The Washington Capitals went in to Denver on Tuesday night to take on the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center and they rolled to a 6-1 victory. Unfortunately the Caps had some more injuries as Shaone Morrisonn left after just 4:12 of ice time and then Mike Green was run into the glass on a cheap shot by David Koci. #52 hit his head hard, was cut, and did not return.
Washington pushes its league leading point total to 48 with a 21-7-6 overall record. Colorado is one of the biggest surprises in the league this season and they came in to this one on top of the Northwest Division with 44 points, although second place Calgary with 42 points had three games in hand. Jose Theodore was the victor (27 saves) in net for Washington against one of his old teams while former Florida Panthers goalie Craig Anderson, who came in to this one as a major reason for the turnaround in the Mile High city with a 16-7-5 record, took the loss for the Avs.
Here is the period by period and post game play and analysis:
End of 1st period: Caps 2, Avs 0
In his first NHL game, on his birthday, and on his initial NHL shift Kyle Wilson sets up Eric Fehr for a right wing blast and when Anderson couldn’t handle the rebound Tomas Fleischmann banged it home for a 1-0 Caps lead. Wilson almost got his first NHL goal on the very next shift but missed a wraparound try after a nice move down the left wing boards.
Theodore would be tested at the 12 minute mark with Chris Stewart all alone in front but #60 stayed his ground and stopped him. Washington promplty went the other way as Wilson was sprung for a breakaway but Anderson stoned him as Brett Clark appeared to trip #57 and he crashed into the Avs goalie, no call though.
Lots of end to end flow in this one and finally the Avs obtain the first power play as Brooks Laich is called for boarding Darcy Tucker with 5:15 left in the opening stanza. Washington would kill this penalty no problem and then Karl Alzner, freshly recalled from Hershey, backhanded the puck out of the Caps zone right to Nicklas Backstrom. #19, who seems to have eyes in the back of his head, sprung Alexander Ovechkin on a two on one with Mike Knbule and the Great #8 made a super pass to #22 and he beat Anderson on the backhand.
The Caps nearly went up 3-0 but Laich’s apparent goal on a Semin rebound was deemed to have been kicked in, although it was very close. #21 appeared to be trying to stop the puck with his skate and it was close to being on the ice but because it came up slightly off of the surface there was no joy for Washington.
On the ensuing shift Fehr was whistled for holding putting the very fast Avs back on the man advantage. The Caps did a nice job killing the majority of this one and 23 seconds will remain on the board to start period two.
Overall, this was another very good period by Washington, other than the two penalties. Now the big question, can they keep it up in period two? All season long the Caps have typically come out hot in period one but rarely have they blown any team out. I have seen the Avalanche play several times this year and a two goal deficit is nothing for them. Also, the home squad is used to the thin Colorado air while the DC crew will have to learn to deal with it and potential fatigue as this one goes on. By the way, Alzner is a +2 in his first period back and his seemingly simple but important backhanded pass to Backstrom set up the sequence that would lead to Knuble’s tally.
End of 2nd period: Caps 5, Avs 0
Colorado nearly scored as the Fehr penalty expired and Paul Stastny had #60 beat but his backhander missed the cage. Washington would get a three goal lead as Chris Clark and Matt Bradley totally outworked the Avs on the left wing boards and when #10 fired a hard shot that Anderson could not handle, Dave Steckel put it in the net for his 2nd goal of the season. That was a text book hard working tally there.
A brutal Jeff Schultz giveaway leads to a Colorado chance for Cory McLeod but he crashes into Theo before Green inadvertently puts the puck in his own net so the goal was correctly waved off. The Caps took advantage of the good fortune as Wilson stole an errant John-Michael Liles breakout pass and he fed Flash for a tap in to make it 4-0. Wilson is having a great debut. It appears GM George McPhee and Head Coach Bruce Boudreau have timed another Hershey call up perfectly.
Hard work continued to pay off for Washington and the fourth line as Bradley made it a blowout at 5-0 by banking one off of Anderson’s pads from below the goal line. #10, #39, and #17 were relentless in their pressure on Colorado’s defense there and they were rewarded once again.
Bad things then happened as Green was run hard into the boards by David Koci and it was a total cheap shot. John Erskine stepped in and took on Koci while #52 laid on the ice after hitting the rock hard Colorado glass. Caps fans have to hope Green did not suffer a concussion on that play. Erskine was given two for instigating, five for fighting, and a 10 minute misconduct while Koci was given five for boarding, five for fighting, and a game misconduct.
A great period for Washington until the cheap shot on Green. With Erskine out for 17 minutes in penalties, Green out with an injury (he was reportedly bleeding), and Shaone Morrisonn gone since the first period, likely due to injury, the Caps only have 3 defenseman left in the game until #4 comes out of the box (Alzner, Schultz, and Tom Poti). Brendan Morrison took some shifts on D on the power play at the end of period two but expect Laich to go back and play defense in this final period. Green has been getting run alot lately and on Sunday in this blog I suggested the idea of adding an enforcer with the freed up salary cap dollars that GMGM now has available.
