If you attended Wednesday night’s Caps-Carolina game at the Verizon Center you definitely got your money’s worth witnessing this one. The Capitals and the Canes, who are two of the NHL’s hottest teams right now despite Carolina’s 13th position in the Eastern Conference standings, put on an exciting end-to-end brand of hockey with super goaltending and it took Tomas Fleischmann’s one timer (19th goal of the season) in OT off of a great pass by Eric Belanger to allow Washington to prevail, 4-3. Jose Theodore made 29 saves and stopped a penalty shot by Brandon Sutter and at least two near breakaways by Ray Whitney in another strong performance that continues to solidify his hold as the #1 goaltender for Washington. Manny Legace was really good in net for Carolina making 35 saves despite taking the loss.
The victory pushes the Capitals to 99 points (45-13-9) with 15 games to go in the regular season. They have a 15 point lead on second place Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference (the Pens have a game in hand) and in the race for the President’s Trophy they lead second place San Jose by six points (the Sharks have two games in hand).
Here are the highlights, analysis, and quotes from the victory that puts the Caps just a game away from potentially going over the century mark in points at the earliest point in a season in franchise history:
You might find this surprising, but one of the best players on the ice tonight did not score a point, was even for the game and was not on for any goals against either. This Capital had seven hits, logged 18:59 of ice time (including 4:55 on the penalty kill – 2nd most on the club), and blocked two shots. His defensive partner, John Carlson, had an assist on the Caps first goal by Alexander Semin but #74 and this player, according to the official scorers, changed before #28 buried the puck, which prevented them from getting a plus. In addition this defenseman did a super job of keeping the shooting lanes open for Theodore and he tied up opposing players sticks or bodies in front to deny the Canes from scoring all evening. He also did not take a single penalty. It was one of the best games I have seen this guy play all year so congrats Shaone Morrisonn for a very good performance! I’m pretty sure the coaches will recognize it and if you continue to play like that on a consistent basis the Caps are going to have a really good chance of winning Lord Stanley. So Kudos #26.
As for the rest of the d-men, Mike Green obviously was the most noticeable scoring two power play goals but he tripped Sutter to give the Cane a penalty shot and he also made a terrible giveaway that allowed Chad Larose to set up Tuomo Ruutu for the goal that knotted this one at two goals apiece in period two. #52, who was on the ice with partner Jeff Schultz for two of the three Carolina goals, led Washington in ice time logging 26:22 but was -1. #55 did not have one of his better games as he was slow to the puck on the play that eventually led to Green’s d-zone blunder and he screened Theodore on the Hurricanes third goal (power play tally). Joe Corvo and Tom Poti were okay as a pair on Wednesday with my biggest problem being that they were the duo that allowed Whitney to break in the clear on #60 a couple of times.
“He had two goals and a beautiful assist, but the assist was to the other team. His idea was right, but he was just being too casual and trying to finesse the puck in there. Everything that is passed has to be a hard pass. It has to be, it’s the only way it works,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, who was clearly critical of #52′s brutal giveaway.
Up front, Semin (goal, +1, 5 shots on net) continues to own Carolina and he has three goals in three contests played against them this season, and 22 goals in 27 career games. #28 created a lot of opportunities with Brendan Morrison and Fleischmann. Morrison, who struggled against Tampa last Thursday was much better tonight and if he could just finish on some of his opportunities his season could end up being more like what we saw from him in the first 35 games. Belanger (1 assist, +1) and Brooks Laich (1 assist in 18:58) also had solid evenings. Alexander Ovechkin had an assist in 21:23 but his timing with Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble was slightly off and all were minus players on the night (Knuble was -2). However, since the Great #8 donned the “C” the Caps are a staggering 21-2-3.
Special teams played a big role in this one and Washington’s much maligned penalty killing allowed another goal but was better going 4 for 5. The team was much more aggressive on the puck and didn’t allow the Canes to get set up very often. The Caps power play was a difference maker going 2 for 4 with the only blemish being the trip by #52 that resulted in a penalty shot. The Capitals are now 13-2-2 on the season when they score two or more power-play goals.
“[The] power play was very effective tonight and our p-kill [penalty kill] I felt was a lot better. We gave up a goal, but they made a good play and things are going to happen, we just need to make an adjustment. But I felt that our penalty kill was the best penalty kill since I came over here,” said Belanger.
With 15 fowards and 8 defenseman Boudreau continues to rotate players in and out with Eric Fehr and Jason Chimera joining the frequently scratched Quintin Laing up front while John Erskine joined the other usual defensive scratch, Tyler Sloan, in the press box on Wednesday. Clearly it is a tough thing to do to keep moving guys in and out but in the long run this will pay off for the Caps in the playoffs by keeping guys more fresh and thus making them less likely to get injured.
“It is March 10th and the playoffs don’t start until about April 18th so I don’t want to set the lineup and then have someone get hurt and have to put someone in who has been out for 30 days…so I don’t like it, but as long as we can, we’ll keep rotating guys in and out of the line-up,” added Boudreau on his game to game logic on who plays and who sits.
The Capitals have scored first in each of their five games after the Olympic break and are now 30-6-5 on the year when they are the initial ones to light the lamp. Next up for the Caps are the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night at the Verizon Center. The Caps will clinch their third straight Southeast Divsion title, a race that has pretty much been over since November, if the Atlanta Thrashers lose on Thursday or if the Caps pick up a point in their next tilt against the Bolts.