Alexander Ovechkin plays on the edge and Monday night, after getting speared by Carolina defenseman Aaron Ward early in the game, the Great #8 went hunting for Canes and unfortunately he took things too far. Ovechkin went flying into the offensive zone after Tim Gleason, missed him head on, locked knees with the Hurricanes defenseman, and both went down injured. Gleason was okay and would return after missing just two shifts but the Great #8 was given a five minute major for kneeing, was ejected, and even worse, appeared to be hurt bad grabbing his right knee and he will be evaluated on Tuesday. The good news for Washington was they won the game 3-2 thanks to an outstanding goaltending performance by Jose Theodore (38 saves) and the offensive output of forward Nicklas Backstrom (2 goals, 1 assist). The Caps are now 16-5-6 and maintain their seven point lead over second place Atlanta, who won again over Florida on Monday (4-3), but the Thrashers have three games in hand.
Here is the game coverage and analysis:
1st Period Play and Analysis: Caps 2, Hurricanes 1
Theodore, making his first start in two weeks, was tested right out of the gate and made a couple of big stops in the first minute. Washington then continued to stand around and Mathieu Perreault, whose play has dipped after a hot start, took a lazy hooking penalty. Despite the fact that Carolina was only clicking at 12.8% on the power play coming into this contest, they passed the puck around the Caps penalty killers, who pretty much resembled orange cones, and Joe Corvo shot it into a vacant net in front as Theodore was left out to dry by the guys in white. Carolina had a 12 to 1 advantage in shots on goal at that point and they could have led more if not for some good saves by #60. But shortly after Corvo appeared to be accidentally cut by Karl Alzner’s skate, the Caps #1 line came out on the ice and Backstrom and Ovechkin worked a nice give and go in the corner with the Great #8 feeding a wide open #19 in front for an easy tap in on Michael Leighton.
But then, at 12:05 in, came the horror show moment for Washington as Ovechkin made a crazy run at Tim Gleason and he missed #6 head on but because he was going reckless and out of control they locked legs and both players were hurt with the Great #8 being correctly called for a major for kneeing. Ovechkin laid on the ice for several minutes and had to be helped up and was unable to put pressure on his right knee. Gleason, fortunately was not hurt long and he came back out and played at the end of the power play but Ovechkin, who initiated the play, was not as lucky and may have a serious knee injury. He will also likely be suspended for the hit.
The rest of Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s troops though then stepped it up and killed off the five minute Canes advantage via hustle and energy with Theodore coming up big when he had to be. The successful kill with their star in the locker room energized the Caps and right after the penalty was over Backstrom broke free two on one on with Eric Fehr. #19 fed #16 with a beautiful pass and he easily beat Leighton to put the Caps up 2-1 with 2:40 left in the opening period. Washington then continued to dominate the rest of the first period. Carolina outshot the Caps 16-6 in the opening stanza.
2nd Period Play and Anlaysis: Caps 3, Canes 1
The Caps late period momentum did not carry over into the second period and a Brooks Laich careless high stick on Joni Pitkanen put the Canes on the power play. Matt Cullen, who had a great chance on the 1st period five minute major only to see his stick break as he shot the puck, made an excellent pass across the box to an open Hurricane but Theodore robbed him with his glove. Then Tomas Fleischmann wasted what was looking to be a really good penalty kill by taking a lazy defensive zone interference call and the Canes had 17 seconds of a 5 on 3 advantage but Ray Whitney fired wide after a great feed from Eric Staal. Laich came out of the box and on the ensuing face-off Whitney promplty hit the right post.
Washington killed off the penalty and then Sergei Samsonov cross-checked Matt Bradley to put the Caps on their first power play of the game. The Caps had decent puck movement but tried too much for the perfect pass and would fail to convert. Then with just over five minutes left Backstrom continued his red hot night and he not only faked out the Canes defenseman, but Leighton as well, and with the net minder down and out of position Backstrom backhanded it easily into a vacant cage to make it 3-1 Caps. Fehr, who is also red hot, picked up an assist on the great play by the young Swede who you could see starting to come around last Wednesday night against Buffalo (as chronicled here). Washington then received a late power play as Tom Kostopoulos hooked John Erskine, an easy one for the referee to call, and when Mike Green was tripped by Andrew Alberts going into the offensive zone they received a two man advantage with eight seconds left. Washington will have 45 seconds on the 5 on 3 to start the 3rd period.
