The despised Philadelphia Flyers came to the Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon hoping to get revenge for the 8-2 drubbing the Washington Capitals put on them back on December 5th at the Wachovia Center. They would not as the Caps knocked them off again, 5-3, to take the season series 3-0-1. Brooks Laich broke out of a huge scoring slump to tally twice, including a beautiful shorthanded goal that made it 4-2 in the third period, and he also added an assist on Alexander Semin’s power play goal to give Washington a 3-2 advantage in period two. Jose Theodore (30 saves) gave up a shaky first goal but after that was very solid between the pipes for the Caps. This win improves Washington’s overall record to 30-12-6 and moves them back into first place in the Eastern Conference with 66 points. This is the latest in the season Washington has been #1 in the conference. The Capitals have won three in a row and are 6-1 since Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal, 1 assist) took over as team captain.
Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, and analysis:
Laich (2 goals, 1 assist) apparently had an afternoon film session with Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and the 2007-08 Jack Adams winner pointed out some things for Brooksie to improve upon, like getting to the net. Well it worked, #21 scored Washington’s second goal by burying a Tomas Fleischmann rebound from three feet away, next it was his screen and tip of a Mike Green point blast that led to Semin’s tally, and then he made the play of the game stripping Flyers captain Mike Richards of the puck while shorthanded, went in alone, and made Philly goalie Ray Emery look stupid, beating him upstairs to make it 4-2. That individual effort, from the hardest working Cap, really cemented this contest for Washington.
“He is a very intense young man and sometimes he tries to do too much. We just looked over his video, his shifts, his goals and we saw if there was anything we could find that he was doing different. I was so happy when he scored. He takes everything so personal and you will never find a guy who cares as much as Brooks Laich and that is why I am so happy for him to get the two goals. Even if he went 20 games without a goal, I would still have confidence and believe in him,” said Boudreau about the guy who is typically the first one on the ice and the last one off of it at practice.
“[Coach Boudreau] said to get back to being determined, keep skating, using your assets, go the net and good things will happen. He was coach of the year for a reason. He’s such a smart guy. He’s got his hands all over the game. You just trust his word and tonight I got some rewards from it,” added Laich on the coach who helped turned things around for Capitals hockey from the minute he was hired on Thanksgiving Eve of 2007.
Semin (1 goal, 1 assist) seems to play some of his best games against the Flyers and Sunday was no exception. #28 made a tremendous stick check on girly hair man Scott Hartnell along the right wing boards to set up Fleischmann for the shot that led to Laich’s first tally. I don’t think there is a more talented player in the league at taking the puck away from an opponent by lifting his stick from behind. Semin also had a tap in goal that would have been the game winner if not for a late Danny Briere power play tally. Semin’s game seems to have really elevated since his Russian comrade Ovechkin took over the captaincy.
As for Ovechkin, it was another two point night and he scored for the first time in six tries in his career on an in game penalty shot (and that got the fans at the VC free wings!). The Great #8 froze Emery (17 saves) on his attempt and he easily roofed it by a goalie that is average, at best, in my opinion. Ovie also made a super play to set up Mike Knuble for Washington’s first tally outworking the Flyers in the corner and throwing the puck on the Philly netminder, who bobbled it like a bad shortstop, allowing #22 to slam it home to tie the game at one. I only had one complaint against the Alexes today, and that was to shoot the puck more, especially on a weaker goalie like Emery. The two of them are so good, unselfish, and unfortunately too cute at times and need to just unleash their shots when they have an opening. Many times the quick release with a rebound is the best pass.
