Number of People Nice Enough to Stop By....

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Powerplay Point Podcast Show #7


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Here it is, our first season and playoffs wrap up.  Have an opinion?  Agree or disagree?  Let me hear you, hockey fans!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Howling Mad, Royally....

Watching the Stanley Cup playoffs this year, even when my team hasn't been involved has been incredible.  There's been much to like, a lot to be enjoyed, and we still have just over a round to go.  When you're not watching your team play, generally you want to see a good game.  And you want to see the best team win and have the players decide it--preferably within the rules.

Well that's not what you got for an ending if you saw last night's Western Conference Final with the Kings skating away with the series win.

And why?  Because the referees could not be bothered to do their job. Missed calls aplenty on both sides.  Drew Doughty of the Kings was called for interference when it was his stick that was held on the play.

Then there was the ridiculousness where goalie Mike Smith lost his glove and the refs acted like: "Don't look at us, we don't know what to do!" Never mind they could have legally whistled the play dead.

Don't even get me started on Slava Voyanov and how he threw the puck over the glass. The damn refs have been so quick to call this one all year long.  How could they miss it this time?  This is taking the time-honored rule of not calling penalties in overtime to a ridiculous extreme.

But of course there was one act that was worse than all that came before it.  I think most of you know what I'm talking about.  If not, read on....

Dustin Brown is a dirty, dirty player.  I don't want to read a single article complaining about Alex Ovechkin anymore now that this guy has shown what he's all about on a national stage.

There are those out there, and I admit there are a lot of them, who say Brown is not guilty of anything illegal.  But the damning evidence is the reverse angle of the replay.  If you throw out the whether or not the hit is late, what you have left to question is the legality of the hit.  Again, take a look at the reverse angle of the replay and tell me you don't see what I see.

While you're watching, bear in mind this little piece of information--straight out of the Official NHL Rulebook:

50.1 Kneeing - Kneeing is the act of a player leading with his knee and in some cases extending his leg outwards to make contact with his opponent.

Here's my point...despite the officials taking a nap for the whole game I was actually enjoying what was arguably the best game in the playoffs up to that point.  Because the game ended not thirty seconds later when the Coyotes were all discombobulated and lost one of their best puck moving defensemen.  And before anybody says anything, Shane Doan was absolutely right in giving Brown an earful in the handshake line.  As much as I respect that tradition that no other sport has, I believe Doan was perfectly justifed.  Anybody calling this whining needs to shut up and think of what it's like to be a leader of a team.

So to close, I would like to extend a personal thank you to the referees of last night's game--Kevin Pollock and Brad Watson.  You two gentlemen absolutely ruined what was shaping up to be the best game of the playoffs.  Thanks so much!



Saturday, May 19, 2012

Hunter Rides Off into the Sunset.....

So the inevitable happened and it became appropriate for Dale Hunter to make his call.  His call was to go back to the family farm in Petrolia, Ontario.  Back to his ultimate dream job of running his team, his way.
I said it was inevitable for a reason.  No one should be surprised by any of this.  After all, if you think about it Hunter was helping out an old friend in need.  And it just so happened that Hunter might have harbored thoughts of plying his trade in the big time, having already proven himself in the Canadian Junior leagues.  Even so you got the feeling from the off that this was going to be a temporary arrangement at best.  And so it was...by Hunter's choice as it turned out.

It was the media that assumed when Hunter first took over he was on a short leash.  Oh how wrong they were.  Oh how I'm enjoying how wrong they still are.  Because you see if it's one thing I admire it's someone who does things their way...and never apologizes for it.  Hunter not only pulled that off, he also walked away on his own terms.  But it doesn't matter what the cynics in the hockey media choose to believe, Hunter accomplished what he set out to do.  He changed the culture and the psychology of the team.  We saw a completely different team both on the ice and in the locker room as a result.

Never mind that the problem with the team is whether or not that change of mindset sticks through next season and beyond.  Never mind even that the transformation took almost too long to take root. He may not have even been the right guy for the time--there were certainly more qualified, accomplished, and experienced coaches available.  But none of that matters now.  Because for once this team has been shown what it can do if they believe they are greater than they are as individuals, and their best player led the way.

It wasn't pretty, it wasn't always eye-catching, and it certainly didn't make anybody go ooh and aah--unless you saw someone take a blocked shot in the tenders.  But for a month and a half, it worked.

