It what was not a thing of beauty, except for Jose Theodore’s goaltending, as the Washington Capitals won their third straight game, 2-0, over the New York Rangers in front of the 46th straight sellout at the Verizon Center. Theodore, who was the easy choice as the game’s number one star, stopped 30 shots and his best save came after Washington defenseman Shaone Morrisonn made a giveaway to set up Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky all alone in front in period two with the Caps up 1-0. Theodore earned his first shutout of the season with the victory.
The win takes the Caps record to an amazing 44-13-8 (96 points) and with 17 contests remaining they should easily eclipse last season’s 108 points, which was the most in franchise history. The victory was also a Capitals club record 13th straight at home.
Let’s get to the highlights, quotes, and analysis:
“I thought he was great. I thought he was by far our best player,” started Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on Theodore, “If they had scored at anytime that would have been a turning point and it would have given them energy. Any time they were putting pressure on us Jose would get it and he would stop it and he would not let a rebound go tonight and I think that is the key to his game and he is brimming with confidence. We hope he can keep it up and he gives us a lot of opitons in goal,” finished the head coach on his red hot goalie.
This was the first time in 24 games that the Caps did not score at least three goals (h/t @VogsCaps) and the first time since November 11th they didn’t tally in the third period at home (h/t @nateewell). I’m not surprised that this was the one where those runs were halted because Coach John Tortorella’s club is a pain to play against. New York was physical and content to play a dump the puck and chase type of contest which made it difficult for Washington to get their transition game going. Alex Auld (28 saves) was also pretty good in goal. I surmise that Tortorella was tired of seeing Alexander Ovechkin, who failed to score for the sixth straight game, light up his top net minder, King Henrik Lundqvist, so he went with the goalie they claimed off of waivers from Dallas last month and the decision nearly paid off.
The Caps power play was 1 for 4 on the night and the lone goal came at the completion of a rush with just two seconds left in a 1:45 five on three advantage (courtesy of some stupid Rangers penalties) . Defenseman Joe Corvo started the scoring sequence with a nice pass up the ice to Tomas Fleischmann at the Rangers blue line. Flash skated in, then sent a cross ice pass to the slot that Brooks Laich must have just missed because he did not get an assist on the play and the biscuit rolled far post to Eric Fehr, who roofed it for his 17th goal of the season. Washington, with a 2-0 lead, then received two power plays in the last five minutes and it seemed the focus was to get Ovechkin going because the team repeatedly sent the puck to the Great #8 for some point blasts. Auld, however, would deny Ovechkin, who now trails Sidney Crosby by two goals in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy (most goals in NHL). My biggest beef with the man advantage this evening was what happened near the end of Dubinsky’s minor with just over two minutes remaining in the game when the Caps nearly gave up a two on none rush, but luckily the Rangers went offside. With a 2-0 lead that late in the contest the Washington players need to be smarter because what occurred was a MAJOR brain cramp by the five guys on the ice, especially the forwards who should have been covering for Mike Green (who was the one who led the rush just prior to a New York stretch pass that nearly resulted in a golden Rangers scoring opportunity).
“We talked this morning about our power play, just trying to get a goal, specialty teams is what wins you playoff games and I thought we did that tonight,” said Fehr.
The Rangers were 0 for 2 on the man advantage so overall the Caps won the special teams battle on Saturday, as Fehr said the team was focusing on, but the power play has not been clicking this week.
Washington’s second goal was another “pretty Caps goal” thanks to a super Alexander Semin pass. Morrisonn took a Rangers clear at the red line and snapped a pass to Semin at the blue line. In one quick motion #28 fired a super cross ice laser to Laich, who deftly swung it in the slot to Eric Belanger and #18 fired it five hole on Auld for his first goal as a Capital. It is a good thing Semin was involved in that tally because up to that point in the game he was pretty much a no show.
I exchanged texts this week with NHL Network “On the Fly” analyst Craig Button about Washington’s trade deadline acquisitions and Craig thought the four trades by GM George McPhee were good depth moves. However, the man who drafted Jarome Iginla 11th overall for the Dallas Stars back in 1995 felt that “To be successful in the playoffs the team needs to dig in on details or they’ll be on the precipice.” Based on what Boudreau said after the win tonight the Capitals coach is thinking the same way.
“They’ve been focusing on it alot whether it be practice or watching video after the Olympic break on defense and talking about it. When you’ve got a lot of skilled guys it’s difficult to reign them in,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winning coach on the challenge he faces to get his club ready for playoff hockey.
With Ovechkin, Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom not putting up their usual offensive numbers since the Olympic break ended the Caps have been fortunate in the last two contests to get contributions from three of the players McPhee acquired on Wednesday. Belanger tallied tonight while Scott Walker had two goals on Thursday. To me the best acquisition of the bunch has been Corvo (1 assist on Saturday) because he is clearly a top four NHL defenseman and is a significant upgrade over the departed Brian Pothier. #77 logged 20:14 of ice time against the Rangers and most of that was paired with Tom Poti at even strength.
“I think this game I was a little bit more relaxed and just more aware of everything that was going on around me rather than being real nervous and kind of tight,” added Corvo on how he felt in his second game with Washington.
Boudreau now has 15 forwards and eight defenseman and he said he has 10 games to experiment with things before setting the line-up for the playoffs in the final seven contests. The head coach scratched Brendan Morrison, Boyd Gordon, John Erskine, Tyler Sloan, and Quintin Laing on Saturday. It was Morrison’s first missed game of the year but I am not surprised given how he has tailed off production wise and I thought he had a poor outing against the Lightning on Thursday. Gordon, however, has been playing super and I expect him back in on Monday. #15 was 12-2 on face-offs against Tampa and he is a very good penalty killer. I don’t know who Bruce will take out to get Gordo back in but my guess is it is one of Dave Steckel (9-3 on face-offs vs. New York), Matt Bradley (who was not happy about sitting vs. Tampa), or Walker. As for Erskine and Sloan, as long as rookie John Carlson (+1 in 14:15 of ice time) keeps playing the way he is going he is not coming out of the lineup. The 20 year old continues to improve on the back end and it is pretty scary to project how good #74 will eventually be when he physically matures.
Next up for Washington are the Dallas Stars on Monday night at 7pm at the Verizon Center. The game will be televised on Versus. There will be no Capitals practice on Sunday.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on WNST 1570 Baltimore at 10:25am on Sunday with Section 410 host Eric Aaronson talking Capitals Hockey. You can listen live via WNST.NET