Brent Johnson continued his hot hand in net stopping 28 of 29 shots and Alexander Semin scored his 11th goal of the season into an empty net with five seconds left and also added an assist on Brooks Laich’s first period power play goal as the Washington Capitals knocked off the New York Rangers, 3-1, on Saturday night at the Verizon Center in front of 17,948 fans. Johnson’s biggest save of the game came on a penalty shot against Chris Drury midway through the third period after Alexander Ovechkin hooked Drury while he was breaking in alone on the Caps goalie shorthanded. The huge saved preserved the Caps one goal lead. Johnson has now stopped 102 of 107 shots (95.3%) this week and gone 2-0-1 during that stretch (Can you say NHL Player of the Week?).
Alexander Ovechkin continued his career high goal scoring drought, now at nine games, but he continues to play well (he had three shots on goal and four hits) and the Caps keep winning. Sooner or later the Great #8 will break out of his drought and start lighting it up. As for Semin, well he just keeps on playing at an extremely high level and his assist was a result of what Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau continues to preach: “Shoot the puck.” The Caps power play finally broke a zero for nine slump as a result of that Laich goal which made it 1-0 early on. Washington made it 2-0 later in the period when Boyd Gordon took the puck to the net and forced a rebound off of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and that allowed defensemen Tom Poti to put it into the net.
The Rangers goal, on the power play, was a fluky one that was caused by a bad bounce at the Caps blue line which lead to a three on two and Aaron Voros’ attempted pass across the ice went off of Poti’s stick and through Johnson’s legs into the net. But that was all Johnson would give up and he continues to play superb in net forcing Boudreau to keep Jose Theodore on the bench. After the game Boudreau didn’t seem concerned with any goaltender controversy pointing out that there are 69 games left and each goalie will go through hot streaks in which they play several consecutive games.
Washington played tonight without the injured Shaone Morrisonn, Sergei Fedorov, and Chris Clark allowing forwards Eric Fehr and Dave Steckel to get back in the lineup. Tyler Sloan was recalled from Hershey this morning and logged 16:49 of ice time on defense, the most he has ever played in the NHL. Clearly Boudreau has confidence in Sloan and #89 delivered for the team and the coach tonight.
The Rangers, who lead the Eastern Conference in points with 23 in 17 games, fall to 11-5-1 while the Caps improve to 7-4-2 and trail Southeast division leading Carolina by two points but have a game in hand.
On Monday night the Tampa Bay Lightning come to the Verizon Center and expected to be in net for Tampa is Olie Kolzig. This game will be nationally televised on Versus in HD. You can bet the farm that Brent Johnson will start for Washington in goal. Also playing for Tampa will be former Caps defensemen Steve Eminger who was traded to the Lightning from Philadelphia with Steve Downie for defensemen Matt Carle. In addition, former Caps forward Matt Pettinger plays for Tampa.
Other Notes: The Caps won the faceoff battle with New York 33-20. Nicklas Backstrom had another strong game for Washington. Michael Nylander seems to be struggling and only played 12:52 on the evening. I have been impressed with the improvement of defensemen John Erskine this season and #4 had another solid game playing 17:40 with two hits and more importantly, no penalties.