Jeff Carter scored two goals for the Philadelphia Flyers in Tampa to seize the NHL goal scoring lead on Friday night. Today, Alexander Ovechkin grabbed it right back scoring twice within 76 seconds to break a 2-2 tie and power the Caps to a 4-2 win over the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings, who were playing without forwards Henrik Zetterberg (signed a 12 year, $73M contract extension this week but has a groin injury) and Tomas Holmstrom (back spasms) as well as defensemen Brad Stuart (ribs and knee). The Great #8 now has 33 goals on the season. This was an exciting game before a sold out crowd at the Verizon Center and it has to give the guys in red, white, and blue a lot of confidence heading into their last 32 regular season games.
After Ovechkin seemed to seize the game for the Caps things did end up getting crazy in the last two minutes as Viktor Kozlov took a hooking penalty and then Brooks Laich was called for delay of game for clearing the puck over the glass to give Detroit a 5-on-3 power play with just 1:25 to go. Tom Poti, who just returned after missing 15 games due to a groin injury, was then called for another delay of game penalty, although the puck appeared to hit Detroit forward Dan Cleary’s stick before leaving the rink (referee Paul Devorski, not one of my favorites, and his crew strikes again!). Fortunately the rules don’t allow you to go down to two players so with only 53 seconds left Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau went with Dave Steckel, Jeff Schultz, and Shaone Morrisonn and they, along with goalie Jose Theodore, who was very good today making 27 saves, held the fort with an assist from the left goal post that denied Jiri Hudler when he appeared to have an empty net, to hand the Red Wings their fifth straight loss. The Caps are now 31-15-4 for 66 points and are one point behind the New Jersey Devils for second place in the Eastern Conference.
This game was scoreless for the first 18 minutes before Detroit took a 1-0 lead on Ville Leino’s first ever NHL goal on a spin-o-rama. Leino was able to break in two on one on Morrisonn after Poti made a bad decision to challenge superstar Pavel Datsyuk in the neutral zone. Alexander Semin skated hard to get back to cut off the pass and then Morrisonn compounded Poti’s error by leaving his feet to block the pass and missed allowing Leino to make his move. Theodore also lost his balance on the play as Leino slid the puck into the net.
The Caps, however, answered on the next shift as Michael Nylander, Brooks Laich, and Kozlov controlled the puck in the Red Wings zone for a good 30 plus seconds and after Nylander fed the puck to Milan Jurcina at the point, #23’s shot, which was heading wide right, hit Kozlov in the leg and went into the net past goalie Ty Conklin. The first period then ended 1-1.
In the second period, the Caps and Red Wings once again played chess for 17 minutes before a GREAT play by Nicklas Backstrom set up Mike Green for his 14th goal of the season (now tied for NHL lead in goals by defensemen with Nashville’s Shea Weber) to give the Caps a 2-1 lead. Backstrom (two assists), who is so strong on his skates, fought off two Red Wings and while moving towards the slot he was hooked (a delayed penalty was coming) and as he was falling to the ice he slid the puck back to Green who hit the upper left corner over Conklin’s shoulder.
All week long, Caps Bruce Boudreau had been talking about the Caps improving their penalty killing and he said the best way to do that was to stop taking lazy penalties. Well Semin clearly hasn’t gotten the memo because shortly after the Green goal one of his bad plays haunted Washington again. Semin mishandled the puck at the Red Wing blue line after choosing not to just dump the puck deep, then he circled back into the neutral zone, then the Caps defensive zone, flubbed a pass to Green, but got the puck back, and then when Marian Hossa pressured him and stole the puck in the neutral zone #28 put his stick into #81 and took him down. Boudreau had to be furious at this point because I know I was! The Detroit power play, which did not score on its first two attempts, took only 35 seconds to score as Johan Franzen put in a deflected point shot into a wide open net (Theodore was anticipating the puck going to his right and thus was sliding towards the right post when Franzen got the puck).
Semin has been taking too many penalties lately and he is probably close to being benched for the infractions as well as some of the horrible giveaways he has been producing lately (is there a hole in his stick because he seems to fan on at least one shot and one pass each game since returning from injury?). The Caps need the Semin that played great in last year’s playoffs and started the season strong before missing two stretches due to a back injury. It is time for forward Sergei Fedorov to take him aside and have a talk with him about his selfish and careless play.
Luckily for Semin he is playing with Ovechkin and Alexander the Great once again produced for Washington when the pressure was on and the Caps needed a big goal. After his highlight reel goal that gave the team the lead he then pretty much sealed the deal on the power play. The guy is incredible and the winning goal, which is available on NHL.com, is worth watching again!
Notes: The Caps had their full contingent of players for the first time since November 6th, although defensemen Karl Alzner, who is arguably one of the Caps top three defensemen (Green and Poti), is down in Hershey due to salary cap reasons. Comcast’s Lisa Hillary reported during the game that #27 was very upset at being sent down and that Boudreau wasn’t thrilled either. Clearly GM George McPhee needs to make a deal to get some salary cap room to bring Alzner back up because if Washington wants to go deep into the playoffs and possibly win the Stanley Cup they will need young Karl. The Caps power play was one for three while the Red Wings went one for seven only scoring after Semin’s bad penalty. Detroit, who has only been outshot seven times this season, had a 29-27 advantage in that department today. Forwards Chris Clark and Boyd Gordon were the healthy scratches. The Caps face the Ottawa Senators at the Verizon Center on Super Bowl Sunday at 1230pm. Washington is 1-1-1 against Ottawa this year and this will be the season’s final meeting because the Sens will not make the playoffs.