Speaking of complaints, I know the Flyers outshot the Caps 33-22 but the main reason was because they received five power plays to just one for Washington (the Caps also were awarded Ovechkin’s penalty shot). What game was Dan Marouelli and Kelly Sutherland watching? The roughing call on Tyler Sloan was embellished and much less than what the underachieving Braydon Coburn did to Semin in the neutral zone in the second period. And as Caps video producer and emergency bench door opener, Brett “Stretch” Leonhardt, tweeted during the second period, the shift where Hartnell and Sloan went off for roughing could have resulted in five minors alone being called on #19. Hartnell should have been called for a rough to the head of Tom Poti, at a minimum, 30 seconds before the actual coincidental minors were whistled. The power play the Caps received was the result of an OBVIOUS hold of Sloan by Jeff Carter yet Philadelphia CSN reporter Tim Pinaccio whined about it two times on Twitter describing the call as HORRIBLE. Hey Tim, that one was even a penalty pre-lockout buddy. Boudreau didn’t specifically single out the referees for the lack of calls but if you closely follow this quote about the Caps offense you can read between the lines as to what Bruce is hinting at.
“We have three lines that can score, and the 4th line creates the momentum so the other lines can score…they are very valuable. Eventually it is going to stop, we are not going to score 5 goals every game. I don’t know [why we are scoring so much], but it is not because of power plays, if we start getting some more PP’s maybe we will continue to score at that clip,” added Boudreau. Maybe this anti-Caps bias coming from Canada is getting to the zebras too??!!
The Flyers carried the early play and Theodore should have had Carter’s wide open wrister from the top of the left wing circle that went five hole on him. But after that I couldn’t fault #60 for the two other Philadelphia goals and he made numerous key stops in a game that was close until the Ovechkin tally.
“I was really secure with him today as I was the last game and in Florida as well,” commented Boudreau on his goaltender.
As for the slow start, Boudreau had the following to say on that issue.
“You start with a penalty, and then two penalties, and a 3-on-1 we don’t convert on, maybe we weren’t as sharp out of the gate as we would have liked to have been, or maybe they [Philadelphia] wanted it really badly. I watched their warm-up closely and they had their game faces on like it was a playoff game. I am sure they wanted to make amends for the last time we played them and they came out really hard,” added Boudreau on a contest that seemed to have post season intensity.
Getting out of the first period tied, was something the coach felt boded well for his club.
“We weathered the storm, that is why I thought after it was 2-2 after the first period, I felt good and knew we would be better,” Boudreau said.
“I think it’s a three o’clock game and we were kind of sleepy and they were more fresh and they got a goal. It’s good for us we bounced back in the second period and our power play worked,” added Ovechkin.
As for the defense, they started shaky but steadily improved. Shaone Morrisonn (+2, 20:13 of ice time) had his best game in at least a month and Tyler Sloan (Even in 15:51 of ice time) was better too, but I still don’t rank him ahead of Karl Alzner. Perhaps the mention by Boudreau on Saturday that #27 might be back up with the Caps as soon as this week got the attention of those two guys who had really been struggling? Also, defenseman John Carlson played his best game at the NHL level, even though he will almost surely go back to Hershey tomorrow so he can participate in the AHL all star game. #74 was +2 in 15:51 of play and was strong on the puck all afternoon.
“I think every game is physical, but definitely I think Philadelphia and Toronto are two of the top physical teams and any time you can get in a game like that and stand up and feel pretty good out there it’s a good boost of confidence,” said the Team USA World Junior Championships gold medal winning hero, who I believe could very likely start next season with the Caps in the NHL.
“Our much maligned defense played pretty steady, I thought,” finished Boudreau, taking a shot at the critics who tend to point at the back line as the weak point of Washington’s squad.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette felt his team made too many mistakes on Sunday and that was the difference in the game.
“Some of the early goals were tough. We missed an assignment and there was a rebound, back door. That hurt. There was one that hit a skate and went right to somebody; it’s tough to cover that. If we go into the third period tied, we might win it and get out of here with some points. We talked about it before the game. We can’t turn it over. They are dynamic in transition and you’ve really got to pay attention to the puck,” added the 2006 Stanley Cup Champion coach of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Today was a good measuring stick for the Caps by beating a hungry Flyers team but now the stakes increase with tougher opponents for Washington. The Caps will face the 2008 Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center and then travel to Pittsburgh to take on the 2009 Stanley Cup Champion Penguins.