Caps Knock Off Thrashers
Alexander Ovechkin notched his sixth career hat trick and added an assist as the Caps came home and won, 5-3, over the Atlanta Thrashers before a sellout crowd that was more than ready to “Rock the Red” at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night. The win broke the Caps three game losing streak and pushed their Southeast Division leading record to 12-7-3.
Monday night’s late momentum from the Minnesota loss combined with the youth and exuberance of the four kids called up from Hershey on Wednesday morning gave the home squad some extra jump to start the game. Each of the guys called up contributed in a positive way in the first period with defensemen Karl Alzner playing very solidly in his first NHL game making the simple plays and doing a nice job of poke checking Thrashers star Ilya Kovalchuk on Atlanta’s first power play; fellow defensemen Sami Lepisto getting an assist on the Caps first power play goal by the Great #8; Chris Bourque skating hard and dishing out a big hit; and Graham Mink doing a great job with fellow linemates Dave Steckel and Donald Brashear in drawing two penalties on Atlanta. Mink also had three shots on net and very nearly scored. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau certainly noticed the effort of the four call-ups.
“I thought especially in the first period they were good because we needed it. There were flat times in the game where we were almost on jet lag so they did a good job,” said Boudreau, “ I thought Karl and Sami moved the puck real well and that is what we want them to do. The forwards get the puck and consequently we get five goals,” added Boudreau.
The biggest story on the night was Alexander the Great who has 21 points in his last nine games and is dominating on the ice with fellow linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Viktor Kozlov. Kozlov, in fact, had one of his best games as a Capital and is playing as well as I’ve ever seen him play scoring the game clincher on a breakaway as a result of an Ovechkin pass to make it 5-2 early in the third period. Kozlov also added two assists and is doing a great job of controlling the puck and allowing the Caps top line to play their powerful cycle game that keeps defenses off balance.
“When [Ovechkin] gets one early he just gets energized. I thought if Alex was ever going to get five [goals], tonight would have been the night because he had some chances out there, he shot the puck, is taking the puck away and when he is on it sure makes it difficult to stop. Now if we can get him and [Alexander] Semin in the same game together we will be okay,” added Boudreau.
The win pushed the Caps home record to 8-0-1 and I asked Coach Bruce Boudreau what is helping to contribute to that dominance.
“The fans give us the advantage, that is one thing, I think every team gets energized by the crowd and I’ve think we’ve got as loud a crowd as there is going to be…this year we want to be a dominant team at home and we want to make teams think ‘uh-oh were coming into Washington’. I don’t think we are there yet but as the season goes on we want to [prove it] against [teams like] Montreal and the Philadelphia. In the past when we’ve played Buffalo and Philly it is just as loud for them as it is for us and I think that is about to change. Plus we are more comfortable, we know what the building is like, we know whether the ice is good or bad, and it is just easier to play in front of friends and family then it is on the road all of the time,” added Boudreau on the home ice advantage.
For Alzner this was a big night in his first NHL game and he logged 25 shifts (most on the team) and 21:06 of ice time (second on the team to Ovechkin). After the game he was surrounded by media and here are some questions and answers from #47:
Q: How did you feel out there in your first NHL game?
Alzner: “I didn’t stop shaking the entire game, I thought I was going to throw up, and I haven’t been nervous like that in a long time. It’s just hard to put into words but ‘It’s a dream come true’ is the best way to explain it.”
Q: What about the speed of the game compared to Hershey?
Alzner: “It is a lot faster and sometimes the plays you have to make aren’t the ones you want so you make plays such as rims or up the walls and you want to make a nice pass so a guy can do something with [the puck] but sometimes that is all you got, so you have to do it and know that you can’t hold onto the puck too long and know what is available.”
Q: Now that the 1st game is over how did it compare to your thoughts of what it would be like?
Alzner: “The speed and physicality was what I expected but when you hear how loud the fans are when you are on the ice it is a whole other story. It gets you so fired up and so pumped.”
Q: How did those first 21 games in Hershey help you?
Alzner: “I think quite a bit. I grew a lot in 21 games as a player and in just maturity. I figured out that you have to talk a lot more and you aren’t just playing for yourself but your linemate, your goalie, and your forwards.”
Q: Who did you play with in Hershey?
Alzner: “I played mainly with Sami [Lepisto] but also some with [Josh] Godfrey.”
Q: You had only two penalty minutes in Hershey, what is your key to staying out of the penalty box?
Alzner: “That penalty in Hershey I’m a little bit upset about too because I batted the puck out of the air and it went out. I just try to play within the rules and if I can’t get a guy then I just have to wait for him to make himself available and then I’ll get him. I’m pretty patient out there and as you can probably tell I don’t hit that much.”
Q: How would you grade your first game tonight?
Alzner: “I would probably say a low B. I know I made a couple of mistakes and obviously the puck doesn’t always bounce your way. Other than that I just wanted to make really simple plays and I asked Juice [Milan Jurcina] “Do you mind if I just keep it basic?” and that is what I tried to do, so it was okay.”
I thought Alzner was a little hard on himself and I graded him as a B+ on the night and if not for the one situation where he gave up a two on one (and Jurcina made a great play to bail him out and prevent a Thrasher shot) he would have gotten an A. The only goal that he was on for by Atlanta was a power play where Caps goalie Jose Theodore gave up a rebound on a Kovalchuk shot and Bryan Little outworked fellow defensemen Shaone Morrisonn to deposit the puck into the Caps net.
I’ll have more on the win tonight, the goaltending of Jose Theodore, the salary cap, and some thoughts on Friday night’s tilt against the Montreal Canadiens at the Verizon Center Thursday evening so please check back late Thanksgiving night or early Friday morning. The Canadiens beat the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings in Motown on Wednesday night, 3-1 so Friday should be a really good one.
Notes: The Caps were without seven starters tonight including Semin, Mike Green, Sergei Fedorov, Chris Clark, John Erskine, Boyd Gordon, and Jeff Schultz. The last time the Caps called up four or more players was on February 10, 2006, when they recalled five guys from Hershey: Doug Doull, Boyd Gordon, Mike Green, Boyd Kane and David Steckel. Washington outshot Altanta, 33-18, on the evening. Tomas Fleischmann continued to play well and had two assists and was named the game’s third star behind Ovechkin and Kozlov. The Caps won the faceoff battle, 28-19, but did have some key defensive zone losses that nearly resulted in goals but did not thanks to #60. On Thanksgiving Day last year Glen Hanlon was fired as Caps Head Coach and replaced by Boudreau.