And now whoever remains on the team needs to follow the example, pull themselves up by the jock strap, and carry on.  Because it only gets harder from here.  But then if the Cup were easy to win, it wouldn't be worth winning, would it?  Of course not.

Godspeed, Mr. Hunter.  And it wouldn't surprise me one damn bit to see you chewing gum behind an NHL bench again someday.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Recap 5/12 Game 7 vs NY Rangers

Rangers  2
Capitals  1
Game and Series Winning Goal--Michael Del Zotto
Three Stars--Henrik Lundquist, Brad Richards, Michael Del Zotto

There is no shame in losing when you give it  your absolute best effort and you leave it all on the ice.  There is shame, however if you don't go into the most important game with the utmost intensity and effort.

I will give you three guesses which of those were how the Caps approached this Game 7 and the first two don't count.

If you haven't figured it out by now, they lost because they just plain didn't show up.   Again.

To come so far only to have it end this way is the ultimate kick in the groin.  Especially when one considers how many times this team had its collective back to the wall again and again and came out stronger every time. Or so we were led to believe.

So many factors that happened in this game and all the other losses in this series....

Dennis Wideman's overall sloppy play and minus 7 rating.
Alex Ovechkin getting knocked off the puck for the eventual series winning goal.
Alexander Semin disappearing once again in a second round playoff series.
Joel Ward's four minute minor in Game 5...you know the rest.
Braden Holtby's momentary loss of focus in Games 1 and 7.
The power play once again tanking when it was needed the most.
The whole team running out of gas in triple OT in Game 3.
Umpteen kerjillion shots that either hit posts, crossbars, and other such ridiculousness that for some cosmic reason resulted in their never reaching the back of the net.

All of the above were only parts of the reason they lost.  But it wasn't for any one reason.  Just like it wasn't because of any one player.  While it's true they rode the hotness of Holtby's puckstopping and the exuberance of Ovechkin's leadership...for fourteen games they lived out the ultimate credo:

Win as a team, lose as a team.

Which brings us to the flip side--how this team got this far.  They played better than the sum of their parts and became better than 23-plus individuals by the end of the ride.  Just as Dale Hunter said, they figured out exactly how they needed to play in order to win in the playoffs.  And they were one win away from the Conference Final.  After that, anything could happen.  You can't help but think this team is one final piece away from putting it all together.

Or are they?  They may not be, but that's for a later discussion.  Now is a time to reflect on what was accomplished.  The Washington Capitals didn't get there going the usual way.  They looked simply awful at times to be honest, but the point is that they did indeed finally get there.  They can be proud of what they did--eliminated the defending Cup champs and put the regular season Conference champs on the brink.  It was a hell of a playoff ride and fun to watch.

Yes they fell short once again, but as always, they made life very interesting for all of us who call ourselves Caps fans.  Here's to next year, whatever it may bring...even if it's another heartbreak.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Recap 5/9 Game 6 vs NY Rangers

Capitals  2
Rangers  1

GWG--Jason Chimera
Three Stars: Braden Holtby, Alex Ovechkin, Jason Chimera

Never say die!  Or some such phrase.....

As fearful as I was going into last night's game, you just knew the Caps would come out with a stone-faced attitude towards what had happened the game before and the task in front of them.

In other words, they just simply had to forget about Game 5 and move on. Here's how they did it....

It all began just over a minute into the game when Jason Chimera was hauled down by Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman.  A word about that--Stralman hasn't impressed me all that much and why John Tortorella plays him as much as he does is beyond me.  Unless he's using him to spell off his big horses like Dan Girardi and Marc Staal.  In any case, he just seems overmatched and a liability no matter who he plays against, and taking that penalty was just more proof of that.

The Caps top power play unit took the ice and they only needed 15 seconds to make something happen.  Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green did their usual masterful job in keeping the cycle going.  Ryan Callahan lost his footing along the left wing boards which created that much more space for Alex Ovechkin, and that was all he needed.  Green found him all alone in the high slot and the Captain sent a wrister home for the early lead.

The way this team continues to evolve has been a marvel to local writers who otherwise care not and know not about hockey. It has also been a topic of debate for those more knowledgeable about the game. Either way, it was noticeable last night as the Caps decided not to go into a defensive shell after that goal, but to keep their foot on the gas.  They actually held an early lead in shots in the first period before the Rangers eventually over took them.  Even so, they ended up putting nine shots on net for the period.  The rest of the way, they didn't exactly trade shot for shot, but they kept up well, coming close on several chances.

