Caps Win on Long Island / John Erskine Interview

January 19, 2009 | Ed Frankovic

Ovechkin, Theodore Carry Caps

There have been two Caps games in Long Island this year and the result is now two games with overtime game winners by the Great #8, Alexander Ovechkin, who slammed home a nice pass from Alexander Semin to propel the Caps to a 2-1 win in OT against the Islanders on Monday afternoon. Ovechkin clearly likes playing in New York and his two tallies this afternoon were both on the power play. He has now seized the NHL goal scoring lead for the first time this season with 31, one goal ahead of Jeff Carter of the Flyers.

Ovechkin’s game winner came as a result of several rather stupid slashes by former Cap Brendan Witt. Afterwards Witt was quoted by Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post as not liking the call but anyone who saw the replay could easily see a penalty was warranted. As for Witt, who forced GM George McPhee’s hand by demanding a trade a few years back during the Washington rebuilding days, he has really slowed down and doesn’t appear to be a fit for the new NHL because of his lack of foot speed. Witt, who was a first round draft choice by the Caps in 1993 (11th overall) but sat out a year in a contract squabble, had enormous potential, but in my mind he has underachieved. Missing a year of hockey when he was young is something I believe that helped to put him on the road to a decent career that otherwise could have been great had he not taken bad advice on several different occasions.

Jose Theodore was very good in net once again for Washington stopping 27 of 28 shots and he earned his 200th NHL victory. #60 is now 17-8-1 for the Caps this season and will likely start again tomorrow night in Ottawa with Brent Johnson nursing another injury (Hershey goalie Daren Machesney was recalled for the trip due to Johnson’s undisclosed injury). Theo made several good saves today and, next to Ovechkin, he was the reason Washington was able to get out of Long Island with two points.

For those of you who watched this game on Monday you saw how sloppy it was and the Caps had numerous chances to get a two goal lead but by failing to do so they let the Islanders hang around. Then when the Caps took two bad penalties within four seconds of each other after the halfway point of the third period (a lazy trip by Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin’s inadvertent clear that went into the stands), New York was finally able to solve Theodore via Kyle Okposo’s tap in on a five on three Islander power play.

The sloppy play on both sides involved bad passes and pucks bouncing all over the place which indicated that perhaps the ice was bad at the Nassau Coliseum (which is a far outdated building). This was the Caps third straight win after three straight losses and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau changed his lineup by inserting forwards Chris Clark and Boyd Gordon and sitting Eric Fehr and Dave Steckel. It will be interesting to see what he does against the Northeast Division’s last place Senators (15-21-7) on Tuesday night. Last time the Caps were in Ottawa was on Election Day and Johnson stole the show in net in a 2-1 Caps loss in OT that was won by Ottawa’s Mike Fisher. With Chris Neil likely in the lineup for the Senators, Boudreau can’t sit Donald Brashear so if Steckel is to get back in then either Clark or Gordon will have to come out. Given that Ottawa is most dangerous on the power play with the Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, and Jason Spezza line the coach will likely need Gordon to kill penalties. But then again Gordon has had a shaky back lately so back-to-back games could be a problem.

Other Game Notes: Defenseman Brian Helmer only played 10:25 of ice time and he really struggled at times. Karl Alzner was solid for the second game in a row and played 16:15. John Erskine was once again paired with Mike Green and played well logging 20:39. Green led the Caps in ice time (25:15). Ovechkin had eight shots on net and the Caps did hold a 38-28 advantage over the Islanders in that category. Brooks Laich had seven shots on net and did appear to go head first into the ice with just about five minutes left in the game so he is someone to keep an eye on tomorrow, health wise. Viktor Kozlov led the Caps in shots on goal with nine. The Caps were 2 for 4 on the power play. Washington is now 30-14-3 (63 points) and this is the fastest that a Caps team has ever gotten to 30 wins, passing the 1984-85 Caps team that got win #30 in game 49.

Interview with John Erskine

As I mentioned in my last blog, I had a chance to talk with defenseman John Erskine after the Caps win over the Bruins on Saturday night. Erskine has played very well since missing 22 games due to a concussion. Here is the text of the interview:

WNST: How are you feeling since coming back from injury?

Erskine: Not bad, I’m still trying to get my legs going there. They have me paired up with Greenie (Mike Green) and when you’ve got a guy like him as your partner its pretty easy, you just give him the puck and he skates it out so it has been pretty good playing with him.

WNST: Have you played with him before?

Erskine: I played with him a couple of years ago in preseason or something and that was about it.

WNST: How would you say both of you have improved your respective games since a couple of years ago?

Erskine: Greenie has definitely improved his and he is a scoring machine out there, especially on the power play. I think, myself, I just got that confidence out there. They are throwing me out in the different situations and they are showing that they have confidence in me and it just works both ways.

WNST: How hard was it sitting out during that stretch with the injury?

Erskine: I missed about six weeks and every game I dreaded watching. I’m not a guy that likes to sit in the stands and watch his team play. To get out there the first couple of games when I came back I had that jump and excitement and was almost nervous.

WNST: What was the game like tonight (the Boston win) because from the fans perspective it seemed like a playoff type atmosphere?

Erksine: We knew it’d be sold out tonight. My intention was to get started, get my head on out there, and get the fans going. They’re number one and we’re number two and we want to catch them so it was definitely like a playoff atmosphere.

WNST: It seems like almost every time this Caps team goes up against a top team the level of play by Washington rises and the energy level is there. Do you guys talk about it or do you guys just like the challenge?

Erskine: I think we like the challenge. We like every challenge but when you are playing those teams and they are ahead of you they are easy to get up for so we just have to make sure that when we are playing those teams below us we get up for those guys too.

WNST: Last thing for you, tonight you were in a scrum in front of the net with Boston’s Marc Savard and the referee came over afterwards and talked to you for awhile, what did he say?

Erskine: He gave me an earful. He said that is my freebie and basically said that is it for the rest of the night. He said if I do that again he’s going to throw me in the box. I just listened to him and every time there was a little scrum I just tried to be careful and once the whistle blew, I just kind of backed off. I didn’t want to get thrown in the box.

That’s it for tonight, after the Ottawa game on Tuesday I’ll have a recap and analysis of that contest plus the full text from my interview with Caps forward Donald Brashear from after the Bruins game last Saturday night.