Caps Beat Montreal in Shootout, 4-3
After a 2-0-1 road trip the Washington Capitals returned to face the struggling Montreal Canadiens at the Verizon Center, a place where Washington had won 11 straight games against Eastern Conference opponents and were 22-4-1 overall. The Canadiens, however, would not be easy outs tonight and they got very good goaltending from Carey Price and scored three power play goals, before falling in the shootout to the Caps, 4-3, before another sellout crowd. The Caps are now in sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference and are 37-16-5 (79 points) overall. The New Jersey Devils are in third place two points behind Washington. The Caps have a 13 point lead over second place Florida in the Southeast Division (the Panthers do have a game in hand).
As I’ve written in this blog several times this season, the Montreal Canadiens came into their 100th NHL season expected by their fans to win the Stanley Cup, especially after they finished 1st overall in the Eastern Conference last season. However, the team has practically imploded and came into this contest 3-10 in their last 13 games. As a result GM Bob Gainey made some drastic moves this week trading for veteran and former Montreal defensemen Mathieu Schneider and telling superstar forward Alexei Kovalev to stay home on the current two game road trip (they play in Pittsburgh on Thursday). Also several players, including forward Sergei Kostitsyn who scored the game winner against Washington back on January 10th, were sent down to Hamilton of the AHL. But sometimes adversity can bring a team together and that was what Gainey and Coach Guy Charbonneau were hoping for with moves that shocked much of the Canadian media. On Wednesday night Gainey’s moves worked enough to get the Habs into the shootout and get a point in the standings.
The game got off to a very bad start for the Caps as Mike Green took a puck in the mouth area (but he turned out to be okay) and then was called for an all too familiar “delay of game” penalty for shooting the puck over the glass from the defensive zone when trying to make a low percentage long pass. On the ensuing face-off Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov shot the puck wide but it bounced hard off of the back boards and with Jose Theodore slow to get back in position, Christopher Higgins shot it over #60 from a sharp angle. The power play goal for the Canadiens was huge for a team that has struggled with the man advantage lately (they gave up two shorthanded goals in Calgary last week).
After the Habs opening tally the home team got going as the Great #8, Alexander Ovechkin, scored another one of his highlight reel goals stealing the puck from defensemen Roman Hamrlik in the neutral zone, headed hard to the net with the puck, was tripped from behind while going in alone on Habs goalie Carey Price, and amazingly then managed to get his stick on the puck and shove it on the ice past Price to electrify the sellout crowd. It was Ovechkin’s league leading 42nd goal on the campaign. Once again I could do nothing but invoke the immortal words of Jeff Spicoli – “Awesome, Totally Awesome!”
Shortly thereafter the Caps then made it 2-1 on the latter half of consecutive power plays when Nicklas Backstrom and Sergei Fedorov worked a beautiful give and go that resulted in Backstrom depositing the puck past Price. After that Washington came close to making it 3-1 during a long stretch in which they dominated play, however, Price was the key to keeping the game close. In fact, the Caps could have had several goals during a ten minute stretch of domination but the young net minder would not let his team be buried.
Then, as has been the case several times this season, the Caps suffered a mental breakdown in their own zone and Shaone Morrisonn took a careless penalty. Montreal then made it 2 for 2 on the power play as John Erskine failed to clear Tomas Plekanac in front of the net and the Cap killer screened Theodore allowing a centering pass from Andrei Kostitsyn to go through the goalie and into the net. At the end of one period it was 2-2 with the Caps outshooting Montreal 14-10 and leading in the scoring chances department by 7-4.
In the second period the Canadiens came out strong again but Theodore made some good saves. Midway through the period Fedorov took a lazy hooking penalty but Washington was finally able to kill an infraction with some solid goaltending early and then actually generated some shorthanded scoring chances late. Washington received a power play after a Hamrlik interference call but could not convert and the remainder of the second period was pretty much uneventful.
In the third period Plekanac continued his excellent play against Washington and had two quality scoring chances from the slot on his first shift but Theodore denied him. Then with 11:12 to go Semin took a hooking penalty backchecking late after he, Ovechkin, and Backstrom were initially caught up ice. Just nine seconds after the face-off Plekanac notched his third goal of the season against Washington on a bad angled shot that Theodore was out of position on and proceeded to miss. Suddenly the apparently down and out Habs had a 3-2 lead, all on power play goals, and seemed poise to get a huge road win. The Montreal pressure continued and with 8:08 remaining Habs Captain Saku Koivu found himself all alone in the slot but Theodore made a big save to keep Washington in the game. Right after that #60 then forced Maxim Lapierre to shoot wide when he was all alone in front and the Caps dodged another bullet.
The Caps then fortunately tied the game with 2:39 to go in regulation when Dave Steckel tipped in a Tom Poti point shot right off of the face-off to set up an exciting overtime. Early on in the extra five minute segment Theodore made a big save on Higgins and then the Habs almost won on a shot by Plekanec, after an awful neutral zone giveaway by Michael Nylander, but it rang off of the left post.
In the shootout, Semin went first and scored wristing one over Price’s glove and Backstrom easily beat Price stick side while Theodore denied both Plekanec and then Markov. Next up for the Caps are the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night at 7pm. This is the second of five straight Washington home games.
Notes: Washington outshot Montreal 35-33. Nylander was 2-6 on faceoffs, played only 14:57 of ice time, and as mentioned above almost lost the game in overtime by turning the puck over at mid ice. Fedorov had another strong game with an assist in 17:50 of ice time that included a couple of shifts on defense in overtime. Ovechkin played 25:33 and had six shots on net. Green had an assist and five shots on goal in 29:40 of ice time (lead all players). Forward Eric Fehr’s four game goal scoring streak was stopped. Defenseman Staffan Kronwall was a healthy scratch. Viktor Kozlov is still out with a groin injury.
Caps Season Ticket Sales Up!
Washington Capitals fans purchased more than 1,000 full season tickets on Tuesday, Feb. 17, the first day season tickets were available for purchase for the 2009-10 season. The vast majority of those fans committed to purchasing 2009 Stanley Cup playoff tickets and renewals of existing accounts were also brisk – the latest signs of the excitement surrounding Capitals hockey in the nation’s capital.
Increased demand for Capitals tickets has been evident throughout the season, especially lately. For example:
– Twelve of the last 13 games have been sold out, including six in a row entering Wednesday’s game against Montreal
– Sixteen games have been sold out on the year, double the total from last season
– Attendance has risen to an average of 18,018, which is 98.6% of capacity at Verizon Center and a 27% increase from last year at this time.