Around 11 minutes into the second, the Caps created a sustained cycle in the Rangers' end of the ice.  Backstrom again was key in keeping the play going.  The puck ended up on John Carlson's stick, who put it on net.  It deflected off Backtrom's skate over to a waiting Jason Chimera for a tap-in..  This was of course the eventual game winner.  But none of it would have happened at all had it not been for the hard work of Alexander Semin.  Let me say that again...the hard work of Alexander Semin. Believe it.  Not sure if you can?  Watch the game highlights.  By the way, that name again is Alexander Semin, not Jacques Cousteau.

With time dwindling in the third, the Rangers pulled Henrik Lundquist. Marian Gaborik scored with just under a minute left in pinball like fashion. More on this later.  Other than that one blemish, Braden Holtby was again superb.  He was literally a human vacuum cleaner, swallowing up every shot that came his way.  He was of course ably assisted by the corps of shot blockers.  EXCEPT for Jay Beagle.  Unfortunately and unbeknownst to me until I heard John Walton's bewildered explanation of it, Snoopy would miss the game with an undisclosed (when is anything EVER disclosed come playoff time???) injury.  If I had to guess, he blocked a shot last game and it felt none too good.

That last goal, the one at the end that spoiled the shutout.  It gave new meaning to the phrase et le but(t). As in that's how it went in...off John Carlson's.

Speaking of duffs, here's a nice video.  I've always wondered--what would he do for an encore?

And on that subject, it should be pointed out that the Captain got lots of love for his efforts last night.  This from the same talking heads and swordsmen and swordswomen who wrote him off earlier for having a bad year.  Say it with me....we're sorry, Alex.

Three cheers to the Penalty Killing units.  Although, if I had my way, they wouldn't have been out there as many times as they had to be!  A double-minor for high-sticking?  Gee, good thing THAT wasn't disaster...again.

So onward to another Game 7 we go.  Yes we've been here before, but that won't guarantee the same result as before.  I'm just hoping for a clean game without any controversy or some sort of screw up by either team. Or the officials for that matter, and that includes the people running the clock.  And may the best team win...as long as that team is in the road white colors.

One final note...to all my fellow pizza lovers out there.  Though they didn't score the four goals needed, Papa John's has decided to accept the usual code in celebration of the Caps efforts.  Enter CAPS50 when placing your online order today....and enjoy!  I know I will!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Recap 5/7 Game 5 vs NY Rangers

Rangers  3
Capitals  2  (OT)

GWG--Marc Staal
Three Stars:  Marc Staal, Brad Richards, Braden Holtby

If I could accurately portray in words the urge to hurl my television over a cliff after what I saw last night I would. Sadly, you'll have to be content with my just saying it.

Can you call it a collapse?  I don't even know what to call what happened in the game's dying minutes.  Perhaps this would best describe it all.

Six seconds.  The Washington Capitals were six seconds away from being one win away from the Conference Final--a place they have been in 14 years.  There's heartbreak and then there's this...right now I can't tell you which is worse because I've felt both.  Well that's not true because while it seems there's no tomorrow in the playoffs, there is always next season.

Being a Capitals fan for as long as I have I've seen some playoff disasters in my time.  I'm not going to go into the roll call of it here, there's no need. But let's just say Joel Ward's last minute double minor will forever go down as one of THE playoff meltdowns of all time.  They say winning cures everything, so there's a chance, slim as it is, that this can all be erased and remembered fondly as another bump in the playoff road.

But I doubt it.

Looking at the game itself, at first you had to wonder if the Caps were ever in it at all.  They were horribly outshot 17 to 4 in the first period alone.  Not surprisingly, they found themselves trailing by a goal by period's end.  I don't really have to tell what happened for the rest of the game---Brooks Laich tied it and then John Carlson put them ahead with his now patented blast from the power play point.  All seemed right with the world until about 22 seconds left.  That's when Joel Ward decided he wanted to be Carl Hagelin's dentist.

Then Brad Richards (you kinda knew it would be him) got that goal near the end of regulation.  And it was the beginning of the end.  One penalty killed. And they almost killed the other.  Almost. Until Marc Staal's shot from the power play point ended it.

