Saturday, March 26, 2011

Holtby Stays Hot

Capitals 2, Canadiens 0
Game Summary

When Marco Sturm put in a rebound past Carey Price, no one would have known that is all it would take for the Washington Capitals to outlast the Montreal Canadiens 2-0.

The goaltending duel between Braden Holtby, called up from Hershey as Michal Neuvirth was feeling under the weather and Semyon Varlamov had played the night before in Ottawa, and Carey Price would keep the scoring tight all game. The Caps would get the game winner just 84 seconds into the game.

Nick Backstrom took a shot on Price and the rebound bounced right to Sturm's stick. He slipped it past a sprawling Habs' goaltender to get his fifth goal of the season, his first as a Capital. Backstrom had a fantastic night pressing the offensive effort with a pair of assists and seven shots, a career high in shots for him.

That would be the only goal that Holtby would need. He eased into the game facing only 3 shots in the first period. A testament to the Caps new and constantly improving defensive scheme. After that the Habs' offensive fore-check started up and Holtby answered the call. His ability to suck in shots and not allow rebounds, especially on the power play. The local media only gave him the game's number 2 star, but he was far more deserving of the game's first star than Price.

The second goal would not come until late in the third period as the Habs were pressing the play. Sturm pressed the puck passed the Hab defender at the blue line, and it broke into a two on one for Backstrom and Alex Semin. Backstrom's quick pass set up Semin's roof shot over Price to ice the game for good for the Caps.

While the Caps come away with a good defensive win, there were still break downs in their end. They were able to keep their penalties down to three, but they were at critical junctions in the game as the Caps held on to a one goal lead.

The power play also struggled with out Alex Ovechkin on the point. At times it looked disjointed and often selfish. Semin would come down the ice on his own to try to score. Eric Fehr was used on the point, but it didn't seem to work causing Bruce Boudreau to change up lines on the PP.

The Capitals finish their six game road trip with 4 wins, 8 points. They were shut out once and had a pair of shut outs (Neuvirth against the Devils, Holtby against the Habs). The Caps still remain a game behind the Flyers for first in the Eastern Conference and tied with the Penguins. They have also clinched a playoff spot during that road stretch.

They return home to face a Carolina Hurricanes team that is fighting for a playoff spot. It should be a very interesting game, one that might have a playoff feel to it as it's important for the 'Canes to keep picking up 2 points. The 'Canes also play the Caps tough and this divisional rival game will be an important one for both teams.

Friday, March 11, 2011

7th Heaven

Capitals 2, Hurricanes 1
Game Summary

Coming into this game the Carolina Hurricanes were solid with a lead after two periods. 21-0-0 this season, their late goal in the second period could have spelled out doom for the Capitals just looking to keep their win streak alive. The Capitals answered the challenge when Alex Ovechkin netted his 28th goal of the season early in the third and Matt Hendricks would follow up on a break away rebound to put the Caps up for good as they defeat the 'Canes 2-1 and continue their win streak to seven.

It looked to be a hard fought, grind it out game between these two divisional rivals. The Hurricanes looked to outwork the Caps along the boards and were leading in shots through out the game. It would make for a good defensive battle through the first two periods. But the 'Canes sort of bored the Caps' defense enough late in the second and Tuomo Ruutu would sneak a shot between Braden Holtby's blocker and body.

Alex Ovechkin righted the ship as Marcus Johansson cut into the zone and dropped a pass to Ovechkin giving him space to make the shot. The shot may have deflected in, but it found room past Cam Ward's right shoulder as he went down to the butterfly to make the save. It rang off the inside of the post and into the net giving Ovi points in seven straight games (4 goals and 11 points during that stretch).

The Caps would get in to penalty trouble. Jason Arnott would take a minor, called for hooking not long after Ovechkin's tying goal. But the Caps penalty kill was on point tonight, killing 5 for 5. When Arnott was sprung free from the sin bin, Hendricks blocked the shot and the puck sent the big center in on Ward alone. Arnott would not score on the break away, but Ward left a juicy rebound and hard working Hendricks followed up the play and chipped it past the sprawling 'Cane goaltender.

