Alexander Ovechkin is red hot and that usually means the Washington Capitals are winning hockey games. The Gr8 scored a power play goal just 1:11 into Tuesday’s game against the Calgary Flames then Troy Brouwer potted a rebound of Oveckhin’s power play point shot in the middle frame and the Caps went on to win 3-1 against the Calgary Flames at the Verizon Center.
Special teams are often a difference maker in hockey games and that was definitely the case on Tuesday as Washington went 2 for 3 with the man advantage and killed off all four of Calgary’s power plays. Nicklas Backstrom had three assists before exiting the game after taking a terrible cheap shot elbow to the head in the neutral zone from Rene Bourque. #19 will be evaluated on Wednesday and hopefully he doesn’t have a concussion. Nicky did play one shift after absorbing the unnecessary blow from Bourque, who has already been suspended once this season for a bad hit on Chicago’s Brent Seabrook. Those type of hits have no place in the NHL right now and the Flames forward needs to sit at least three games for that stupid play.
As for Ovechkin, well he is rolling right now and had his fourth straight multiple point game. It is no coincidence that the Capitals have won all four of those games. You win when your best players are your best players and Ovie now has 11 points in his last seven games and for the year now is up to 17 goals and 16 assists. Look out NHL, the Gr8 is back and playing extremely well under Caps Coach Dale Hunter. Backstrom is up to 42 points and in the top 10 in the NHL in scoring.
The penalty killing was superb against the Flames. The #1 person in that equation is usually your goaltender and Tomas Vokoun (18 saves) was excellent between the pipes. But Washington’s skaters really got it done against Calgary giving up only three shots on net while shorthanded and on the next to last penalty late in regulation, the Flames didn’t even get a shot on goal! Overall the Caps blocked a season high 24 shots and as assistant coach Jim Johnson likes to say, good things are going to happen when his club blocks between 20 and 25 shots in a game. That is some solid work there on the defensive end and a big reason for the victory.
In addition to Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Vokoun, the Capitals received another really solid game from sophomore Marcus Johansson. The young Swede, who was recently shifted to the wing by Hunter, made a super pass to set up the Gr8’s one timer for the first tally and his one on three rush in the middle frame allowed Backstrom to grab the puck and find an all alone Dennis Wideman for the goal that gave Washington a two puck cushion. MJ90 has four points in his last four games and looks very comfortable on left wing next to Backstrom.
Mike Green made his return to the lineup for the first time since being injured on November 11th and #52 looked rusty in 15:43 of ice time. He was caught out of position on two occassions that led to Flames quality scoring chances but Vokoun had his back both times. The off night is to be expected when a guy misses 29 of 30 hockey games and it was clear he needs conditioning work. But getting Green back on Tuesday was important for Washington as they prepare to take on some of the NHL’s elite teams. They have San Jose and Los Angeles in California on Saturday and Monday before coming home next Wednesday to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The bad news is that Alexander Semin missed this game with an undisclosed injury and if Backstrom turns out to have concussion like symptoms that would take two of the Capitals top six forwards out of the lineup. Semin has been playing superbly the last six games so losing him really weakens a Washington offense that is starting to hit its’ stride by generating chances from solid defensive play.
So the Caps once again scored early at home and rode that to victory. They’ve now won six of their last seven at the Verizon Center. Winning on the road though, has been a much tougher chore and they have not tallied in the opening 20 minutes in the last six away games. In addition, they haven’t won a game in San Jose since 1993 so the odds are stacked against them on Saturday night. The good news is they have the rest of the week to prepare for it. Green should be in better shape by then and hopefully Semin and Backstrom are okay because the Sharks are hot right now making the game a good barometer for how much Washington has improved since Hunter took over behind the bench.
Notes: The Caps are now 21-15-2 overall and 9-6-1 under Hunter…Washington dominated the draws going 34-20 from the face-off dot…Curtis Glencross scored the Flames only goal when Karl Alzner and John Carlson both made uncharacteristic mistakes on a play that also included a sweet pass from Jarome Iginla to set up #20 in front for an easy marker…with Semin out, Hunter dressed 7 defensemen but John Erskine only played 4:48…Jeff Schultz and Mathieu Perreault were the other scratches…the Caps game in San Jose starts at 1030 pm Eastern Time on Saturday night…I was on with Drew Forrester on the WNST Morning Show talking Caps hockey on Tuesday morning and you can hear the audio from that here.