If Jose Theodore continues to play like he did on Wednesday night, then the Washington Capitals and their fans have a date in June with an engraver. #60 continued his dominant run with his 19th straight contest without a regulation loss (17-0-2) as the Caps rallied from a 2-1 third period deficit to knock off the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins for the third straight time this season, 4-3, in the shootout. Theodore made 39 saves and after giving up goals to Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby in the gimmick, he shut the door as Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and then Mike Knuble beat Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury like a rented mule to send the crowd at the Verizon Center out into the streets of DC to celebrate. The Capitals victory takes their overall record to an astounding 49-14-10 (108 points) and their magic number for clinching the Eastern Conference is just three points. In the race for the President’s Trophy they now have a nine point lead over Chicago, who has a game in hand, and a 10 point lead over San Jose. For the season, Washington is now an incredible 27-4-4 on home ice.
Here are the highlights, stats, quotes, and analysis from a contest that definitely felt like a playoff game:
Theodore was brilliant tonight, especially in the first period when he made 17 saves, many of them on quality chances. His pad save on Ruslan Fedotenko was just one of the many outstanding stops he would make on Wednesday. The Laval, Quebec native has not lost in regulation to the Penguins since Jan. 3, 2006, when Theodore played for the Montreal Canadiens. Theodore was 3-0-1 last season against Pittsburgh and is 3-0 in 2009-10. In the words of the great Joe McGrath, Theo “Owwwwwnnnnnssss” the Pens.
“[Jose Theodore]‘s playing great. There are three goals against and they had 42 shots, eerily similar of a playoff game that we would have played them last year where they would out shoot us. I thought below the circles we didn’t clear out well enough, but [the Penguins] were a determined gritty bunch tonight. That’s why they were the Stanley Cup Champions,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the play of his goalie, his team, and Pittsburgh.
Mike Green was outstanding tonight. #52 (1 assist) fired a blast off of a super Eric Belanger feed that set up Eric Fehr’s 21st goal of the season to give the Caps the lead in the 3rd period and he logged 25:02 of ice time, the most of any Capital. Green is super offensively and he now has 17 goals and 54 assists in 68 games to lead the NHL in scoring by defenseman. He is incredibly talented at bringing the puck up the ice, “a one man breakout” as Boudreau calls him, and he is good defensively. “Game over Greenie” was +3 on Wednesday and is now +33 for the season so for anyone who thinks the guy is a liability in his own end, I suggest you print this blog, then fill it with more of the stuff you’ve been smoking, light it, and take some more tokes.
Washington’s penalty killing unit was tested heavily because they were whistled for five infractions and all were good calls (more on the referees coming up). Pittsburgh’s only tally with the man advantage came on a super play by Crosby, who set Bill Guerin up for a layup. But the Caps would break even on the night on Pens power play chances as Semin scored a highlight reel shorthanded goal skating around Letang like he was an orange road cone and then abusing Fleury with a wicked top shelf blast. It was a Harlem Globetrotters type of play and the video of that one should be laid down with “Sweet Georgia Brown” playing in the background as audio. Boudreau said afterwards that he has seen a recent trend upwards in the performance of his 25th ranked penalty killing unit.
“I thought we killed penalties great tonight. We made one mistake and we end up with the wrong guy out there [Crosby] on a two on one. The zone time, over the last 7 games, has been cut down very significantly and that is really important. It’s a good sign,” added the 2007-08 Jack Adams Trophy winner.
Now to the officials, Paul Devorski and Ian Walsh, if you want to call them that (I prefer zebras, especially tonight). I cannot argue with any of the calls made against the Capitals, HOWEVER, if they are going to whistle those infractions on Washington then they need to be consistent and call the same thing on the Penguins. These two “clowns” did not do that in this one, fueling fire to the anti-Caps bias that many who Rock the Red feel exists. If Jeff Schultz is going to be called for holding Crosby then the hold/trip on Ovechkin in overtime needs to be whistled as well (there was also a Penguin trip and cross check on the Great #8 that was overlooked earlier in the contest). In addition to that inconsistency, right before Semin was called for high sticking Mike Rupp, #17 clearly hooks him, yet the result is a Pens power play. Then after Tomas Fleischmann tripped Letang in the neutral zone, #58 blatantly interferes and cross checks Fehr before the whistle is blown yet once again only the Capital is sent to the sin bin. There is NO WAY the power plays in this contest should have been 5 to 1 in favor of Pittsburgh! Boudreau was not going to criticize the zebras, because it would cost him money via a fine, however he did not like that his club took five penalties.
“Five penalties is too many. That’s 10 minutes in the box. That means the lines get all skewed and you’re sitting guys that you don’t want to sit for 10 minutes. That’s two games in a row and its stick penalties so that’s something we have to cure,” finished Boudreau on the lack of discipline his team showed overall and with their twigs.
There is no doubt Ovechkin, who is very physical and plays on the edge, is an intimidator. Even the great #87 is no match for the power and force of Alexander the Great and in two instances on Wednesday #8 flat out abused Sid the Kid in the corner. In the first instance Crosby just bailed out and let Ovie have the puck and in the third period the two time defending Hart Trophy winner easily took the Canadian Olympic hero off the puck with a strong shoulder check.
Other guys who stood out for Washington were rookie defenseman John Carlson (17:39), who rang the post at least once in pursuit of his first NHL goal and his partner Shaone Morrisonn, who was physical and had nine hits. Carlson, who is only 20 years old and was drafted late in round one of the 2008 NHL Entry draft, is making a strong case to stay up with the big club for the playoffs. I had a chance to chat with #74 after Wednesday’s tilt:
WNST: Does Wilkes-Barre (Pens AHL team) bring their forwards down on the forecheck the same way Pittsburgh does?
Carlson: Yeah, I think that both of our teams, like Washington and Hershey and Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh, both of their systems are pretty much identical so its a little bit more comfortable for me knowing what is going to happen in little situations like that and it is one less thing you have to worry about. So it was a fun game.
WNST: Pittsburgh’s forecheck seems different than some of the tactics of other recent Caps opponents who tend to back off of an aggressive forecheck and seek to trap them in the neutral zone. Is that the case?
Carlson: Yeah, it just that every different coach has his different style and we got great players here and everyone tries to shut them down in different ways.
WNST: What is it like on the bench in these Caps-Pens games?
Carlson: It’s crazy, it’s always a crazy environment here [Verizon Center] but with Pittsburgh coming in it is a little bit more of a rivalry and you can definitely tell in the intensity of the fans and just the overall feel of the building.
Notes: The faceoff battle was tied at 28 a piece….the Pens played without Evgeni Malkin (foot) and Sergei Gonchar (Ovechkin flu) while the Caps were without Brooks Laich (face), Boyd Gordon (back), and Scott Walker (knee). Healthy scratches were John Erskine and Tyler Sloan for Washington and Eric Godard for the Penguins. Next up for the Caps are the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night at 7pm from Raleigh. The Canes, who have played very well in the second half of the season, seem to finally be figuring out that all their good play is doing is ruining their chance at the top overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Carolina, at one point, was battling Edmonton for the worst record in the league but now currently resides in 27th place. The bottom three clubs have a shot at the top pick in the draft (Edmonton, the Islanders, and Toronto are the current bottom three but the Leafs pick is held by the Boston Bruins).