Leafs Blank Caps
The Washington Capitals couldn't solve Toronto Maple Leafs' goaltender Andrew Raycroft, and Darcy Tucker and Yanic Perreault both scored their twentieth goals of the season to pace Toronto to a 3-0 victory at the Air Canada Center in Toronto.
Raycroft only had to make 24 saves to earn his second shutout of the season. It was his fifth career shutout, his thirtieth win of the season, and more importantly, gave the Leafs a very valuable two points.
Across from Raycroft in the Washington net, was goaltender Frederic Cassivi. Cassivi was called up from the Hershey Bears when Olaf Kolzig was injured, and Tuesday was his first full 60-minute game for the Caps this season. He had seen action in two other games since being called up, once in relief of Brent Johnson, and once where he was relieved by Johnson. Cassivi stopped 28 of 31 shots on the night, and had to feel good about playing just his second full NHL game since the 2002-2003 season.
Unlike a lot of goaltender call-ups, Cassivi isn't just a young guy cutting his teeth. He was actually drafted by the Ottawa Senators in 1994 and has been earning a pay check in the American Hockey League (AHL) for over a decade. He's had stints in six different AHL cities ( P.E.I., Syracuse, Worcester, Hershey, Chicago and Cincinnati), three different NHL cities (Washington, Atlanta and Colorado), and even played a year in the now defunct International Hockey League with the Cincinnati Cyclones.
It's a great story when any journeyman gets a tour in the big league. For a goaltender to not only get the call, but to start and finish a game; it was a victory for Cassivi regardless of the final score.
Toronto opened the scoring three minutes into the second period when Darcy Tucker was the recipient of a flukey bounce. Tucker was breaking to the goal when a John Pohl shot that was saved by Cassivi, rebounded in to Tucker's shoulder and then in to the net. It was only Tucker's second game since returning from an injury that his kept him out since mid-December, so the feisty Leaf winger will take a goal any which way.
Toronto got their second goal at 14:39 of the second, and it was no fluke. Perreault went around a Capitals defenseman at the blue line, and broke to the net from the left side hash marks. He deftly shielded the puck with his right leg as he cut across the crease with speed; Cassivi was helpless to stop the streaking Perreault from tucking it in to the net and giving Toronto a two-goal cushion. While it was Perreault's twentieth of the season, it was his first since coming (back) to the Leafs at the trade deadline.
The Maple Leafs closed out the scoring at 2:47 of the third, when Alexei Ponikarovsky was rewarded for driving to the net. He deflected a Nik Antropov shot past Cassivi to make it 3-0, on his eighteenth of the season.
The win moved Toronto into eighth place and the precious final playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
Washington has turned it's attention to developing and grading talent, as a team out of the playoff hunt must do. While trading Dainius Zubrus was the smart thing to do for business reasons, coupled with trading Richard Zednik, and an injury to Matt Pettinger, the Capitals' offense will be fairly impotent for the remainder of the season. Coach Glen Hanlon knows this as well as anyone, "We're playing some young kids, and we've improved defensively but, as you could see, we're challenged offensively. We've got to at least generate something on the power play, and that didn't happen either."
Washington went 0-5 on the power play, as did the Maple Leafs.
While it may be a little humbling and discouraging to the team for the remainder of the season, the experience that some of the young Caps players can earn is invaluable. While it's obvious that Washington must obtain some front-line free agent talent this off season to be competitive, the future of the Capitals is in the development of many of the young players that they already have.
Mike Green returned to the line-up. Green was sent down to Hershey on February 15th when Washington got a glut of defenseman back from injury just before the trade deadline. In nine games in the minors, he scored two goals and four assists before being recalled. The need to give Green time was probably a large part of the reasoning behind dealing Jamie Heward at the deadline, and so now the young 6’1’’, 208-pound defenseman from Calgary, Alberta is back with the Capitals. He saw twelve and a half minutes of action in his first game back, and was paired with either Brian Pothier or John Erskine.
Several other young players also saw some significant playing time; Thomas Fleischman played 15:29, Jeff Schultz played 14:04, Alexandre Giroux played 13:44, and newcomer Jiri Novotny played 18:33. These are valuable minutes to guys with little, or no NHL experience.
Capitals fans can take solace in the fact that at least some young guys are getting a chance to show what they can do at the elite level, and team management is getting a chance to do the same. In order for Washington to have an effective off season, they have to know which players in the system can be expected to contribute on a regular basis next year. That will hopefully allow them to make enough moves to bolster the roster sufficiently, without sacrificing the patience it can take to develop some young hockey players.
The Caps' schedule doesn't get much easier for them - they face Carolina on Friday night at the Verizon Center, before heading to New York to face the Islanders on Saturday. Both teams are in the thick of a playoff race and need the points badly; both teams will come looking to prey on the young, inexperienced Capitals line-up.
» Pavel Kubina returned to the Leafs lineup after missing five games with a broken finger.
» Alex Ovechkin had five shots, several good chances and stood out head-and-shoulders above any other Washington player. He blew around Leafs defenseman Ian White at one point, but couldn't put the puck in when he cut to the net.
» On Friday night at the Verizon Center, the Capitals and Comcast SportsNet are hosting a book drive to benefit Books for America. Fans are asked to bring new and gently used children’s books, educational videos and audio books. The first 1,000 fans who donate will receive an official Caps poster. For more information, please click here.
» Hats off to Glen Hanlon. In the wake of the Capitals trade deadline purge, and subsequent player call-ups, he has to judge new talent on the fly, change all of his line combinations, change his defensive pairings, and maintain the morale of a young, struggling team. He's never frazzled, completely bears the brunt of the media's attention, and quietly and patiently waits for the organization to give him a little bit more talent to work with.
This article was released on 2007-03-07.
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