What a difference a day makes and how does that saying go? You know the one about “Great Players Make Great Plays to Win Games.” Well tonight in Pittsburgh Alexander Ovechkin, also known as the league’s MVP and the Great #8, took over the hockey game and almost single handily ended the Caps three game losing streak by carrying Washington to a 6-3 win at the Igloo over the Penguins. Alexander the Great did all of his scoring damage in the third period, in crunch time, banging home the Caps third goal to put them up 3-2, then he set up the fourth goal by Tomas Fleischmann which put the Caps back on top 4-3, and then he gave Washington some insurance with 8:33 remaining in the contest with his 29th goal of the season off of a Pittsburgh skate while Nicklas Backstrom (3 assists) was going hard to the net. Ovechkin is once again tied with Jeff Carter of Philadelphia for the NHL lead in goals.
This was a huge win for the guys in red, white, and blue because they had not showed much spark other than in spurts during their recent three game slide but tonight they listened to Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and played with energy and more importantly, went hard to the net and that persistence paid off. In addition, there was a lot of pre game hype about a supposed Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin feud and this was the first time that the Caps were facing the Penguins after the over dramatized Alexander Semin comments about Sydney Crosby.
Despite Malkin scoring the first goal after the Caps had just killed a full two-minute two-man advantage and Crosby picking up two assists, both Ovechkin and Semin outplayed the heralded Penguin duo and Crosby, in fact, was banged up late in the third period and didn’t finish the game.
Boudreau, who according to Caps beat writer, Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post, was as cranky and grumpy as he’d ever seen him on Wednesday morning, was a much happier man after the game. Luckily for the Caps players they had a game scheduled on Wednesday after the Tuesday night Edmonton dud because otherwise they would have likely endured a very hard practice from their head coach.
The Caps are now 28-14-3 but they are 22-6-3 against the Eastern Conference and they have been very good when they seem motivated. Next up is the #1 seed in the East, the Boston Bruins, on Saturday night at the Verizon Center. The Caps won the only contest of the season against Boston, 3-1, back on December 10th in DC. The Caps look to end their recent two game slide at home and the game is sold out.
Notes: Ovechkin had 10 shots on goal in 23 minutes of ice time and now has 57 points on the season. Defensemen Mike Green (assist) led the Caps in ice time logging 29:48. The Caps power play was much better on Wednesday because players went to the net and they ended up with two PP tallies as a result. Defensemen Karl Alzner was a -1 in only 13:55 of ice time and his primary defensive partner, Brian Helmer (called up from Hershey today due to Shaone Morrisonn’s lower body injury), only played 10:19 and he was -2. Semin had a goal and also seven shots on net. Jose Theodore’s save percentage was under 90% but he made several big saves, especially early in the game when Pittsburgh had numerous odd man rushes and scoring chances, and rebounded strong from a poor performance the night before against the Oilers. Washington lost the face-off battle, 39-28, and Backstrom was a pitiful 3-9, something he really needs to improve on. Forwarded Eric Fehr was re-inserted into the lineup and provided some jump in his 8:10 of ice time. Captain Chris Clark, who is really struggling, was a healthy scratch. Malkin had 12 shots on net, a goal, but was -3 on the evening. He seemed to be too focused on Ovechkin and he once again played second fiddle to the best player in the NHL (and I mean Ovechkin, not Crosby). The Penguins defense is really slow and they clearly miss Sergei Gonchar, who is still out with a shoulder injury, but is expected back within the month.