3rd Period Play and Analysis:
The Caps promptly took themselves off of the two man advantage with a Backstrom lazy penalty to continue their trend of taking bad infractions in third periods this season. Theodore made some excellent saves to preserve the two goal lead and Leighton followed that up with an outstanding save on Fleischmann, who has been slumping since a hot start (0 goals in last six games coming into this contest). Staal tried to go around Alzner and threw a dangerous backhander on Theodore but #60’s glove hand came up large again.
Perreault was boarded heavily by Gleason but 20 seconds into the power play Fehr was called for a high stick to even things up. The Caps then dumped the puck in and Fehr and Backstrom set Fleischmann up for what should have put Washington up by three, but #14 didn’t get all of the puck and Leighton came up big. After Alexandre Giroux had the puck easily taken from him in the offensive zone the Canes had a scoring chance but Thedore made the initial save with no rebound. Washington then received another power play, and with Green in the locker room getting skate repairs, Brian Pothier manned the right point as the Caps held the puck in the zone for two minutes but could not convert, hitting the pipe on one chance and Fleischmann firing wide on another.
On the face-off after the penalty Dave Steckel had what appeared to be an open net but he could not get his backhander up and then a scrum broke out in front of Leighton with Tyler Sloan getting into it with Staal and then Gleason tried to get at #89 (and #6 received a 10 minute misconduct to end his night). Fehr then outworked Niclas Wallin behind the Canes net with #7 appearing to leave his feet on a hit but somehow the zebras ended up calling #16 for a high stick. Carolina pulled their goalie to get a 6 on 4 and the Caps missed three long shots at the open net. Theodore then robbed Staal in tight with an outstanding glove save but the Canes would finally get their only other puck by #60 when Cullen beat him in the slot after a wild scramble with only 15 ticks remaining.
Post Game Analysis:
Boudreau, afterwards, claimed to have watched the Ovechkin hit 20 times and said that Alex led with his shoulder and his knee went with him. When Gleason looked up to avoid the check the right leg came out and the Caps coach felt it should have been a two minute penalty, not a major, but he said the officials reacted to the Hurricane laying on the ice. He also said they won’t know more about the injury until tomorrow. It could be serious or it could be something more minor, noboby knows at this point. Comcast Caps analyst and former right wing Alan May said that the fact that Ovechkin kept his head down the whole time and put no weight on the knee is a potential sign of a serious injury. UPDATE: According to Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post he watched Ovechkin head to the bus after the contest without crutches but was limping. The Great #8 would not comment on the play or the injury.
While I have supported Ovechkin in the past on his hits, this one, I thought was the result of a reckless and out of control play. Ovie, who has been called “dirty” by his detractors, definitely plays, at times, with a disregard for the bodies of his opponents and himself and this play could really cost him some missed time due to injury. He also will likely get a suspension from the league given the recent slew foot and boarding infractions he has taken this year. Bottom line is when he does come back GM George McPhee and Boudreau will likely need to sit him down and get him to dial his game back a bit. His style of play could lead to more injuries and a shortened career.
The Ovechkin injury overshadowed what was a sensational game by Theodore. Just when this guy is pretty much written off he seems to come back from the abyss and this was a very important outing for #60. Credit Boudreau, as well, for finding the right game to bring Theo back in after Varlamov has been super in goal. With Ovechkin potentially out for awhile the Caps will need good goaltending and if Theodore and Varly can play like they have recently, Washington, who was 4-2 when the Great #8 was missing with an injured left shoulder in November, will be okay again.
Star #2 was definitely Backstrom, who has had three straight super games and finally it added up to points on the scoreboard, as Boudreau predicted last Wednesday night. #19 is so strong on his skates and he appears to have eyes in the back of his head. If Fleischmann could have finished tonight Nicky could have easily had a five point night.
Comcast’s Craig Laughlin, when prompted by play by play man Joe Beninati, graded Alzner’s three games with the Caps as an 8, 9, and a 9 (out of 10). Certainly #27 has stabilized the defense and he and Milan Jurcina have a been a good pairing on the blue line.
The Caps are now 11-3-3 with Fehr (1 goal, 1 assist) in the line-up and he is really playing well despite the two late high sticking infractions.
Overall Washington did not play very well giving up 40 shots and and they were lucky Theo and Backstrom bailed them out. Washington, despite four penalty calls in third period, did turn in a decent last stanza outshooting the Canes 16-12 but they could not get the goal to put them up by a trio. Steckel and Fleischmann are definitely the guys in a scoring slump now.
Next up for Washington is Florida at the Verizon Center on Thursday night but all eyes will be on Ovechkin and his knee on Tuesday.