Alexander the Great came through big time when the Caps needed him most tonight scoring the game winner with 10 seconds left in overtime to give Washington a 5-4 victory over the New York Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum. Ovechkin’s winning goal, off a great pass by Nicklas Backstrom, was a wicked wrister into the upper left corner of the net and it allowed Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s club to escape with two points and push their overall record to 19-10-3. With the win the Caps maintain their eight point lead in the Southeast Division (Carolina defeated Montreal, 3-2, to keep pace). The Great #8 had two goals on the evening and now has 19 on the season.
But this was a game that the Caps should have won in regulation as they blew 2-0, 3-1, and 4-2 leads with the Islanders scoring twice in the last nine minutes and nearly winning the game with a minute left on a Bill Guerin point blank blast that was stopped by Caps goalie Brent Johnson. The Caps absolutely FLOATED through the third period, took some lazy penalties, and got too fancy on the rare instances that they had the puck in the offensive zone in that final period. At one point announcer Joe Beninati said the quality scoring chances in the third period were 12-0 in favor of the Isles. I don’t know what happened but the team was lifeless in that third period from about the 15 minute mark on. Perhaps they thought they had the game in the bag given that the Islanders are one of the worst final period teams in the league? Whatever the case may be, I’m sure Boudreau was not happy at all with the effort and performance against a team they should have put away and buried down the stretch.
Washington’s great penalty killing streak (18 straight opposing power plays stopped over the last four games) came to a crashing halt on Tuesday night as the Islanders scored two power play goals and really had a third since the game tying goal by New York’s Jon Sim came as forward Tomas Fleischmann was coming out of the penalty box. In addition, the Caps failed to score a power play goal for the first time in five games.
The prettiest goal of the night was the fourth Caps goal, scored by Ovechkin, after Backstrom gathered the puck on the wall in the Islanders zone, then waited for Alexander Semin to join the play, and fed #28 who gave a behind the back pass across the ice to Ovechkin who buried the puck past a sprawling Joey MacDonald and one of his defensemen. Backstrom is playing phenomenal right now and his ability to hold the puck until the right moment is uncanny and his passing is out of this world.
Another key to that goal is something that won’t show up on the stat sheet. Right before the passing play the Caps big line was bringing the puck across the Isles blue line and Semin turned it over trying to be a little too cute. But Caps rookie defensemen Karl Alzner was right there in perfect position to pick up the loose puck and prevent an odd man rush for New York. Then Alzner, who plays like a 10 year veteran because he is so smart and efficient on the ice, calmly skated towards the side boards and dumped the puck hard around behind MacDonald so that Backstrom could tag up and go get it. It was a simple play by Alzner, but if it wasn’t executed properly the Islanders probably would have been going the other way and the beautiful passing play never happens. Alzner was a plus two on the night logging 19:56 of ice time and was given the game’s third star. He continues to improve and is a calming force on defense. As a result of his solid play, his defensive partner, Milan Jurcina, has picked his game up as well.
Notes: Simeon Varlamov was the Caps backup goalie tonight as Jose Theodore is still nursing a hip injury. Varlamov had been sent down to Hershey on Sunday, but stayed in town while South Carolina Stingrays goalie Michael Neuvirth (2006 2nd round pick) was called up for practice on Monday, and then was recalled this morning for the game. Sergei Fedorov missed the game with an undisclosed injury but he has had ankle problems. Tyler Sloan also missed the game so defensemen Sean Collins got the call and Collins did not have a very good game taking two penalties that led to New York goals. The Caps won the face off battle 30-24. The Caps outshot New York 40-39 but the Islanders had a 17-5 advantage in the third period. Next up for the Caps is the St. Louis Blues at the Verizon Center on Thursday night.