After a six game absence Alexander Ovechkin returned to the Capitals line-up at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night on Versus and the Great #8 delivered with an early power play goal that got the Caps going en route to a 4-2 win over the Rangers. This was Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s 100th NHL win in only 163 games. The road victory pushes Washington’s overall record to 13-4-4. Alexander the Great had seven hits coming off of a shoulder injury in just under 20 minutes of ice time and he was named the game’s number one star.
The Caps did not start well in this one and they gave up the first goal for just the 5th time in 21 games this season as a Daniel Girardi point shot resulted in a big rebound from Semyon Varlamov (18 saves) and neither Shaone Morrisonn nor Jeff Schutlz were able to thwart an all alone Marian Gaborik from scoring on the rebound just 1:16 into the contest. It was Gaborik’s third goal against the Caps in just two games this season and he would tie Ovechkin, momentarily, for the NHL goal scoring lead.
Washington’s slow start continued as Morrisonn fell, regained his feet, and then chased the puck leaving the slot wide open which forced Tomas Fleischmann to take down Rangers defensemen Wade Redden in prime scoring position. The Caps would kill off that penalty and then the spark plug, Mathieu Perreault, drew a tripping infraction on Michal Rozsival. Ovechkin, instead of being on the point, was put down low in front of the net but the Caps could not convert with the man advantage.
Midway through the period Matt Bradley and Aaron Voros dropped the gloves off of the face-off and #10 fought hard but was bloodied due to being cut. Mike Green then stole the puck at center ice and took off with speed to the Rangers blue line and that forced Sean Avery to take #52 down. Washington would make the Rangers pay and it was the Great #8 scoring his league leading 15th goal to tie things up at 15:06 on a point shot blast with heavy traffic in front of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
Late in the period Green was hammered behind the Caps net by Avery and #52 looked a little shaken. The opening stanza ended with Washington up 15-5 in shots but the game was tied at one.
The Rangers again came out strong in the second period and after hitting the post early they received a power play when Brendan Morrison held Enver Lisin, however, the Caps did a nice job killing it off. On the next shift the Ovechkin line came on the ice and that allowed Brian Pothier to draw a penalty in the offensive zone and put Washington on the power play. Ovechkin was placed down low again in front of Lundqvist and the best Caps chance came on a Green one timer that King Henrik shouldered to the corner.
Cap killer Vaclac Prospal then set up Ales Kotalik for a quick shot in close but Varlamov was able to close the five hole and smother the puck. After Boudreau smartly called a time out following a Washington icing, Perreault drew another penalty on Rozsival and the Caps connected again on a beautiful passing play. Green carried the puck into the offensive zone and fed Ovechkin just inside the point on the left wing. The Great #8 threaded the needle across the ice to Chris Clark, who threw the puck on Lundqvist, and after Green whacked at it, Brooks Laich came in and slammed home his ninth of the season for a 2-1 advantage. The shots were tied at six each in period two.
The first good chance in period three went to the Rangers fourth line after Green and Morrisonn were sloppy in their own end. Voros fired a blast off of Varly but the rebound hopped over the stick of Donald Brashear. Then on a sequence where Quintin Laing took a puck to the head and left the contest, Avery threw an elbow at Varlamov and John Erskine sent #16 flying allowing the zebras to give the Rangers a power play. Varlamov made a good save on Redden and Washington successfully worked the two minutes off but right after Erskine came out of the box, Pothier was called for holding giving New York another shot with the man advantage. This time the Rangers finally broke through and Gaborik got his 15th tally of the season from in close on a bad angle with Varly screened by Avery and Green. Gaborik would re-tie Ovechkin for the NHL goal scoring lead.
Things got chippy when Ryan Callahan hit Nicklas Backstrom after a whistle but #19 retaliated so they both were sent off, putting the teams in a four on four situation. At the end of the coincidental penalties the Caps gained some momentum and Dave Steckel nearly broke through for his first goal of the season but he hit the side of the net on a stuff attempt.
The Caps got the play they really needed as Bradley outworked Redden in his own zone and then he outraced the former Ottawa Senator to the puck and beat Lundvist up top on a semi-breakaway with 4:51 left. It was Bradley’s fourth goal of the season and brought back memories of his big breakaway tally in game five of last season’s opening round playoff series against the Blueshirts that started Washington’s comeback in that series. Ovechkin then set up Clark in close but Lundqvist came up big to give his squad a chance to tie it up. After King Henrik went to the bench for the extra attacker the Rangers pressured but the Capitals kept New York on the perimeter and then Pothier threw a high, lofted backhand nearly the length of the ice and into the empty net to seal the deal.
Here is my post game analysis:
Remember early last season when all we heard about was how the Caps could not win on the road? Well that is no longer a problem and the Capitals are 6-3-1 in their first 10 contests away from Verizon Center this year. The key has been to play a simple game and tonight the team stuck to Boudreau’s system very well after the first five minutes. If Washington can just clean up their propensity to take 3rd period penalties they will be really dangerous and tougher to defeat.
Laich, who is one of the team leaders, continues to be so consistent and solid. He not only scored his 9th goal of the season but he was great on the penalty kill blocking shots and forcing Gaborik to give up the puck at the end of regulation when he was the most likely scoring threat. #21 was one of the main guys (along with Clark) screening Lundqvist on Ovechkin’s first period power play tally. With Mike Knuble out of the line-up, Laich will get more quality ice time and be the main guy crashing the net.
Perreault continues to make things happen on the ice and he drew two penalties for the Caps. He only played 8:50 but he was 5-2 on face-offs and was very responsible defensively. Boudreau is still hesistant to use the 2006 6th round draft pick late in the third period, but #85 is only 21 years old.
Varlamov was not spectacular tonight but he had to deal with stretches where the Caps dominated play so he wasn’t seeing much rubber. Overall he was solid and increased his record to 8-1. I have much more confidence when #40 is in the net right now than Theodore, who has not been able to sustain his hot start.
The defensive crew, outside of Morrisonn, had a good game. Pothier continues to string together strong efforts since being scratched in New Jersey almost two weeks ago. Erskine, despite being called for the penalty on Avery, was physical and that is something the Caps really need from him. Gaborik had a lot of room early but the defense started doing a better job of taking away space from one of the best snipers in the NHL. I am not sure what was up with #26 but he only logged 10:27 of ice time (he could have been injured or Boudreau could have benched him after his bad shift early in the 3rd period).
The special teams battle was won, despite Gaborik’s third period power play tally, by the Capitals. Washington went 2 for 4 while the Rangers were 1 for 4. The Caps also outshot the Rangers, 26-20, and won the face-off battle, 29-24.
Notes: Alexander Semin was out of the lineup and sent home for examination due to a bad wrist. In addition Jose Theodore had to head home to DC to deal with a family issue and missed Tuesday’s tilt. Forward Jay Beagle (1 assist) and goalie Michal Neuvirth were recalled from Hershey as re-enforcements. Tyler Sloan was scratched and Milan Jurcina has been placed on injured reserve with a lower body injury. Michal Nylander is on the roster but is not with the team and hopefully is headed to the KHL soon to provide GM George McPhee with some much needed salary cap relief. Next up for the Caps are the Montreal Canadiens at the Verizon Center on Friday night.