The Washington Capitals are so hot right now, they might be the only thing that can turn this predicted monster snowstorm headed our way into rain! On Broadway on Thursday night the Caps played their second straight poor first period but escaped only one goal down, gave up four power play goals but scored three of their own, and received super efforts from both Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 4 assists) and Alexander Ovechkin (2 goals, 1 assist) to rally to defeat the New York Rangers, 6-5, for their club record 12th straight victory. Jose Theodore (33 saves), believe it or not for a guy who gave up five tallies, played fairly well in goal making the big stops when Washington needed it. This victory improves the Caps to 39-12-6, good for 84 points and a 12 point lead over the New Jersey Devils. Devils GM Lou Lamoriello traded Niclas Bergfors, Johnny Oduya, Patrice Cormier, and a 1st round draft pick to the Atlanta Thrashers for Ilya Kovalchuk and Anssi Salmela on Thursday evening. The Caps will take on the Kovalchuk-less Thrashers on Friday night at the Verizon Center, weather permitting.
Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis:
Ovechkin was his usual amazing self tonight and I thought for sure he would get a hat trick, which would have been the first for the Caps this season, but maybe he is saving it for his pal Sidney Crosby on Sunday??!! The Great #8 did notch is 500th career NHL point. He is the ninth player in NHL history to record 500 points in his first five seasons (joining Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Peter Stastny, Mike Bossy, Dale Hawerchuk, Bryan Trottier, Denis Savard and Jari Kurri). He is the fastest player to reach 500 points in terms of games since Eric Lindros (352nd game, 2/28/98). The Great #8 had a big shot block in the last 15 seconds and on the final face-off of the game he forced the Rangers defenseman to throw the puck to the side boards instead of shooting it. Washington is now 15-1 with Ovechkin as team captain.
The play of the night, and the key to the Caps win, was another highlight reel goal that Michal Rozsival will have nightmares about for quite some time. With time running down in the second period, and Washington losing 5-3, Ovechkin received an excellent Backstrom breakout pass at center ice, flew into the offensive zone and did a toe drag move on the Rangers d-man to go around him, and then he lifted the puck upstairs one handed on Lundqvist, who could not get all of it as it ended up in the net with just 8 ticks on the clock in period two. Boudreau felt that goal provided the lift his team needed to come back.
“I thought it was going to be a real challenge at 5-3 but when Alex made it 5-4 at the end of the period I thought we were right back in it,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau.
“I thought Alex was going to get 1 or 2 chances to score in the third period because he was having one of those games but it was Nicky, who was having one of those games as well that did the damage,” finished Boudreau on his two top players.
Backstrom did some SERIOUS damage tonight and the behind the back pass he made to Knuble that tied this high scoring affair at two proves that #19 does indeed have eyes in the back of his head! Backstrom now has 24 goals and 45 assists in 57 games while Ovechkin has an incredible 38 goals and 42 assists in just 49 games. The Great #8 now leads the NHL in goals, points, and plus/minus.
The Rangers outshot the Caps 18-6 in the first period as Washington looked sluggish. Fortunately Theodore kept it at 1-0 when it could have been a two, three, or even four goal Rangers lead. The best line for the Capitals in the first period was the Dave Steckel, Boyd Gordon, and Matt Bradley trio, and it was #15 who tied things up at one. Gordon, who appears to finally be healthy after battling a balky back, now has goals in consecutive games.
In the second period the Caps came out smoking and took the lead, 3-2 on Ovechkin’s first of the evening, but then they started the parade to the box, something that historically has gotten them in trouble. The Caps took four penalties in the middle stanza and the Rangers lit the lamp on three of them. In fact, New York scored on 4 of their first 5 power play attempts (4 for 6 overall in the game). Boudreau noted afterwards that he didn’t think the Caps were that bad killing the penalties as New York got some bounces off of skates and shin pads for wide open tallies. Washington’s worst kill was likely the first one (Tomas Fleischmann hook) as they let Ryan Callahan have free reign in the slot and he deflected in an Olli Jokinen (recently acquired from Calgary) point blast. Callahan (1 goal, 1 assist) and Vinnie Prospal (2 goals, 2 assists) both had their usual good games against Washington. It doesn’t matter whether he is in Tampa, Philly, or New York, it seems #20 finds a way to play some of his best hockey against the Caps.
In the final stanza, Washington did what it has done so many times during this winning streak: dominate the third period. The Caps came out flying scoring just 59 seconds in on Tom Poti’s PP floater from the point and then 5:34 in Backstrom potted the winner. From there Washington controlled the play as evidenced by the fact that New York only had 6 shots on goal in the last 20 minutes. The Capitals hard effort resulted in the Rangers taking five third period penalties, two of which took the game clock down from 4:17 to just 30 ticks remaining.
About the only thing that went against the Caps down the stretch apparently was the second laser incident in the NHL this season. It is being reported that Theodore had to deal with a green laser in the final minute and the league is investigating the incident. Back around the turn of the New Year, Calgary’s Mikka Kiprusoff had to deal with the same type of device for much of their game in Vancouver. The perpetrator was never found at GM place so this is something that appears to be a difficult type of case to solve.
Washington continues to be tough to beat at 5 on 5 and the score at even manpower was 3-1, Caps. Boudreau’s club needs to clean up the penalties but he thought overall they were pretty good defensively despite giving up the five tallies. The slow starts are a concern but my theory is this: Washington, even though they went 3-0 during his suspension, really miss Mike Green. Poti did a very good job the last two games in #52’s absence but there is no substitute for Green’s ability to break the puck out of the Washington zone with speed and get the Caps legs and offense going early in contests. The silver lining in #52’s suspension was the banged up 2008-09 Norris Trophy Finalist got to rest his bad knee and aching body. I imagine “Lamborgreenie” will be flying on Friday night vs. Atlanta.
For Boudreau on Friday night, he does have an interesting decision to make as far as who will play in net. Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth are likely not available due to injuries so will rookie Braden Holtby, who backed up Theodore the last three games, get his first NHL start on Friday night? With the Caps in a 4 games over 6 night stretch (which concludes with the Sunday 12 noon battle with the Penguins) typically Boudreau would use two goalies to get through a grind like that. However, Washington Post beat reporter, Tarik El-Bashir, tweeted on Thursday night that the coach hinted that Theodore would go again on Friday night. This makes sense to me, not because I don’t like Holtby, I think he has a bright future, but this is the NHL and it takes a lot of practice time to learn the speed of the big league shots. With this compressed Olympic year schedule the Caps have not practiced much so Holtby probably is not ready to face an NHL club yet, but his time will come, he just has to be patient.
Notes: With Green coming back on Friday you can expect that defenseman Karl Alzner will be sent back down to Hershey…the Caps won the face-off battle 37-34…the 12th straight win is the longest in the NHL since New Jersey won 13 straight in 2000-01…the NHL record for most victories in a row is by the 1992-93 Penguins, who won 17 consecutive games..the Philadelphia Flyers have the record for the longest unbeaten streak at 35 games (25 wins, 10 ties), they set that in 1979-80.