The Washington Capitals ended their four game road losing streak with a very determined effort in a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday. The Caps dominated this game but because of the outstanding play of Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala Washington was only able to win by a goal. The Caps outshot the Leafs, 30-21, and played a very good road game so Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau has to be extremely pleased with his undermanned team.
Defensemen Karl Alzner had another strong game and also had a goal and an assist on the evening and was the game’s number two star behind Alexander Ovechkin (picked by a member of the Toronto media). Alzner capitalized on a Toronto turnover and fired a wrister that went past Toskala, who was being screened by Ovechkin, to give the Caps a 1-0 lead in the second period. It was Alzner’s first goal in the NHL and came against the team he grew up rooting for (I will have to have a serious talk with him about growing up a Leafs fan next time I talk to him, LOL!). With defensemen Mike Green and Tom Poti still out due to injuries, Alzner has become Boudreau’s number one defensemen and he played 23 minutes and 6 seconds on Saturday, second on the team to the Great #8’s 23:17 of ice time. Defensemen Milan Jurcina had the game winning goal on a right point blast with just under 13 minutes left in the game and more importantly, only a minute after the Leafs tied the game at one.
Defensemen Tyler Sloan injured his foot in the Islanders game on Thursday so Sean Collins was called up from Hershey and became the 11th Caps defensemen of the season. Collins did pretty well logging 13:42 of ice time. I like the fact that he can really skate so he offers some mobility on the back line and he moved the puck well on Saturday night. Unfortunately for the Caps the injury bug continues as forward Eric Fehr left the game in the second period with an apparent upper body injury that he suffered after checking a Leafs player into the boards. Fehr did not return and based on how much pain he appeared to be in it is likely he will be out awhile and another forward will need to be recalled from Hershey.
As I mentioned Toskala played outstanding stopping 28 of 30 shots, including several quality chances, to keep his team in the game. He also caught a break when Brooks Laich hit the post in the second period and then after Boyd Gordon almost put the rebound in the net Laich’s apparent goal was ruled a kick-in on video review and prevented the Caps from taking a 2-0 advantage.
If I’m the Caps and Ovechkin I’m wondering what is going on when there is not a penalty shot or even a penalty call when Leafs defensemen Jeff Finger clearly hooked Alexander the Great to the ice when Alex was set to break in alone on Toskala late in the second period yet two more less obvious infractions are given to the Great #8 in the third period on non-scoring chances. The second of those calls led to the game tying goal. If the two calls on Ovechkin were penalties then Finger’s take down of the Great #8 DEFINITELY should have been called as well yet referee Tim Peel chose otherwise. That seemed kind of fishy to me and I am still not sure what game he was watching tonight because he was very inconsistent. The hook they called on Milan Jurcina earlier in the second period was less of a penalty than any of the three plays involving Ovechkin but that is what you get these days with the guys wearing zebra costumes.
Caps goalie Brent Johnson only faced 19 shots but there were once again some defensive breakdowns that required him to face a few quality chances and only Nik Antropov’s power play shot in the third period got by him into the net. Johnny is playing well again (he was great earlier in the year before getting injured) so given the light workload on Saturday I expect Boudreau to play him in goal in Carolina on Sunday afternoon at 5pm.
Speaking of Carolina, the Hurricanes lost to the Flyers in OT tonight, 2-1, so Washington (15-9-3) gained another point and now lead them by six points in the Southeast Division heading into Sunday’s showdown in Raleigh. The Florida Panthers were blanked by the Boston Bruins tonight, 4-0, so the Caps are now eight points ahead of them.
Notes: Alexander Semin missed his 11th straight game and he was placed on Long Term Injured Reserve meaning the Caps can save some more salary cap room. Semin is not expected to return now until next weekend, at the earliest. Ovechkin was held without a point for only the second time in the last 14 games but he had seven shots on goal and six hits. The Hershey Bears, despite the fact that several of their players are up with the Caps, won again tonight, 4-2, for their club record 10th straight win. Caps goalie of the future, Simeon Varlamov, was the game’s number two star.