Ovechkin Hat Trick Leads Caps over Panthers, 4-2

February 15, 2009 | Ed Frankovic

“Awesome, Totally Awesome!”  – Jeff Spicoli, Fast Times at Ridgemont High

If there is a simple way to describe Alexander Ovechkin then I’d have to say those immortal words from Jeff Spicoli sum him up best. And on Sunday evening the Great #8 was totally awesome again practically carrying the Washington Capitals on his back to lead them to an important win. Ovechkin broke a late 2-2 tie with a spectacular shot through the legs of one of the best defensemen in the league in Florida’s Jay Bouwmeester and then through the five hole of outstanding goalie Tomas Vokoun to give the Caps a 3-2 lead with 2:31 left in regulation. That goal was Ovechkin’s 40th of the season (he had scored the Caps first goal of the game, his 39th of the year, on the power play back in the first period thanks to a great screen by Brooks Laich) and he still wasn’t done. After Caps goalie Jose Theodore (29 saves) made some very good stops to preserve the lead, the Great #8 backhanded the puck from his own zone down the ice, off the right post, and into the empty net for a hat trick to secure a 4-2 Washington win. It was a fitting end to a weekend in the Sunshine State that saw the Caps win back-to-back games in just over a 24 hour period.

This victory now puts the Caps a commanding 13 points ahead of Florida in the Southeast Division and the manner in which the Panthers lost today has to take the wind out of their sails despite the fact that Florida had the best winning percentage in the NHL (.750) since January 1 coming into Sunday’s contest. However, they have now been beaten twice in eight days by Washington and they will be seeing 8’s for quite some time after the magnificent Ovechkin show on Sunday. The Caps are still tied with the New Jersey Devils for second place in the Eastern Conference as the Devils knocked off the San Jose Sharks, 6-5, at the Rock on Sunday afternoon.

This was a nail biter of a game after the Caps seemed to take control, 2-0, 30 seconds into the second period when forward Eric Fehr scored his ninth goal of the season on a play from Sergei Fedorov. Fehr, who is on a new line with Fedorov and Tomas Fleischmann that has been very productive (although they need a better name than the F-line!), has now scored in four straight games and if you get the chance check out Mike Vogel’s piece on Fehr on WashingtonCaps.com that compares the first 82 games of #16’s career to Laich and Fleischmann’s first full campaign (http://boards.washingtoncaps.com/index.php?autocom=blog&blogid=59&showentry=1426). Vogel and I have both commented to each other all season long about how we both think highly of Fehr’s game so it is nice to see him start to play like the guy GM George McPhee and his staff selected in the first round of the 2003 draft (Fehr’s road to the NHL was delayed by injuries).

There is one part of this game that the Caps struggled with on Sunday and it was something that has been talked about quite a bit by Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and the players – penalties! The Caps took eight minors, many of which were of the lazy variety, including two more delay of the game infractions for shooting the puck over the glass from their own end going for difficult break out passes. Comcast outstanding play by play man, Joe Beninati, made a point of saying that “sometimes the simple pass is the better option” and he could not be more correct. Luckily Washington’s penalty killing was very good again staving off seven of the eight minors against the team with the only blemish coming 1:29 into the third period when Nathan Horton stuffed home the game tying tally after a wild goal mouth scramble.

Now back to Theodore, who continues to play outstanding in goal despite some of the criticism he received earlier in the season. #60, who I wrote back on December 26th was the guy who I had the confidence in to seize the #1 goaltending job (http://wnst.net/wordpress/edfrankovic/2008/12/26/analysis-of-caps-goaltending-situation/), is 13-4-2 since December 23rd and the only thing Caps fans should worry about is his health because this guy is playing like the goalie who carried the Colorado Avalanche into the playoffs last season and was the primary reason the Avs won their first round series versus the favored Minnesota Wild (Colorado then lost to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings in the second round).

The only real downer on the evening was the fact that defenseman Mike Green’s eight game NHL record goal scoring streak for defensemen came to an end. But as any media members or bloggers who cover Washington will tell you, Green and Ovechkin don’t really care about records, they just care about winning and both of them want to win a Stanley Cup very badly.

Notes: Karl Alzner and Milan Jurcina returned to the lineup on defense after being scratched on Saturday versus Tampa. John Erskine and Staffan Kronwall were today’s defensive scratches. Alzner played well in 15:29 of ice time but it was Jurcina’s misplay in the second period that allowed Florida’s Michael Frolik to score an easy goal in the slot and wake the Panthers up at 12:08 of the second period. Jurcina only played 12:26 on Sunday. Michael Nylander was the healthy forward scratch as Boudreau put the more physical Jay Beagle in the lineup. Beagle played only 5:55 of ice time. The Caps will spend Monday in Florida with their fathers completing a very successful father/son trip before flying home in the evening. Montreal is next on the schedule at the Verizon Center, where Washington will play nine of its next 10 games, on Wednesday at 730pm.

Addendum: For anyone who reads my blog or follows the NHL on a regular basis you know that Florida’s Bouwmeester appears to be the most coveted player as the NHL trade deadline approaches on March 4th. Pierre LeBrun of ESPN is reporting that #4 has turned down a $6.5M a year contract extension to stay with Florida and as a result he will be an unrestricted free agent come July 1. On the NBC game of the week today between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers (Philly won 5-2) analysts Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury discussed the Bouwmeester situation and pointed out, as I did on Friday, that the Panthers need to get something for him in return if he won’t resign in Florida. Here is the problem though, the Panthers GM, Jacques Martin, has a reputation of asking for ridiculous value in return for his players. After another Panther, Olli Jokinen, hinted that he wanted out of town before last season’s trade deadline one NHL team who had an interest in the center inquired about him only to end any discussion quickly when Martin wanted a VERY steep price for Jokinen. Martin would end up not being able to trade Jokinen at the deadline and settled for Keith Ballard, Nick Boynton, and a second round pick – not anywhere near what the GM had asked of the deadline inquiring team – in return for the Panthers all-time leading scorer right before the NHL draft. So Martin will have a tough chore on his hands in the coming 16 days deciding what to do. His team currently would make the playoffs but come July 1 his most valuable asset can go anywere he wants with the Panthers getting zero in return. There is talk of New Jersey and Philadelphia being highly interested in Bouwmeester but given what the asking price likely will be I don’t see him going either place plus Martin would be foolish to trade him to another team in the Eastern Conference. My predicted destination for the all-star defensemen is his hometown, the Edmonton Oilers, who would love to have him and have a number of good young players to offer back to Florida.

Addendum Two: I was reading the blog of Caps owner Ted Leonsis this morning (Ted’s Take) and he blogged about being very happy but that some fans were still not and are emailing him about this and that with the team (see http://www.tedstake.com/?p=3511). My advice to Ted:  Don’t get too worked up over those complaints because this hockey club could win the Stanley Cup this year and I guarantee you if that happens you will still get some negative emails from some looney bin fans. Some people in this world just like to complain and are never happy. You have a great team, a sold out and electric building night after night, and a good chance to take home Lord Stanley’s Cup either this year or in the coming years so as my father always tells me, “Don’t Let the Turkey’s Get You Down!”

Addendum Three: In a not so surprising move, the Pittsburgh Penguins have fired head coach Michel Therien Sunday night and replaced him with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins head coach, Dan Bylsma.