End of 3rd Period: Caps 6, Avs 1
The big story in the third period was the lack of defensemen on the Washington bench and matters got worse when Poti took a delay of game penalty. But the Caps killed it off with Alzner and Schultz taking some longer than normal shifts. When Semin was called for a holding penalty, Washington went shorthanded again and the Avs scored to make it 5-1. Colorado then received their third power play of the period as Schultz was whistled for cross-checking as T.J. Galiardi scored their first goal (and Boudreau did not like the call and let the officials know that). The Avs nearly scored again but Theo did a nice job of holding the left post on a stuff attempt.
Erskine would return with roughly six minutes remaining and when Adam Foote was called for interference on Laich (and I thought it was more of a rough) the Caps made it 6-1 when Backstrom received a tap-in set up by Fehr and Poti with 2:36 remaining.
Here is the post game analysis:
Washington played an outstanding road game tonight by creating turnovers and limiting their mistakes. They also took advantage of an off night by Anderson in goal for Colorado. Wilson had quite a birthday night playing in his first NHL game and adding two assists in 11:15 of ice time. My guess is he won’t feel so bad shelling out a bunch of money at the team dinner that the Caps rookies will pay for on Wednesday night. McPhee and Boudreau consistently do a good job of finding the right player to call up from Hershey when one is needed and tonight it was #57’s time to shine.
The Caps are now 6-0 with Alzner in the line-up and as I mentioned above, his simple play on the second goal will not show up on the score sheet but it set up the whole sequence. King Karl was +2 in 21:35 of ice time.
Erskine had a big night on defense as well going +3 and taking on Koci after the cheap shot on Green. #4 played 17:11 despite having to sit in the penalty box for 17 minutes.
All season long the debate has raged on about whether Washington needs an enforcer or not. Would one sitting on the Caps bench have prevented Koci from running Green? Nobody knows for sure. Do suspensions deter these type of hits? Nobody knows that for sure either. There is not a clear cut argument on either side and this debate has been going on alot this year, especially on Hockey Night in Canada Radio, and it isn’t just about fighting, it is about the on or over the edge type of play that goes on in games today. There has been talk that coaches should be held accountable in the way the game is played because they can threaten 3rd and 4th line guys with a roster spot if they don’t play that type of style. Is that true? Once again, nobody knows for sure. Anyways, I am going to leave you with 3 stories tonight, two of which I’ve heard on HNIC recently and the third from Comcast analyst Craig Laughlin from his playing days (he told this story several years ago on the air).
First the Laughlin story: The Caps were in Philadelphia and #18 went in and hit star Flyers defenseman Mark Howe into the boards. On Laughlin’s next shift he was lining up for a face-off and out skated Philly enforcer Dave Brown. Brown says to Laughlin, “You will never hit Mark Howe again.” Laughlin’s response: “Okay.” So Joe Beninati then asks Locker if he ever hit #2 again, and Craig starts laughing and says “No!”
The next story comes from a discussion between former Penguins/Oilers forward Craig Simpson and former Islanders/Kings/Rangers goalie Glen Healy. Simpson and Healy were asked recently on HNIC if the dirty hits that go on in the game now went on back when they played and the answer was a resounding Yes! Both said that the big reason was the lack of video coverage of games, especially on the west coast. Simpson and Healy said if a game got out of hand in a place like LA then guys would take runs at each other because they knew the entire East Coast and NHL office were asleep and they would have no way of seeing the coverage until at least the next day and sometimes not at all. Nowadays any cheap shot or hit ends up on YouTube nearly instantaneously. Simpson also said that Marty McSorley would routinely make it known to the opposition that he would run roughshod over their skill players should Wayne Gretzky be touched by anyone.
Finally, this one came last week on HNIC about a particular game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Vancouver Canucks. Resident Vancouver tough guy Gino Odjick was making a habit of roughing up and running Leafs forward Doug Gilmour throughout the first part of a particular contest and Toronto captain Wendel Clark, who basically ate rocks for breakfast, had seen enough. So the next time Pavel Bure of the Canucks is lining up for a face-off #17 skates out next to #10 and says, “If you don’t get Odjick to stop that crap then you are going out of here on a stretcher.” I don’t remember Bure being carted off so I assume the message was received. It should be pointed out though that Clark, even though he was as tough as nails, could also play so he was not a 10 minutes or less a night guy.
Anyways, this debate will continue to rage on and if there was an easy answer I would bottle it and sell it. The emotion in me, especially when I see a thug like Koci take out a star player like Green, is to retaliate eye-for-eye style. But does getting an enforcer who will only play 8 minutes a night make sense? I don’t know but most nights I could make the argument that some forward, regardless of their toughness quotient, plays less than 10 minutes anyways. That is just the nature of the game with all of the power play situations that occur in most contests. McPhee likes to point to Detroit and their lack of a tough guy last season (although Aaron Downey did fill that role on many nights) but the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins still have Eric Godard in their line-up during the regular season this year like they did in 2008-09. But Godard did not play at all in the post season. GMGM said in training camp that you need an enforcer for 10 games a year. McPhee also said he did not want to spend over $1M for that type of guy (and that made sense given Washington’s salary cap situation plus the number of minutes a game that type of player would contribute). The question now is, given some of the shenanigans we’ve been seeing lately against the Caps players combined with the extra cap room, does the team add some toughness for protection to get through the regular season?
Programming Note: I will be on live with Drew Forrester at 930am on Wednesday on the Comcast Morning Show. Listen live on 1570 AM in Baltimore or anywhere else via WNST.NET (just click the Listen Live button).