Happy New Year to all, and especially so for fans of what has rapidly become Washington’s favorite sports franchises; the Washington Capitals.
The Caps had a great week last week going 3-0-0 against their opponents, gaining six valuable points, improving their hold on second place in the Eastern Conference by 5 points, and proving their team has what it takes to be a playoff contender with great repeat performances against Buffalo and the New York Rangers.
The Caps are now on a six game winning streak and have won 11 of their last 12. Their current season record is now 26-11-3 and their home record is a spectacular 17-1-1. The Caps 26-11-3 record qualifies as the best in team history after 40 games (previous best: 25-11-4 in the ’85-’86 season).
The Caps did see the return of Brent Johnson, Donald Brashear and Alex Semin this week but can still attribute a lot of their recent winning ways to the great goaltending of Jose Theodore and the continued playmaking abilities of one Alex Ovechkin. The Great 8 has now scored a goal in eight consecutive home games.
Before we get to the recapping I would like to take a moment to say “WTF??!!” to the NHL All-Star balloting process. How in the word do Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malken get 1.2 million votes a piece and the reigning league MVP and number two scorer in the league not get even half a million?
Really NHL? You seem to get some many other things right (centralized replay on questionable goals, uniformed web-sites for each team, great statistical access for even the casual fan); how do you screw up the NHL equivalent of the NFL Pro-Bowl by giving fans the only say in the balloting process?
Sure Alex is in the game, but snubbing him from the starting line for four Canadiens and two Penguins only shows the farce of fan balloting.
I’m not through with you on this, NHL. Let’s get to some recapping.
12/30/08 @ Buffalo – The Caps travelled to Buffalo to face the Sabres for the second time in four days. Buffalo had a history of not being a gracious host to Washington, but the Caps managed to pull out a win for only the third time in the past 10 visits.
Look who’s scoring now – After scoring a spectacular goal on Buffalo in their previous match-up, Alex Ovechkin didn’t notch so much as an assist in this one. If you were to look strictly at the score-card you might think he didn’t play at all. Washington’s four goals came from Brooks Laich (his 11th of the season), Chris Bourque (the first of his career), Nicklas Backstrom (on the power-play) and Boyd Gordon (on the empty net).
That’s Ruff – Sabres’ Coach Lindy Ruff had this to say after the game: “If Jochen Hecht and Derek Roy and those kinds of guys aren’t our best players, you don’t have any chance of winning. We’ll take them out of the lineup. Some of them will come out, and that’s not an idle threat, either. You still have to put the work in, and I don’t think we did.” Yeah, he was a little upset.
1/1/09 vs. Tampa Bay – The Caps welcomed back Brent Johnson from the injured list and helped him win by outscoring Tampa at every turn. The Caps jumped out to a three goal lead in the first period, but saw that lead diminish in the second when the Lightning scored two goals. On two occasions the Caps responded to a Lightning goal within 15 seconds with a goal of their own and went on to win by a final score of 7-4.
Who hasn’t scored yet? – The Caps saw more goals from players not known for their scoring prowess. Sean Collins scored his first ever NHL goal, and Captain Chris Clark scored his first of the season, but the Caps also saw goals from David Steckel, Matt Bradley, and Boyd Gordon (the other goals came compliments of Mike Green, and some guy named Alex—I think he’s in the All Star game)
Century milestones – Coach Boudreau was coaching his 100th game and got a win; Mike Green was playing in his 200th career game and scored a goal.
1/3/09 vs. New York Rangers – In their previous meeting the Rangers jumped out to a four goal lead, only to see the Caps come back and beat them in overtime 5-4. This time the Caps were on their own home ice, and you had to imagine the Rangers were looking for payback. Jose Theodore showed that he still had the confidence that the Rangers had given him for Christmas as he stopped 30 of 31 shots to help the Caps to a 2-1 victory.
Thank god he’s better with a stick than he is with his hands – Alex Semin was involved in the first fight of his NHL career and I laughed so hard I had to watch it three times. Do you remember the scene from “A Christmas Story” where Ralphie beats up on the bully?
That’s what this looked like as Semin took Marc Staal down to the ice and began flailing on him with both hands. Kinda like you’d imagine someone beating on bongo drums. Semin was ultimately given a Game Misconduct (which is the equivalent of an ejection), not for the ferocity of the fight (which I think even Staal laughed at a little bit) but because he didn’t have his jersey properly tied down.
The Wrap-Up – You can’t be unhappy with how the Caps are playing. They have given up 14 goals in their last six games, but have outscored their opponents by a margin of 25-14 during that period. They are seeing more scoring from their supporting players as well as their star talent. They still have looked a little confused at times on the back-check, and occasionally in transition through neutral ice, but when they get into the attacking zone, they are taking shots.
Boudreau’s offense is high pressure as it calls for players to look for the shot first, and cycle if the shot isn’t there. This wears down defenders and eventually the net-minder. They have shown two styles of offensive creation where the attacker will hold up at the point, and look for the open man, or they will dump the puck in and play the forecheck to try and get the cycle going in the corner. These styles have both proven hard to defend against, especially with the Caps style of intuitive passing that put’s the puck where the attacker is going to be, not where he currently is.
Coming up – The Caps have three games this week, but it isn’t going to be easy. Thankfully two of the games will be at Verizon where the Caps play extremely well, but they also play back to back games Friday and Saturday night with one opponent at home and another on the road.
Their first opponent comes tomorrow night at Verizon against Philadelphia, who is currently tied for third in the Eastern Conference; The Caps started their six game winning streak after a 7-1 loss in Philly.
Next the Caps welcome the Blue Jackets on Friday who are one of the only two teams to have shut the Caps out this year when they beat ‘em 3-0 back in November. The important stat here is that Columbus is 11-6-1 at home (where they were when they beat the Caps), but 7-11-3 on the road. Meanwhile the Caps are currently 17-1-1 at Verizon, so this should be a good game.
Less than 24 hours after the Columbus game the Caps travel to Montreal where they face the other team tied for third in the Eastern Conference; the Canadiens. The Caps won their last meeting with the Canadiens back on December 13 (2-1). The similarities are curious as the Caps played them in Montreal, also less than 24 hours after playing another team.
This week will be a good test of where the Caps are at as they seem to be playing strong but still have room for some slight improvement.