Theodore Stops 32 Shots in 3-1 Win
Playing the New Jersey Devils is always a grinding, tough affair, primarily because they play a very defensive minded game and use the trap to try and create transition goals. Friday night was no different as Brent Sutter’s Devils held the Caps to only 27 shots but Washington goalie Jose Theodore was outstanding in net stopping 32 of 33 shots in a 3-1 victory. The Great #8, Alexander Ovechkin, continued his recent hot streak assisting on the Caps first goal by Brooks Laich (who tipped in Ovechkin’s shot), was on the ice for Tomas Fleischmann’s second goal, and scored into an empty net in hard working fashion to secure the win for the Caps with 20 seconds left. Alexander the Great has now scored goals in three straight games and has 15 points in 14 games.
Fleischmann continues to play well and solidify himself in Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s lineup. His game winning goal late in the second period was textbook hockey as the combo of Fleischmann, Viktor Kozlov, and Ovechkin did a great job of cycling the puck. Fleischmann fired the puck behind the net to Kozlov and New Jersey converged down low towards him and the Great #8 in front of the net. Kozlov took the puck and came around the net and slid the puck to Fleischmann who one timed the puck in the upper corner of the goal past New Jersey Devils goalie Scott Clemmensen (Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes are the current New Jersey goalies with future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur out of the lineup for 3 to 4 months due to bicep surgery). For Kozlov this was a special assist as it was his 500th NHL career point.
The only shot the Devils could put past Theodore on the night was a breakaway goal by Patrick Elias who caught a break when John Erskine headed to the bench on a bad line change with just over eight minutes left in the game. Elias beat #60 via the five hole on the breakaway. The Caps have now gone six straight games without giving up more than two goals. This strong play has come after the Buffalo debacle and the subsequent difficult practice that was held by Boudreau on a scheduled day off on Sunday, November 2nd.
Unfortunately this Caps win was once again dampened by an injury as the league’s leading scorer, Alexander Semin, left the contest in the second period playing only 12:26 of ice time. Semin is listed as day to day.
This was the Caps fifth straight win and it avenged their shootout loss to the Devils back on October 18th and the victory pushed their record at the Verizon Center to 7-0-1 on the season. This Washington win also pushes their season record to 10-4-2 overall. The Caps now lead the Hurricanes by four points in the Southeast Division and they have a game in hand. This is the second fastest start to 10 wins by Washington trailing only the 1991-92 Capitals, which started 10-3.
That 1991-92 Capitals team, which in my opinion, was one of the best teams this franchise has ever had but was defeated in the first round of the 1992 playoffs in seven games by the Pittsburgh Penguins after the Caps had led the series three games to one. The Penguins won the Stanley Cup the previous year and would go on to win their second straight that spring. The 1997-98 Caps squad made the Stanley Cup Finals but I still don’t think it was as good as the 1991-92 team except for one key position: goaltending (Olie Kolzig carried that 1997-98 Caps team to the Finals).
The 1991-92 team had Peter Bondra, Dino Ciccarelli, Michal Pivonka, Dmitri Khristich, Mike Ridley, Kelly Miller, Dale Hunter, and Randy Burridge at forward and Al Iafrate, Kevin Hatcher, Calle Johansson, Sylvan Cote, and Rod Langway on defense with Don Beaupre as the primary goaltender.
This 2008-09 Caps team has Ovechkin, Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Brooks Laich, and Michal Nylander at forward and Mike Green, Tom Poti, Shaone Morrisonn, and Jeff Schultz on defense with Theodore and Brent Johnson in goal.
The one thing to remember when comparing squads is that there were only 22 teams in the NHL in 1991-92 and there are 30 teams presently, which dilutes the talent. Anyways, as I said in my preseason blog, this Caps team is dealing with the highest expectations for a Washington hockey team since the 1991-92 season. To date this year’s team is living up to that hype despite some early season injury issues.
Other Game Notes: Defensemen Tyler Sloan, who was called up from Hershey for the second time this season when Morrisonn was injured Monday night, continues to play solid and Boudreau is rewarding him with more ice time. #89 logged 21:39 of ice time after getting 18:53 on Wednesday in Carolina. Nylander was scratched tonight and Eric Fehr was inserted back into the lineup. Fehr played well and had several quality scoring chances. Boudreau did a nice job of using his timeout when Brashear was called for icing in the third period and the Caps came out of that break, got a face-off win by Laich, and carried the puck out of the Caps zone and dumped and changed.
As I predicted in my preseason NHL blog, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Barry Melrose is “out of touch with the new NHL” and he was fired today after just 16 games as their head coach. Assistant Coach Rick Tocchet now takes over the reigns as head coach. Tampa is 5-7-4 on the season but you can’t put all of the blame on Melrose. Some of the moves this new ownership group has made are puzzling and they clearly don’t know how to manage the salary cap as evidenced by the recent money dump trade of quality defensemen Matt Carle to the Flyers for Steve Eminger and Steve Downie. Perhaps now that Melrose is out we won’t see any more of those commercials he did with Carrie Millbank for the NHL. I imagine we’ll get much more of Millbank with Eddie Olcyzk or the Staals now.
Today on Hockey Night in Canada Radio (hosted by Jeff Marek on Sirius-XM 122), Yvon Pedneault, the famous French Canadian journalist, who was inducted by his peers into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1998, talked at length about some of the recent problems the Habs are having. In particular, he was very critical of goon, George Laraque, who is getting $1.5M a year to protect his teammates. Thursday night in Boston the Bruins bullied Montreal and routed the Canadiens, 6-1 and last Saturday night on HNIC they were beaten 6-3 by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Pedneault could not understand why Laraque did not stand up for Alexei Kovalev when he was hammered by Milan Lucic and for Montreal defensemen Mike Komisarek, who has a bad shoulder and was forced to fight Lucic on Thursday in Beantown. The journalist thinks that Laraque has lost his ability to protect his teammates and only seeks “highlight” type bouts. These two teams meet again next Saturday, November 22nd in Montreal and you can bet that there will be fireworks so get your popcorn and drinks ready. Montreal is 5-1 at home where Coach Bob Gainey can get the last line change. Overall they are 9-3-2 but Pedneault thinks that this team still isn’t ready for the playoffs and teams will continue to try and push them around. As I said in my preseason blog, I think Montreal will do well in the regular season (I picked them 1st overall) but will be beaten early in the playoffs.