The win didn't come easy. Even with the lead, the Caps practiced bending but not breaking on defending the one goal lead. The 'Canes turned on the pressure on the Caps keeping them in their zone for some time. It would eventually lead to a Matt Bradley penalty for high sticking, but the Caps survived the storm.

Braden Holtby continues to play solid for the Caps. His shutout bid that lasted through six periods ended with the late second period goal. But when he was called upon to make the big save he was there with a leg pad, glove or blocker to continue his little hot streak. With three straight wins since taking over for Michal Neuvirth when he left the Tampa game after taking a shot in the face mask.

The Caps stretch out their win streak to seven games and are solidifying their lead in the Southeast Division. Not only do they take two points from a division rival, but they have put pressure on the Lightning as they lost tonight to Ottawa. The Caps are now four points ahead of Tampa. They also slip into second and stretch their lead in the overall Eastern Conference standings to 3 points over the Boston Bruins and are a game behind Conference leading Flyers.

Caps Notes:
  • Caps play the Chicago Blackhawks Sunday afternoon on NBC. The Hawks are spending the weekend in DC after a visit to the White House today and took part in the First Lady Michelle Obama's initiative "Let's Move!" along with Cap Mike Green.
  • After registering 0 points in eight games for the New Jersey Devils, Jason Arnott has 4 points in six games since being traded. Three of the four points were on the game winning goal (scored gwg against STL, assists on gwgs against EDM and CAR), while the other point came on a game tying goal against the Islanders (his first game in a Caps sweater).
  • It's too early to be realistic, but I will be starting the "If the playoffs started today" question on who the Caps might face in the first round. Right now it would be the Buffalo Sabres.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Ovi In OT

Capitals 2, Islanders 1 OT
Game Summary

(Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
The Capitals nearly wasted a really good start at home. It looked like the New York Islanders were going to weather the early flurry of shots by the Caps and walk away with a 1-0 win. But the Caps complete a second rally to come from behind on a last minute goal and some magic left in the captain in overtime as the Caps down the Isles 2-1 on Alex Ovechkin's overtime goal.

With new members aboard, Jason Arnott, Marco Sturm and Dennis Wideman, the Caps came out with a some renewed energy as they face the Islanders in the second game of a home and home. But they could not convert on 11 shots in the first and 17 shots in the second period. It looked as if the Islanders would survive the early barrage of shots and wait for the Caps to make a mistake.

That mistake would happen in the second period when a tired line and a tired John Carlson turned over the puck int he neutral zone leading to a three on one the other way. Michal Neuvirth, who played spectacularly all game, could not stop them all as the Isles would take the 1-0 lead.

The Caps' offense then countered with a series of missed opportunities. It didn't seem to matter how pretty the play was or how open the shooter was, pucks were shot wide, pucks bounced off sticks or plays were broken up by the Islanders defense. A last ditch effort by the Caps late in the third with Neuvirth pulled would turn the game around. New comer Jason Arnott found an open Brooks Laich in front of the net, and Laich's tip in tied it with just 48 seconds left in the game.

Cue the overtime dramatics by Alex Ovechkin. On his first shift of the overtime period picked up a turnover inside his own zone on the half wall, deked a Islander defender that was turned around on the play and cut up the ice on the right side to back hand the game winner past Nathan Lawson. His goal came unassisted.

The newly acquired players seem to add some chemistry early on. The Caps were making plays, had chances and were getting good shots to the net. As the season winds down, the chemistry should get even stronger. All three, Arnott, Wideman and Sturm had a shot in the first period. Sturm had a great chance in the first on the break away but couldn't convert, Arnott had a chance on a tip in front that nearly went in.

Nick Backstrom did not have a strong game as he continues to struggle to create offense. He took two bad penalties in the third period that put a damper on the Caps trying to rally. He was on the bench when the Caps pulled their goaltender in the waning moments of the game.

The Caps looked good through the first period and a half. They faced a good Islander team that was determined not to let the Caps get back into this one a second game in a row. Neuvirth took home the game's third star, but he kept his team in it making some ten bell saves on penalty kills in the third period.