GM after this season. Burke has long been rumored to be going to Toronto to take over the Leafs and it looks like that will definitely happen now. Burke already has one of his favorite coaches, Ron Wilson, running that team and I think that is no coincidence. Knowing Leaf Nation (aka, Leafs fans) they will start planning the 2009-10 Stanley Cup parade tomorrow. Bob Murray is now the GM for the Ducks.
In a rematch of last season’s Stanley Cup Finals the Pittsburgh Penguins rallied from two goals down in the third period to knock off the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings, 7-6, in overtime on Tuesday night. Jordan Staal, the younger brother of the Canes Eric, scored three goals in the third period and then assisted on the game winner by Ruslan Fedotenko. The Pens have the same record as the Caps at 9-4-2. Detroit is 9-2-3 and is still the odds on favorites to win the Stanley Cup but after this season they have major salary cap problems (Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa, and several others are unrestricted free agents).
The San Jose Sharks lead the NHL overall with a 13-3-1 record but the surprise team of the season so far, in my book, is the Columbus Blue Jackets. After gutting their team in the off-season and making some moves that bordered on ridiculous (see Mike Commodore’s contract) the team is 7-7-2 after 16 games. I expected them to challenge for worst team in the league, and that could still happen but the way they are playing right now it doesn’t look like that will be the case. One of the keys for this team has been the play of 20 year old goalie Steve Mason who was 3-0 before being beaten by the Phoenix Coyotes Wednesday night, 5-2. Mason, drafted in the third round of the 2006 NHL entry draft (69th overall), is from Oakville, Ontario and played three years for Dale Hunter’s London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). Also playing very well for Coach Ken Hitchcock is forward Derick Brassard who is only 21 years old but now has 7 goals and 8 assists in 15 games. Brassard was the Blue Jackets first pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft (6th overall, taken two picks behind the Caps Nicklas Backstrom). 2007 1st round draft choice (7th overall), Jakub Voracek, shows lots of potential and has 3 goals and 7 assists in 16 games. Of course the primary key for solid play from Columbus is that of their captain Rick Nash, who has 6 goals and 6 assists in 16 games but is only plus one overall after going minus two tonight. Nash is at the point in his career where he needs to lead his team and use his outstanding talent and size to take over games.
One final Caps note: The Washington Capitals and WFED 1500 AM hosted a canned food drive at the Caps game against the New York Rangers at Verizon Center on Nov. 8, to benefit the Capital Area Food Bank. Caps fans donated 2,708 pounds of food, which more than doubled what was collected at last year’s drive. The Capital Area Food Bank also collected $2,248.31 at the drive, including a $1,000 check from Washington Capitals Charities. In total, nearly 9,500 meals will be provided with donations collected by the Caps. The Caps, and their fans, are doing a lot in the community and next week while the team is on the road I’ll be bringing you a blog highlighting some of the great things that Ted Leonsis’ team is doing for the area on the charity front.