The Washington Capitals beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-1 at the Verizon Center, and ended the team's longest losing streak in twenty five years. Night in and night out, the Capitals count on Alex and Alexander to carry them to victory. In a much needed victory on Friday night, Washington added an Alexandre.
Alexandre Giroux was called up from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL) on Friday, as the Capitals continue auditioning young players down the stretch. Giroux has been playing really well in the AHL, and leads Hershey with 61 points, but hadn't made much of an impact with the big squad so far. It didn't take long to change that on Friday. Giroux pounced on a bad bounce that tied up Leafs' goaltender Andrew Raycroft, and the call-up scored his first career NHL goal to give Washington a 1-0 lead just 1:46 into the game.
Giroux had to be excited just to make it to the rink. After getting the call-up at 7:00 am on Friday morning, he had trouble traveling because of weather delays. He was flying in from Boston (Hershey was playing in Worcester), and could not get a flight until 3:30 pm To compound matters, when he did finally get to fly, his equipment was the last bags off of the plane, and Alexandre didn't even arrive at the Verizon Center until around 5:45 pm on Friday afternoon.
Alexandre, Alexander and Alex; it's all a little bit confusing isn't it?
There was no confusing that Alex and Alexander, Ovechkin and Semin that is, were also both terrific against Toronto.
Semin was the most dangerous player on the ice for either team. He extended Washington's lead to 2-0 at 7:55 of the first period on a tremendous individual effort. He picked up a loose pick in the neutral ice, and sped into the Leafs zone. He went beyond the goal line and then circled back out of the corner and cut towards the net untouched. His first shot was stopped by Raycroft, but Toronto's goaltender was helpless to stop Semin from netting his own rebound. Ultimately, that would be the game's winning goal.
Semin also added two assists; the first on Washington's third goal by Boyd Alexander, and the second assist came on Washington's fourth goal from Kris Beech. Semin now has 30 assists to go along with his 34 goals (64 points) in 68 games played.
Ovechkin may not have made his way on to the score sheet but he was strong for the entire sixty minutes. He made plays at both ends of the rink, had a couple of howlitzers, and threw in a few how-do-you-do's. (Sorry, that's Canadian for, 'He played well offensively and defensively, had several good scoring opportunities, and made a nice deke or two around defenseman.') Ovie is arguably the most complete hockey player in the NHL, and he's only 21-years old.
Enough about Alexander and Alex, let's get back to Alexandre. On a third period power play, Giroux played the puck to Milan Jurcina at the point, who spotted rookie Tomas Fleischmann parked all alone at the side of the Leafs' net. Jurcina picked him out, and Fleischmann scored his second career NHL goal into a yawning net to make it 5-1 Washington with just 3:09 to go in the game.
Give Capitals coach Glen Hanlon a little credit for Giroux' and Fleischmann's fortune. Hanlon gave them every opportunity to be successful by playing them a lot on the power play. Four out of Giroux' ten minutes of playing time were with a man advantage, and almost seven of Fleischmann's fifteen minutes were as well.
In his post-game press conference, Hanlon said of Giroux, "It was a great story, I'm glad he got his equipment, happy for him to get a goal and to get an opportunity. I thought that him and Flash (Fleischmann) played well, Novotny... that was his best game. Everybody played well."
Giroux downplayed his first career NHL goal a little bit, "It was a lucky goal. I think anybody would have made that goal. I was just happy that I finally got that one, and obviously now that pressure is off my shoulders."
He earned that little bit of luck though. Giroux arrived at the arena just over an hour before game time, and after a tough day of travel, and having not eaten anything since nine that morning, he had to be running on pure adrenaline alone. Giroux made use of the energy, and scored on his first shift. That tiny bit of luck has not been around at any point in Washington's nine game losing streak.
Hanlon recognized the significance of it after the game, "It was good to start off with some puck luck and get a good break."
Hanlon also recognized the importance of his goaltender after the game; "Olie was Olie."
It's amazing what a difference Olaf Kolzig can make, isn't it? In just his second game back, he not only won his twentieth game of the season (for the eighth time), but he won yet another game in which he faced 35 shots or more. Kolzig stopped 34 of 35 shots on Friday night, and it was the twelfth time in seventeen games that Kolzig has come away with a win when faced with 35 shots or more (12-3-2). Stunning.
Perhaps even more amazing is that the Capitals just look like a totally different team with his steadying influence. A team wallowing in misery and futility for weeks, looked fresh and full of jump for the second night in a row. A team that has been completely lifeless over the last few weeks, is suddenly anything but. They were competitive against the Bruins on Thursday, and the Leafs thought they could 'mail one in' and paid the price for it heavily. If the game was a week ago and Olie was still on the shelf, perhaps the Leafs could have mailed it in and still come away with the win; not with the team's leader back at the helm though.
The loss was a difficult one to swallow for Toronto. In the thick of an Eastern Conference playoff hunt, they lost two points that they needed to have.
Nik Antropov scored the only goal for the Maple Leafs. While it might not be so obvious to people who don't watch Toronto play on a regular basis, the Capitals shut down the line of Antropov, Mats Sundin, and Alexei Ponikarovsky better than any other team in the league has in the last twenty games. Chris Clark, Brooks Laich and Boyd Gordon did the bulk of that defending; they made a line that has been dominant - dormant.
The Capitals got a huge monkey off their back with the win. Going into Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Verizon Center, Washington is on a new streak - a one game winning streak. Game time is 1:00 pm at the Verizon Center, and tickets are still available.