It's cruel when you think about it.  Joel Ward was the hero in the last series and he figured to be the goat in last night's game.  But those are the fortunes you deal with in hockey sometimes.  You're a hero one minute and a bum the next.

Yes there's at least one game left and it's in the friendly confines of the Verizon Center.  And we're still very much alive in the playoffs which means anything can happen.  But you have to wonder, with all the resilience the Caps have shown--can they get past this?  Will this be the last rally before the Rangers go in for the knockout blow?  There's only one way to find out.  And I'm not really anywhere near as confident about our chances as I was a while ago.  But there's still a chance, and sometimes that's all you need.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Recap 5/5 Game 4 vs NY Rangers

Capitals  3
Rangers  2

GWG--Mike Green
Three Stars: Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, Artem Anisimov

So much for the fatigue factor, eh?

This game was the epitome of a back-and-forth, up-and-down, you-hit-me-I'll-hit-you-right-back run.

We begin of course with Ovechkin's goal.  He had already taken several shots with no success.  I take that back.  He was successful--in finding Henrik Lundquist's glove.  But like all great players, he persisted, and persistence always pays off.  And it did pay off at 12:43 of the first period.  Officially, the goal has no assists posted.  However, it should be pointed out that he was indeed assisted, just not by a Capital. Much celebrated rookie Chris Kreider made a bad clearing attempt that found its way onto Ovechkin's stick.  One hard blast from the point later, the Caps had first blood.  On a side note, Kreider also found himself on the ice for another goal against and saw his ice time drop to 7:34.

Unfortunately, Ovechkin was also responsible for the game's next goal early the next stanza. Perhaps proving why he gets a seat on the bench in key defensive situations, he  let Dan Girardi get around him.  Once Girardi did so he was able to find Artem Anisimov for a quick tap-in.

The Captain giveth and the Captain taketh away....

But then, there was Backstrom.  His was perhaps the most satisfying goal of the game, maybe even the series. Pursuing the puck, he found himself in the corner where he absorbed (and returned) not one, but two hits before sending the puck behind the net to Joel Ward.  Ward left it for Jason Chimera in the opposite corner, who zipped it to, appropriately enough, Backstrom who finished the play from the slot.

Who says Swedes don't go into corners?  Soft?  I don't think so.  That is, until....

Mark Staal sent out a zone clear that began harmlessly enough.  Except someone forgot to tell Artem Anisimov that it was probably going to end up as an icing.  The Caps defense pair of Jeff Schultz and Dennis Wideman also missed that memo as they completely gave up on the play and let Anisimov go.  There's no two ways about it--that was simply Gosh-awful hockey.  The end result was a near carbon copy of the winning goal from last game, down to the same guy who scored it, Marian Gaborik.

So we entered the third period tied, and you had to wonder when the two teams would start making mistakes. The fatigue factor was beginning to work its way into the game.  And it showed in various lapses and breakdowns on both ends.   The Caps had two glorious chances, one stopped on a brilliant save by Lundquist and one that suffered an early death by referee's whistle.

Late in the period, John Carlson found himself in a battle with Carl Hagelin when Hagelin decided to audition for one of these.  Fortunately, all that was damaged was Carlson's stick.  The Caps took advantage of this opportunity when Mike Green slapped home the eventual game winner from the point.  Welcome back, number 52.  Much rejoicing ensued about an hour or so later when they finally got the last minute of the game played.

A word about a certain questionable play.  There will be those that will stand on their soapbox and bleat until whenever that Ovechkin should be suspended for his hit on Dan Girardi.  Yes he left the ice.  No, the principal point of contact was not the head.  And, most importantly, there was no injury on the play.  Whether you like it or don't like it, it is the standard used to judge the severity of a play.  If the Office of Player Safety gets this one right, we will all be feeling fine.

It's hard to say that the momentum has shifted to our side.  Control of the momentum has been fleeting at best for both teams.  But I like the way this team keeps on showing its resilience.  And they will need more of it in this now best of three series.



Saturday, May 5, 2012

Recap 5/2 (5/3) Game 3 vs. NY Rangers

Rangers   2
Capitals   1 (3 OT)

GWG:  Marian Gaborik
Three Stars:  Marian Gaborik, Henrik Lundquist, Braden Holtby  (kind of a no-brainer there!)

GROOOAAAAAAAAAANNNN!

