Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Showdown At The Igloo

Capitals 6, Penguins 3
Scoresheet - Wash Post - Pitt Post Gazette

Probably the most anticipated rivalry since October 16th and it didn't disappoint. While both teams scoff at any animosity and claim it's only "Washington versus Pittsburgh," the game was heated, emotional and very tense. While there is talk about how much a rivalry the Capitals have against the Flyers, it doesn't compare to the hate these two teams seem to have for one another.

The Capitals were on a losing streak and looked a bit snake bitten. The Penguins thought they had turn things around in Philly and were about to start a five game home stand. At the end of the night those roles seemed reversed, it was the Caps with the confidence and the Penguins did what they always do when they are frustrated, chirp. In the end it was the Capitals that came out on top beating the Penguins for a second straight time at Mellon Arena, 6-3.

Alex Ovechkin pulls back into a tie with Flyer Jeff Carter for scoring leader in the league scoring his 28th and 29th goals. Both goals were huge, but Tomas Fleischmann's power play goal was the back breaker for the Penguins. Alex Semin, Viktor Kozlov and a Jeff Schultz empty netter rounded out the scoring. Nick Backstrom had a good night with a play maker, three assists.

Don't let the score fool you, the game was pretty tense through two and a half periods. It seemed when one team scored the other team responded. When one team made a big hit, the other team had to answer. Whether you are a superstar or not, it really didn't matter. The hitting was intense and purposeful and Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby were not immune on this night.

Evgeni Malkin scored the game's first goal, and that was the last you heard of him (besides a couple of hits on Ovechkin). At the end of the night he was the only Penguin to finish with a -3. Instead it seemed that Sid "the Kid" wanted more to do with the Caps/Pens rivalry than Malkin. Crosby was enemy number one for the Caps, hit early and often. The only good chance 87 had to score was just 1:20 into the game when he broke loose for a break away and shot it wide.

For the Capitals, Alex Ovechkin had another one of those amazing nights, a MVP night if you will. But he didn't do it with one of those blinding slap shots or laser wristers to the top corner. Two of his biggest contributions, an assist on Fleischmann's game winner and the added security goal later on, were light wrist shots to the front of the net. On the game winner, Ovi simply put the puck on net with a shot that would be considered more of a pass than a shot. The puck thudded off of Marc-Andre Fluery's pads (who I believe thought it was a harder shot than what it was) and right to a diving Flash who buried the puck.

On Ovi's insurance goal, instead of taking the puck shooting from the boards (patent Ovechkin) he cut the puck to the middle and went to his off wing and simply threw the puck to the front of the net, a planned pass to Backstrom. The puck went off of a Penguin defenders foot and past Fluery. Both goals were simple hockey plays, getting the puck to the front of the net and good things will happen. It didn't have be a blinding slapper that screams wide or is quieted by the goaltender's glove.

The Capitals' power play was better, they were 2 for 6 and one of them turned out to be the game clinching goal. Their penalty kill improved as well, only allowing a goal and killing off a full two minute 5 on 3 (although the Penguins scored mere seconds after the penalized Cap player stepped on the ice to make it 5 on 4). Ovi had a ten shot night, seconded only by Semin's 7 shot night. Bryan Helmer had a tough night, besides being almost completely invisible, he was a -2, while Schultz had a good night with a goal and the only Capital with a +3.

The Capitals break a 3 game losing skid. Under Bruce Boudreau the Capitals have never lost four games in a row, and it looks like that trend will continue for now. The Caps jump back to a three point lead over the Rangers for second in the Conference. They are now 12 points ahead of Carolina for the division crown.

Photo AP, Gene J. Puskar

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