The 2009-10 Washington Capitals continue to re-write the team record books. On Saturday night they defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets, 3-2, to notch their 51st win of the season and move just one point away from clinching their first ever President’s Trophy. Washington, which raced out to a 3-0 first period lead and is now 51-15-12 (114 points) overall, can clinch 1st place in the NHL regular season with either a point in any of their four remaining games or a point missed by San Jose in any of their four contests. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, when asked afterwards, had the following to say about the achievement.
“It is nice to set records, it gives us a goal to shoot for next year,” added the low key 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner.
Let’s get right to the highlights, more quotes from the Coach, and analysis from this victory over the Blue Jackets:
The biggest news of the night was the return to form of Jose Theodore, who was just outstanding all game, WHEW! #60 made 34 saves as Columbus really turned up the heat after trailing by three after just 13:44. Both Blue Jackets goals were not the fault of Jose and he made several super stops, especially in the second period when the Caps decided to allow too many odd man rushes against. After two shaky goaltending performances earlier in the week against Calgary and Ottawa, Boudreau has gotten super starts from both Semyon Varlamov and Theodore, in succession.
“It is more significant that Theo had a good game and for the most part I thought we played good defensively,” started Boudreau on the victory, “I thought they had a few [chances] where they could put them in but that had nothing to do with the defense, alot of it was with our forwards not being where they are supposed to be,” added Boudreau on why there were so many quality chances for Columbus on the rush.
While Theo was certainly Washington’s number one star on the night, the guy I bragged about after Thursday’s win versus Atlanta, Mike Green, was once again in his 2009-10 Norris Trophy winning form versus Columbus. #52 scored the game winner by grabbing an errant clear and rifling one by Steve Mason, who replaced an injured Mathieu Garon just 10:49 into this one, on a 5 on 3 Caps power play. The goal was Greenie’s 19th of the season and he now has a career high in points with 74. More important than the goal, however, was his rock solid play in his own zone, as his head coach pointed out.
“He was fabulous. Mike Green was fabulous tonight. Notwithstanding scoring the winning goal but I just thought every time on he was a force defensively, not necessarily offensively, but he was a force defensively. He’s been like that for awhile, he just doesn’t get the recognition that he should defensively,” added Boudreau on a player that should win the Norris Trophy this season.
There will be the Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty for Norris Trophy camps but if you look at Green’s numbers, to include ice time and plus/minus, he should win hands down. By the way, Keith has the luxury of playing with Keith Seabrook night in and night out. As the NHL network’s Craig Button told me today via text, “Mike Green is a star and is becoming a more complete player, which is part of the development sequence.” People often forget that Green is still ONLY 24 years old in a league where playing in your own end takes years to learn.
Washington killed off all three Columbus power plays, including a 1:23 two man advantage. During that sequence Brooks Laich got his stick in the passing lanes and made several super plays. In fact, he was so good on one sequence on the boards it allowed Tom Poti to go the other way and get a quality shorthanded chance, but Mason made a nice glove save.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Washington power play was a pitiful 1 for 6 (only goal was Green’s unassisted 5 on 3 tally) and once again there was too much passing and perimeter play. What made things on 5 on 4 even worse was the lackadaiscal play of Alexander Ovechkin on the left point. The Great #8 made a bad decision pinching in that gave Rick Nash (2 assists) and Antoine Vermette (2 goals) a two on one break and they finished it off easily around Joe Corvo. Then in the third period Ovechkin failed to look behind him in the slot in the defensive zone and RJ Umberger nearly tied the contest up. To be blunt, the Great #8 floated in his own zone all evening. His coach saw much of the same and had a theory on how he could break out of his funk.
“He looked a little off tonight. You just keep throwing him out there and hoping it’s going to happen. I think he just has to work a little harder defensively and it will make his offensive go better,” said Boudreau on the two-time defending NHL MVP, who was -2 in this contest.
On the second Blue Jackets goal, both Poti and Tyler Sloan decided to chase Nash behind the net and #61 quickly recognized it and hit a wide open Vermette in front. Watching the replay, it was Sloan’s responsibility but for some reason #3 left his side of the ice? Still, I was not thrilled with Sloan’s overall play, he made a bad decision in the offensive zone in the second period that led to a Blue Jackets 4 on 2 break. His last shift, with under four minutes left, was not good either and he looked in over his head when the pressure picked up. I fully expect come playoff time that Sloan will be in the press box along with John Erskine, meaning John Carlson will be the sixth defenseman (#74 is out with an injury right now).
After the game, Corey Masisak (former Washington Times Caps beat writer), tweeted a quote that was given to him by the Columbus Blue Jackets beat reporter (Aaron Portzline) from Blue Jackets forward (and former Flyer) RJ Umberger about the Caps. Here is the full quote, courtesy of Portzline’s blog post:
“I don’t think any team in the West would be overmatched by them,” Umberger said. “They play the wrong way. They want to be moving all the time. They float around in their zone, looking for breakaways and odd-man rushes. A good defensive team is going to beat them (in the playoffs). If you eliminate your turnovers and keep them off the power play, they’re going to get frustrated because they’re in their zone a lot.”
My first reaction to this is: SOUR GRAPES from an Ex-Philadelphia Flyer who just lost a game. Secondly, I find it hard to take serious comments from a guy who bases his thinking off of a sample size of two games, especially when talking about a team that has 114 points with four games to go. That same Caps squad he criticizes is 10-5-3 against the Western Conference this season (although some writers will twist that into a statement like “the Caps are only 10-8 against the West”). If Umberger wanted to criticize the Caps play on Saturday alone, and not the overall body of work, he had a point because clearly Washington took their foot off of the gas against a cellar dwellar team after it was 3-0. But to rip them the way he did is bordering on ludicrous.
By the way, in contrast to Umberger’s outburst, John Keeley (On Frozen Blog) and I chatted with former Caps coach Bryan Murray after his Ottawa Senators beat Washington 5-4 in overtime on Tuesday. The first thing out of Murray’s mouth about the 2009-10 Caps was “that is a great team you have here.” Personally I will take Murray’s analysis over that of Umberger any day of the week.
Washington’s four remaining games include two at home against Boston (Monday & next Sunday), one at the Verizon Center against the Thrashers (Friday), and Tuesday night’s road tilt in Pittsburgh. Tonight’s performance was not solid, they were outshot 27-16 the last two periods, but the Caps still managed to get the job done. Overall, I am sure Boudreau wants to tighten things up for the post season. Towards that end, I will leave you with more contents from a text on the Caps I received from Button today.
“The Caps have goaltending good enough to win. The determining factor for me will be the team’s approach to playing. If they want to play a game of exchanging scoring chances it won’t matter who their goaltender is because they won’t win with that style. The way they played versus Atlanta is a recipe for success. Don’t forget, the Penguins won last year because of a commitment to a complete game and that has to be the focus for the Caps, in my opinion.”
It is hard to argue with Button’s logic, this team has two good goalies right now, not to mention Laich pointed out to me back on Labor Day that the Pens won the Cup because they stuck to their system. If Washington plays its system the way Boudreau wants them to do, they have the talent to win it all this year, despite what a center from a 14th place team in the Western Conference might have to say.