I swear I am a glutton for punishment...this team, I don't know what it is. They're like a cruel lover, they bring you all the way to the brink and then just leave you hanging.

And yes, even now as I write this, three days after it happened, I am STILL recovering from it all.  I kinda feel bad, because at times....dare I say it?  I wanted the damn thing to end so I could just go to bed.  But this isn't baseball after all--this is hockey.  And when it's the Cup that's on the line, you play until there is a winner.

Because it's the Cup.

And with that you are reminded....whyyyyyyyyyyyyy it is these players (and their fans) put themselves through absolute hell every spring.

Now, I wouldn't put this game anywhere up there with some of the multi-OT classics such as the Easter Epic or Game 4 of the 1996 Conference Quarters against Pittsburgh.  But this game had its moments; such as Matt Hendricks perfectly delivered (and clean!) body check.  And Ryan Callahan's relentless pursuit of the puck.  Not to mention Alex Ovechkin shooting...and shooting...and shooting.

Of course by the time the sixth period had trudged around, the players were skating in Belgian mud.  The whole flipping time I couldn't help but think, "all those missed chances all those times before in the game are going to come back and bite them in the ass."  Well, sure enough.....and naturally it was a Brad Richards' pass that found Marian Gaborik for the goal.  Although I was sure Ryan Callahan would have a hand in the winning goal, he just would not let up.  I swear he was like DiSaronno served when it's served best--all over the ice.

Yaaaawwn.  Well, I think I'll catch a quick nap before the game starts.  Judging by how damn close these games have been, I'll probably need it!





Friday, May 4, 2012

OnAssignment--Love for Glendale's Go-getters

Yes the title of this post is correct.  And yes this is still a Caps blog.  But there is a saying...they that pay the piper call the tune.  Well, my tune has been called, and it comes from the direction of the great American Southwest.  I've mentioned one of best friends, Pete, on both the blog here and on the podcast.  We both grew up hockey fans.  We watched the Caps' highs and lows and marveled at the great Rangers teams of the 1990's. So when he went out to Arizona State University after we both graduated high school naturally he began following the Coyotes.  And though they lost last night against the Predators, don't think for a second that they've lost their grip.  This could well be their finest hour.  Which is exactly why I'm lending my voice to give an evaluation of how this team got to where it is now and where it will go in its quest for the Cup.

Most who give a damn, or at least those of us in the hockey world know the story of the Coyotes as it is now--they're in need of an owner and for whatever reason, it's gotten to be a lot more complicated than it should have been.  Until that time the League is paying the bills, and has been for going on three years now.  And through it all, the Coyotes have been playing some damn fine hockey.  But this year they managed to take it up a notch and win the Pacific Division title.

And that takes us to the playoffs.  Their first test wasn't an easy one, the Chicago Blackhawks.  But they beat them in six games.  Through it all there were the controversies of the suspensions of Raffi Torres and goalie Mike Smith's questionable injury that got Andrew Shaw banished for a few games.  But through it all, they didn't back down and did what they had to do, even if it meant working overtime...literally.

So that's the back story anyway.  And now they stand two wins away from the Conference Final.  But who are these guys that do what they do, playing a game on ice in a land where ice doesn't tend to last very long That, folks is the key to their success--it's who they are that makes them what they are on the ice.  I will explain.

It starts with their coach, Dave Tippett.  There's no flashy, headline grabbing star here.  It's 20 plus guys that take their direction in a belief that a team game wins the day.  Sometimes they'll light it up for more than just 2 or three if you give them the opportunity, but usually they'll stick to their guns and wait for you to make a mistake.  Tippett's game plan ensures that all 19 guys (20, minus the backup goalie) work hard and make the most of their efforts.  And they're relentless. Don't believe me? Watch their games.  Because they're like the mail with the Postal Service--they keep coming in waves, even after the budget's been cut.

Their on-ice leader is Shane Doan, who has been the team's Captain since 2003.  If anyone personifies this team, it's Doan.  He's the last holdover from when the team came over from Winnipeg back in 1996.  He will do anything it takes to win: score, fight, block shots, hit, hustle.  He's even gone over the line once, being suspended last year for an illegal hit.  But, to be good, you have to play with an edge, and Doan has that. His scoring touch has slowed some, but don't count him out when a goal is needed.

