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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Recap 12/31 Ovechkin's Twin Cannons Shoot Down the Blue Jackets

Now THAT's the way to do it.  Well, sort of anyway.

For the first 40 minutes of this game I could barely watch as, yet again, the Caps came out flat and looked like a tired team.  Perhaps they were. After all, they had already played two games in three nights.  Last night was the second tilt in back-to-back games, so they were already up against it.

Lots of shots that were missing, too many turnovers,  and too many lost battles.  Not so much careless and uninspired play so much as, well, not getting the job done.  It happens.  Now the job of a quality goaltender in this situation is to hold the opposition at bay for as long as possible until the offense kicks in.  Which Tomas Vokoun did to near perfection, stopping 26 of 28 in the first two periods.  It most certainly could have been worse.  Especially after that deflating goal towards the end of the second.

I had to admit I was thinking, "Here's the letdown I was talking about," when I saw that.  Still, we've seen the Caps turn the trick before and do the seemingly impossible comeback late in games.  So I kept watching.

Sure enough, it didn't take long for the offense to take over.  And appropriately enough it was led by the Captain.  He collected a loose puck in the slot and slammed it home.  The Band-Aid award on the play goes to Brooks Laich, however.  Seconds earlier, he took an Ovechkin slapshot in the leg that stung so bad he hobbled to the bench.  He shook it off and came out for his next shift.  No surprise there.

Just over two minutes later, they struck again.  And as he has been so good at doing all year, Nicklas Backstrom started the play.  He got the puck to Dennis Wideman who did some keep-away at the point. Wideman then slipped it to Alexander Semin who was lurking just above the high slot area.  Semin did what he does better than anybody--unleashed that patented blinding wrist shot.  Jackets' goalie Steve Mason never had a chance--you can't stop what you can't see.  Tie game.

It wasn't even a half-minute later when they struck again.  Marcus Johansson and Roman Hamrlik (nice to be mentioning him in a good way lately) broke out of the zone and slipped the puck to Wideman, who carried the puck in for a few strides and let go a drive.  The shot rode up on defenseman Aaron Johnson's stick--a brave attempt at a blocked shot gone horribly wrong.  Doesn't matter, well take it.  And it wouldn't have mattered because had Wideman gone to the pass, he had Johansson streaking to the net, ready for a tap-in. Now they had the lead!  But they still weren't done.

Just under four minutes later, the Caps got their lone power play chance and buried it.  Karl Alzner started the breakout and passed the puck over to Dmitry Orlov who carried it into the Columbus zone and sped past poor Aaron Johnson.  He then glided behind the net to the right circle and dished off to Ovechkin who put home, as Joe B put it, "another bomb" to make it 4-2.

A word about the rumblings regarding the Captain's supposed lack of leadership.  I've said it before--yes, nobody will ever confuse Alex Ovechkin for some great speechmaker--even with all the charisma he has. So what does that leave him if not his words?  His actions of course.  Dale Hunter said as much after the win against Buffalo--when the top line goes out and gets results, the rest of the team backs them up by playing hard. In other words, the Captain has to lead by example and be the best player on the ice.   Back to back games each with a pair of goals will do that.

So yes, we end 2011 on a very positive note--a legitimate win streak.  But I'd be foolish if I told you it ends here.  Not by a longshot does it end here.  Take a look at the standings and you will see that the Caps are still out of the playoff picture as of today.  So there's still work to be done and plenty of it.  But we've got our Captain once again playing like a badass and the whole top line is kicking in the timely goals.  On top of that, Tomas Vokoun is playing like he really is in a contract year. Optimism abounds.  They stay the course they're on and we're talking a solid playoff spot in no time.

OK, so new year, new month.  With apologies to Hadeed, here's the road ahead for January:  Nothing until Tuesday the 3rd against Calgary.  Then three days off followed by a quick western road trip to San Jose then the Kings.  Back home for a four-game stand featuring a rematch with the Penguins.  The rest of the month includes a pair of contests with division rivals Carolina and Tampa Bay.  The Islanders come to town and there's a trip to Montreal in the plans.  Towards the end of the month there will be a visit from the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, but not before another date with the Penguins at Consol.

Some tough ones to be sure.  But if there's some points to be had, these are the games to take them.

Happy New Year, my fellow Caps fans, let's make it a good one.

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