Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ovi Shakes Scoring Slump While Holtby Shines

Capitals 4, Maple Leafs 1
Game Summary

Alex Ovechkin had to answer a lot of questions about his lack of offensive production before his Hockey Night in Canada debut. His response was a three goal outburst, his first hattrick since October. His three goals and Braden Holtby's almost epic goaltending helped the Capitals defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1.

This would be Ovechkin's second straight multi-point game (a goal and assist against the Islanders, three goals tonight). Matt Hendricks scored a beauty of a break away on Leafs' netminder J.S. Giguere. Holtby held the fort, especially on a series of great offensive pushes by the Maple Leafs.

Ovechkin got things started on a harmless wrister by Jeff Schultz to the front of the net. Ovi drove the net from the corner getting between Giguere and the Leaf defender and got a stick on the passing shot. It tipped into the net and despite pleads of goaltender interference when Ovi bumped into Giguere the play stood.

After the 1-0 lead, the Caps seemed to be content to play back and wait out their chances on Leaf mistakes. It lead to a period and half stalemate that would not be broken until Ovi struck again in the third period. Dion Phanuef blocked the initial shot but the puck trickled right to Ovechkin's stick. He beat the Leafs' goaltender five-hole to give the Caps the 2-0 lead.

The Maple Leafs would not go quietly in the night. Instead, just 1:40 later, the Leafs would cut the lead in half with a deflected shot by Tim Brent. It looked like the Leafs had wrestled the momentum away from the Capitals and were pressing.

Holtby took over from there, making a series of great saves. The Caps' defense also came to the rescue by blocking 27 shots for their goaltender. Even captain Ovechkin stepped in front of three shots himself. They bent, but never broke and Hendricks would give the Caps the insurance goal they needed.

The Leafs actually won the face off deep in the Caps zone, but Hendy's hustle to get to the point lead to a turnover after the Leaf defenseman made a hasty decision to get the shot off. Hendricks blocked the shot and the puck bounced to center ice giving the rugged forward a break away. Hendy out-waited Giguere before he dekeed around him and slipped it into the net for the two goal insurance. He was an assist shy of the "Gordie Howe" hattrick of a goal, assist and a fight (first period bout with Mike Brown).

Giguere was pulled for an extra attacker with 2 minutes still left in the game as the Leafs tried to get back into the game. Ovechkin would not be denied the hattrick and he out skated Tomas Kaberle to get to a loose puck and he put the game on ice.

While the Ovechkin enjoyed the hattrick and Holtby gets his second win in a row, the Caps earn two points on the night to keep pressure on Tampa Bay atop of the Southeast Division. Holtby played a dazzling game, preserving the Caps' lead through out the game with some ten-bell saves to his merit. He would take away the game's first star as he turned aside 35 shots including all 18 shots in the third period.

Special teams did not really play a factor in the game. The Caps were hit with three penalties, all in the first period. The Capitals' penalty kill did its job killing off all three Leaf power play chances. They only had two shots with the extra man and failed to convert on either power play.

Nick Backstrom did not have a strong game. Even though he would have two assists (both on Ovi's first and empty net goals) he took two penalties early in the game. He was dismal in the face off circle only winning 23% of his draws (3-10). But since putting Jason Chimera on the top line, even an off night by Backstrom was a spectacular night for Ovechkin. It sort of evened itself out.

The Caps pull into one point behind Tampa Bay, putting pressure for first in the Southeast Division. The outlook gets tougher for the Caps before the All Star break as they face the Rangers at home then travel to Atlanta to take on the Thrashers. Hopefully, the scoring slump has been lifted for the Caps.

Caps Notes:
  • Mike Green was named an alternate captain on Team Staal for the NHL's 2011 All Star game. Vancouver's Ryan Kesler was also named alternate captain under Staal. While on Team Lidstrom, Martin St. Louis and Patrick Kane were named also named alternate captains. The ASG draft will be on January 28th, 8 ET on Versus (US).
  • Michal Neuvirth, Matt Bradley, Tom Poti, Alex Semin and Eric Fehr are all out with injuries, no updates on their return. Neuvirth, Poti and Semin are listed day-to-day.
  • Since being promoted to the top line, Chimera now has points in 4 straight games. He had a secondary assist on Ovechkin's second goal.

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