Taking a look at the offensive side of the puck, the Yotes have several options on the attack.  First there's the grand old man of the team, Ray Whitney, AKA, the "Wizard."  His OT goal in Game 1 set the tone for this series against Nashville as he is always a threat to score.  He's still getting it done and he hasn't even hit 40 years young yet...but he will May 8. Then there's Antoine Vermette, a slick center picked up at the trade deadline from Columbus.  He leads the team in points so far this playoff season.  And for speed and clutch scoring, there is Mikkel Boedker.  The Great Dane is coming into his own this playoffs, with two OT goals and is one of the fastest players in the league.

On the defensive side of the puck, there's a roll call filled with puck movers and hard hitters.  Keith Yandle and Rostislav ("Rusty") Klesla are the puck movers and Derek Morris and Adrian Aucoin are the hitters.  But the crown jewel of the defensive corps is young Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The Swedish Treat is a Norris Trophy winner in the making and gets a lot of love from all the different hockey shows and podcasts I listen to. Yandle led the D-corps in points, but it won't be too long before he passes that torch to Ekman-Larsson.  They are the key to the transition game that keeps them in so many games.

Finally, we have the last line of defense--the goalie. Mike Smith was handed the goaltending duties this year when Ilya Bryzgalov left via free agency.  To say that his road to success has been bumpy would be an understatement.  He started out in Dallas then was traded to Tampa Bay, where he struggled with consistency and eventually lost his job to Dwayne Roloson.  Many had said he was finished and wrote him off as a career backup.  But Tippett, his old coach in Dallas, saw something in him and pushed to have him picked up before the season began.  And before anyone says it's Tippett's system that is the key and not Smith's goaltending, consider this: In 9 playoff games he's stopped 94.2% of the shots he's faced and has made at least 30 saves in every one of his starts except for the last game against Nashville, where he still stopped 24 of 26 in a losing effort.

Sometimes all you have to be is the right guy at the right time in the right situation.

In the playoffs, the trick is to find a way to win, no matter what.  This team is two wins away from its first ever trip to a Conference Final. Beyond that lies the Cup.  And as I've said, anything is possible in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  And this is not your typical "trapping" team either: they fight for every loose puck and they skate as hard as anybody.  When even that breaks down, they have a goalie who has done nothing less but stand on his head.

So to hockey fans from Glendale to Gibraltar and back, I'm putting in a couple zinc lincs: give the Phoenix Coyotes a chance.  Watch them play. They will win you over, even if they don't win the game.  Though this year feels different...I'll be watching, and loving every minute of it!



Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Playoff Uh-Ohs, Part 1

A trio of Russians find themselves in the playoff spotlight for all the wrong reasons.  Don't worry, Caps fans...Alex Ovechkin is not one of them.

First, we have winger Ilya Kovalchuk, he of the New Jersey Devils who looked uncomfortable all through game one of their series against the Philadelphia Flyers.  As a result he was a non factor.  We now know why as it is the result of an undisclosed injury.  Needless to say, this doesn't bode well for the Devils' already slim playoff hopes.  They trail the Flyers 1-0 in their series.

Next, we have forwards Alex Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn of the Nashville Predators.  Neither of them will play in the Game 3 of their series against the Phoenix Coyotes.  But they are not injured, rather they are out as a result of a team-imposed suspension due to a violation of team rules.  No one  is commenting on the nature of the suspension, but if it leaves them in the press box in a critical game, it must have been bad.  Or at least very naughty.

The Predators are being dominated by the Coyotes as the series switches to Nashville for Games 3 and 4.  Down 2-0, this probably couldn't have happened at a worse time for the Predators.  Stay tuned.

Recap 4/30 Game 2 vs NY Rangers

Capitals  3
Rangers  2

GWG: Alex Ovechkin
Three Stars:  Braden Holtby, Michael Del Zotto, Alex Ovechkin


Grandma Fiddler said it best.

A much needed win in a hostile environment to even the series.  Now we're back in it.  And the best part is that our Captain is back on the board.  With the game winner no less.

This series is shaping up to be another old fashioned, grind-it-out, score while you can type of showdown.  In other words, a lot like the last series.  Now there was one other encouraging sign other than Alex Ovechkin's overall play (what little we saw of it).  And that was the fact that the Capitals jumped out to a two goal lead in the first period.  Which once again confirms what we already know about Henrik Lundquist--that despite his heroics, he can be beaten.  Observe.....

