Mike Green scored his 29th and 30th goals of the season in the third period and Alexander Ovechkin added his 54th of the season in the second period as the Washington Capitals rallied from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to complete a four game season sweep of the New York Islanders on Wednesday night, 5-3, at the Verizon Center. The win combined with New Jersey getting buried by Pittsburgh (6-1) for their sixth straight loss gives Washington a three point lead over the Devils for 2nd place in the Eastern Conference with just five games to go in the regular season. This victory also gives the Caps 101 points and it is only the fourth time in team history they have eclipsed the century mark. If the Caps get at least seven points in their remaining five games they will set the franchise mark for total points in a regular season beating the 1985-86 team (107 points).
This game started slowly for Washington and once again a shorthanded bad clear (Tom Poti) led to an opposing goal as a screened Jose Theodore was beaten by Kyle Okposo’s top shelf shot for the first tally of the evening. Then to start the second period the Islanders made it 2-0 as Poti and Jeff Schultz had another poor defensive zone shift that allowed Frans Nielsen to put one in off of his skate while charging to the net.
But things then began to change when John Erskine stepped up in Donald Brashear’s absence (knee injury) and fought Joel Rechlicz 100 seconds into the second period. That brought some adrenaline to the Caps along with a Schultz fight and even though Green was correctly called for charging Andy Hilbert to put Washington shorthanded (even though several Islanders jumped Green and Schultz had to fight Tim Jackman when the Islander instigated – that sequence should have been an even up call causing Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau to shout “What the #$%& are you guys looking at?” to the referees) you could sense that the Caps were now into this game.
On the ensuing Islander power play the Caps did a good job of preventing New York from making it 3-0 and then Sergei Fedorov took over at the end of the penalty kill and finished his great shift with an unbelievably great pass from behind the net to a wide open Ovechkin who shot it in off of Islanders goalie Joey MacDonald. The Caps then kept the intensity up and Eric Fehr pressured New York into a bad defensive zone pass that went right to Keith Aucoin in the slot and his first shot ricocheted off of MacDonald’s pads back to Aucoin who buried the puck for his first goal of the season (he had five tallies last year in Carolina).
With the game tied 2-2 it looked like this would be a repeat of the early December Caps 5-2 victory where the home squad scored three goals in the final period to break open a tight game but when Michael Nylander made a bad kicking backwards pass to Green and Shaone Morrisonn, it was intercepted by Richard Park and he went in alone on Theodore and beat him top shelf on a beautiful back hand move. Suddenly it was 3-2 Islanders early in the final period.
But Washington put the heat on and shortly thereafter Alexander Semin almost tied the game with two great chances but MacDonald was lucky and good to preserve the New York lead. The Caps would tie it as the Islanders, who tried to take take advantage of no Brashear with some chippy play all night, crossed the line and were caught by the zebras for roughing giving the Caps a power play. Green then got his 29th in the slot on a great feed from Semin and then just 83 seconds later Green put in the game winner (his 30th) on a point shot that MacDonald had trouble with because Tomas Fleischmann went to the net and screened the goalie (in fact, it was close to #14’s goal as he swatted at the puck and looked to just barely miss it).
Here are some other thoughts on the game and notes on the Caps on a busy day:
Goaltending: Theodore was good tonight even though he gave up three goals on 27 shots. Each of the three goals were the result of defensive zone breakdowns and there were many others that lead to quality chances. Since December 23rd #60 is now 22-10-4 and his save percentage over that span, before tonight, was .911. He recorded his 30th win of the season, the third 30-win season of his career. He is now .500 for his career (213-213-44); the last time he was .500 in his career was Nov. 9, 1998.
Fleischmann: While #14 did not have a point for the 14th straight game this was one of his better games in weeks. He went to the net hard and did a good job of backchecking on several occassions. He is due to score and my biggest complaint is that he needs to be more careful with his defensive zone passes. I have a feeling this guy breaks out soon and the playoffs would be a perfect time.
Fedorov and Backstrom: I thought both of these guys were big keys to the game tonight setting the pace up the middle of the ice for Washington. Fedorov brought the Caps back in it in the second period and he was 11-7 on face-offs. It was his best game in weeks but he has been battling the flu. As for #19, this kid just keeps getting better and better and now has 22 goals and 60 assists (82 points). He is SO strong on the puck along the boards thanks to some great lower body strength. He is one of the most underrated players in the league, in my opinion. Backstrom also was 16-8 from the face off dot on Wednesday (Washington was 45-24 for the game).
Concern area: I continue to be worried about the Caps play in their own end. It seems that there are several times in a game where they just are running around with no thought to proper positioning. They also have sequences where they are very careless with the puck. Clearing the front of their own net has not been their strong suit lately and come playoff time guys will have to start blocking more shots. In fact, Green was just a guest call in tonight on the NHL Network’s “On the Fly” show and indicated that defensive zone was the one thing they really needed to do better in when asked by Hall of Famer Larry Murphy if there was a concern area (For those those who missed it, you can catch it on replay in the AM on the NHL Network).
2009 Masterton Trophy: Brian Pothier has been nominated by the Professional Hockey Writers Association for the 2009 Bill Masterton Trophy that typically is awarded to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” #2, who scored his first goal in 14 months against Tampa last Friday night, missed all that time due to post-concussion syndrome. Pothier will go up against Southeast Division rivals Rod Brind’Amour of Carolina, Slava Kozlov of Atlanta, Richard Zednik of Florida, Cory Murphy of Tampa Bay and several other to be named players from each team in the NHL.
Caps Sign Draft Pick: The Washington Capitals have signed forward Stefan Della Rovere to a three-year entry-level contract beginning next season, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. Della Rovere, 18, will join the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL and could make his debut Wednesday night at Charlotte. He is also eligible to return to his junior team next season. Della Rovere captained the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this year and recorded 51 points (27g-24a) and 146 penalty minutes in 57 regular-season games. He played in all five playoff games for the Colts, recording two goals and two assists before the team was eliminated in the first round by the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors. Della Rovere was named to the 2009 OHL Eastern Conference All-Star team, where he recorded one goal.
The 5’11”, 200-pound Richmond Hill, Ontario, native was a member of Team Canada that won the gold medal at the 2009 World Junior Championship in Ottawa. He also participated in the 2008 ADT Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Canada/Russia Challenge, an annual six-game exhibition tournament between all-star teams representing the three leagues of the CHL and a select team of Russian junior players. Della Rovere was Washington’s seventh-round choice, 204th overall, in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
Next up for the Caps are the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night at the Verizon Center. The Sabres are five points out of the playoffs with six games to go and after tonight’s overtime loss in Atlanta are on the verge of being eliminated. The Capitals practice on Thursday at Kettler Ice Plex will be at noon and will likely be an optional one.