With a five game road winning streak for the Caps and a five game overall winning streak for the Atlanta Thrashers something has to give in Atlanta tonight and so far it is Washington who is doing all of the giving. Atlanta leads 2-0 after the 1st period after some uninspired hockey by the guys in white sweaters tonight. Alexander Ovechkin is going for his 50th goal of the season while Washington defensemen Mike Green is out of the lineup with an undisclosed injury and Atlanta superstar Ilya Kovalchuk is out with an upper body injury. Here are some thoughts on the first period, which was too wide open with 26 shots (14 for the Caps and 12 for Atlanta).
Defenseman Tom Poti was just terrible in the first period and directly responsible for both goals. First, he badly overplayed Thrasher forward Rich Peverly at the blue line giving him the inside lane allowing #47 to drive to the net and fire a backhander that Jose Theodore stopped, but because of a screen, he gave up a rebound that was put in by Colby Armstrong. The other defenseman on the ice was Shaone Morrisonn who was also in no man’s land. The second Atlanta goal was a power play one but Poti had two good chances to clear the puck yet gave it away both times and finally Slava Kozlov, after 76 seconds in the Washington zone, ripped one off the post and past Theodore.
Ovechkin totally floated in his own end on the Atlanta first goal not picking up anyone the whole time the Thrashers were in the zone. Had he been strong on the puck at the blue line he would have been able to thwart Peverly’s move on Poti and take the puck but Ovechkin was seen coasting with his legs straight and stick at his waist which is not good defensive position. Here is a SCARY stat: Ovechkin has not been a PLUS player in his last 11 games and he is -6 over that span. The last time he was a plus in a game was against Montreal on February 18th. Ovechkin is -1 tonight so far. Bottom Line: The Great #8 needs to become more responsible in his own end.
Brian Pothier is playing his first game since January 3, 2008 (concussion) and he looked okay except for taking the only penalty of the period when he hooked Brett Sterling in front of the Washington net (and Atlanta scored on the ensuing power play).
Thrashers goalie Kari Lehtonen saved all 14 shots he faced but the Caps have had little to no traffic in front of him. The Caps need to go to the net harder. Is someone other than the big guns on this team going to score again?
We’ll see if period two is better but I don’t have a good feeling about this game tonight, Atlanta looks hungrier and more focused.
So far the second period has been worse than the first. The Caps have just taken their third penalty of the period on a hook by Alexander Semin (they trail 3-0). It was Semin who turned the puck over shorthanded in the offensive zone that led to the Thrasher second power play goal of the evening as Anssi Salmela skated back up ice with the puck and, you guessed it, Poti and Morrisonn were back, and the duo gave Salmela too much room and he fired it past Theodore. Now on Semin’s penalty Atlanta has made it 4-0 on a Tobias Enstrom blast and the Thrashers are 3 for 4 on power plays. The Caps have yet to DRAW a penalty and I cannot blame the referees as Washington has been downright AWFUL! Oh and Poti and Morrisonn have been on the ice for all four Thrashers goals. Poti was unable to clear out Bryan Little in front of the net on the Enstrom blast.
Theodore was then pulled in goal with Simeon Varlamov inserted and the Caps finally showed some life. Ovechkin drew a penalty and Washington went on the power play for the first time all game but Lehtonen would not allow anything to get past him. Then as the penalty expired the Great #8 went on a hitting spree crushing three Thrashers and that allowed Semin to draw another Altanta penalty in the offensive zone. The Caps peppered Lehtonen on the power play to end the period but between the goalie and the cross bar the Caps could not get the puck by him. Washington has a minute and 21 seconds left on the power play to start period three and if they don’t score they can write this one off. The Caps are now outshooting Atlanta 30-21 but the scoreboard says 4-0 Thrashers. Bad defense for the Caps and timely goaltending by Lehtonen has made this a lopsided affair.
Despite giving a big effort in the third period Washington could not solve Lehtonen until 75 seconds left in the game as Eric Fehr tipped in the rebound of a Milan Jurcina point blast. The fact that the Caps scored a rebound goal and it wasn’t from one of the big guns is one of the very few positives from this contest. On the night Lehtonen stopped 49 of 50 shots and the netminder is now 10-6-2 in his career against the Caps. In the third period, Washington had two more power plays in addition to the last 81 seconds on their second one and it was evident that without Green on the right point and Poti inserted that this configuration is much less dangerous as #3 is no real threat to score with his much weaker shot. Poti’s nightmare evening continued as a defensive zone giveaway by him went right to Eric Perron, who went one on two on Poti and Schultz, fired a shot that deflected en route to Varlamov – who couldn’t handle it, and then Poti let Perron beat him to the puck for the rebound to make it 5-0 with 3:22 remaining. All that was left to decide at that point were two things: a Lehtonen shutout (which was denied by Fehr) and the possibility of an Ovechkin 50th goal (did not happen).
Here are some final thoughts:
The Caps must have believed that Theodore was going to win this game for them tonight because they were terrible in front of him. It wasn’t until Varlamov came in that Washington started playing hard and by then it was WAY too late.
Ovechkin was -2 on the evening and is now -8 in his last 12 games. The last goal was not his fault (you can put that one and many of the goals tonight on Poti) but #8 is still not playing consistently well in his own end. Ovechkin did have 10 shots on goal but he also missed the net on 7 other attempts.
This game was the only one on in the NHL at 7pm and Atlanta came out like it was their Game 7 of the playoffs while the Caps floated through the first 33 minutes. It was downright embarrassing for the Caps and their fans have a right to be mad after a pitiful performance like that on Versus. The Caps are now 43-22-6 with 11 games to go and are back on the ice tomorrow night in Florida. The season series with the Thrashers is now knotted at 2-2 with both teams holding serve at home (Atlanta has put up 12 goals in the two games they played at Phillips Arena).
Sergei Fedorov (illness) and Donald Brashear (knee) did not play on Monday.
Atlanta killed the Caps on face-offs, 39-21.