After some helter-skelter play on both sides, the scoring finally opened on a beautiful pass play that was finished by Mike Knuble.  The play started with a Joel Ward rush into the zone, then a dish to Keith Aucoin, who waited until the right moment to throw it to Knuble for the tap-in at the top of the crease.  Time of the goal was 12:20.  Nearly five minutes later the puck was sent around the boards where Lundquist played it, but was beaten to it by Jason Chimera.  He dug it out to the high slot where Matt Hendricks threw it on net and it trickled in with some help from Chimera.

Towards the end of the period however, the Rangers would strike--Michael Del Zotto and Marian Gaborik connected with Brad Richards for a tap-in with 43 seconds left in the first.  I always say, last minute goals are a thing to fear....beware the momentum shift.  The good news was that it took a while for that momentum swing to happen.  The bad news, well, is that it happened.  It took place 6:58 into the third period, while shorthanded no less.  Can't blame the zebras on this one--Mike Knuble tried to play the puck with a high stick.  All he got was Ryan Callahan's face.  Lucky for him it was only two minutes.  Unlucky for the Caps the Rangers only needed 56 seconds to score.  Callahan deflected it from in front off a bomb from the powerplay point by Richards.

The awful feeling of "oh no, here we go again" hung in the air after that goal.  After all, it was a lost lead. But that could only mean one thing--the Caps needed someone to save the day.  Or something like that.

Now he may have only had 13 minutes of ice time, but Alex Ovechkin sure didn't carry himself that way.  His attitude was not lost on the NBC Sports commentators, who praised him constantly for how he went about his business both on and off the ice.  Speaking of the former, yes it was he who broke the tie, but it was the way he did it that made it so special. The Caps were the beneficiaries of a power play, which resulted from a constant battle between John Carlson and Brad Richards. Carlson was held more than my last date held me, but that's another story.  Richards would eventually get called for it, which set the stage. 

If the Rangers power play took 56 seconds, the Capitals only needed four. Nicklas Backstrom took the draw, won it, and promptly set a screen in front of Lundquist.  That would be all Ovechkin needed.  After collecting Backstrom's draw pass, he circled to the left side of the power play point and BAM! (Sorry, Emeril) Instant lead!  He topped it off by celebrating at center ice, letting the stunned Madison Square Garden crowd know that, yes, he could hear them, and no, he didn't give a damn.  Six and a half minutes later after much clanging of posts and biting of nails, the Caps emerged victorious.

Observations.....

We begin with our Man Bites Dog item--Dennis Wideman was one of three Capitals to finish the game at minus one.  MUST RESIST URGE TO SMASH TELEVISION....when he touches the puck, that is.

Speaking of dogs, Jay Beagle led all forwards in ice time by over a minute.  He also led with five hits and picked up an assist. That's a hard working dog, not anything at like Snoopy.

Now Braden Holtby did indeed earn his number 1 star last night.  But he wouldn't have gotten anywhere without some help from the Washington posts.  No, I don't mean the newspaper.  I counted at least three clangs, one for each post and the crossbar in the third period alone.

Paging Alex Semin, that's Alexander Semin, your presence is requested sometime this series.

An ill-advised change leads to a goal.  It was Brooks Laich who...had to go to the bathroom?  had to send an urgent text?  forgot to tie his skate? Whatever the reason it was embarrassing to see.  Might as well have give the Rangers an unannounced power play.

You're kidding?  The Caps blew a lead?  Nahhh, impossible.

Smacka da forehead--Jeff Schultz paired with Dennis Wideman?  Sergeant Stiff and Corporal Clumsy?  Can someone please explain this?

One coaching decision that is working out...at least for now....is the use (or lack thereof) of Alex Ovechkin. The more the media puffs up this story, the more it blows up in their face, which would explain why the talking heads were so on board with it.  Half of a controversy comes from how it is treated by those directly involved.  So far, both Coach Hunter and the Captain have said it is a non-issue.  As long as they continue to treat it like a non issue, there will be no potential fallout.  But one wonders what will happen if things start to take a turn for the worse. This has the potential to change the life of the playoff run for this team. (Cue ominous music here).

So the Caps have come away from the Big Apple with a split.  Good things come when you share.  Let's hope this is a continuation of a trend.

Game 4 is at Verizon Center tomorrow night with an approximate puck drop time of 7:41.