The Washington Capitals skated away with yet another win in a tough division game against the Thrashers tonight. On an evening where we saw the puck careening around the ice like a magnetized pinball, goals seemed to come a bit too easy--on both sides.
The Thrashers came in looking to take advantage of yet another quirk in the schedule where the Caps were caught in a back-to-back game situation. That's like what--the third time already this year? And I see that they're due for another this week? If I'm wrong or if anyone knows if any other team has had anything like that this season, please drop me a line. In any case, it looked that the game plan, as Craig Laughlin pointed out later, was to jump ahead of the Thrashers and put the game away early so they could coast to the finish.
To say the least, that strategy backfired.
After taking leads of 3-1 and 4-2 early in the second period, the Caps quickly found themselves even with the Thrashers. This happened after the Caps seemed to stand around in their own end and watch the Thrashers get three goals in 9 minutes in the second period. Indeed it looked as though the Caps put everything they had in the first period. Lots of hitting, timely passes, a good amount of going to the net. They even chased starter Chris Mason out of the net. Glad to see Ondrej Pavelec back, by the way after that scary first night. The best indicator of how the game was going to go, however was that first goal.
It's always good to see Alex Ovechkin open the scoring. But usually he doesn't need much help, and certainly not from the other team. I'm sure the video will be posted on YouTube before long, but if you have benefit of TiVo or any other DVR system, watch the replay. Chris Mason actually pulls the puck into the net after it goes wide. This was just the first of several weird goals produced by this game. There was that stretch goal where Matt Hendricks reached out just enough to get to the puck and put it in the goal.
Weirdest of all however, was Andrew Ladd's goal early in the first. His initial shot got swallowed up in Michal Neuvirth's equipment, then somehow bounced upward, hit the top of his mask, then was tapped in by Ladd's high stick. I say "high" because it was higher than normal. Here again, where we got screwed "upon further review...." The Toronto boys actually could have called it either way. Mrs. Blueliner was convinced it was a no-goal, but I said that it was in Toronto's hands and therefore you know what will happen....sure enough--it counted. But I still say you could make the case where Ladd's stick was just enough above the crossbar--illegal as defined by rule 80.3 in the Official Rules.
After that goal, the Caps just seemed flat. Just out of it. I'm not going to say "tired" because we've already discussed that that's just too easy. Too many lazy plays inside their own end, too much carelessness with the puck everywhere else. I'm not going to point fingers at any particular player because they ALL seemed out of it. Of course it's easy to mention that OV's giveaway that led to the shorthanded goal. But that was just one example.
There was something else really hard to understand, other than the sudden irrational physical capabilities of the puck. Why did the Caps seemed to be floundering after John Erskine put up one hell of a fight in what is sure to be one of the most-discussed brawls for some time? The crowd gave Erskine a standing ovation after the fight, recognizing his efforts again Eric Boulton. Those two traded shots for well over a minute and a half--forever in terms of hockey fighting. It should have inspired the hell out of the rest of the guys as Erskine even earned a power play. Somehow it didn't as Atlanta ended up tying the game shortly after, no pun intended.
The rest of the game wasn't really all that eventful until guess who rode to the rescue and gave the Caps the lead? That's right--"Mr. Movember" himself, John Erskine. Did it with one damn fine looking point shot too--and you know how I love seeing that. One empty-net goal by David Steckel later and the game was iced.
I won't say that John Erskine single-handedly won the game for Caps tonight, but he had a huge hand in it. (Okay, wasn't intending a pun there, but...) By the basic stats he finished with a a goal (on his only shot, by the way), 5 PIM, and a plus 2. One assist short of the ol' Gordie Howe hat-trick, and an all-around killer game. Not bad for a defenseman that a lot of my fellow fans were saying was one of the biggest liabilities the Caps have. Sure he has his moments where you wonder whether if he's playing tiddly-winks out there, but you have say that he's also proving his worth with every game. Games like these are a reason why I believe he's finally rounding into a solid 5-6 defenseman--one that can be relied on. Did anyone else notice the fact that he pretty much closed out the game?
Enjoy the moment, John, you've earned it...and keep up the good work.
By the way...the job search goes on, and on, and on...still looking for whatever ideas anyone might have. And thanks to all those that have pushed my all time stats to over 1,000 page views. I truly appreciate your time!