Knee-jerks & Notes: Caps-Rags, 12/12

Caps Celebrate - 12Dec07 - Photo by Kate McGovern / OffWing.comOut at Kettler Capitals this past July during Rookie Camp, Tim Leone of the Patriot News pressed the case for Nicklas Backstrom spending his first year getting acclimated in North America under Bruce Boudreau. Wednesday’s Washington Post Express profiled Backstrom and his flourishing under Boudreau — 10 points in 10 games. Turns out, Tim was right.
I thought it was important to be at Verizon Center for all of this week’s games in order to gain a clear portrait of what a Bruce Boudreau Caps’ team looked like, their having been properly introduced to one another for more than half a month. I wanted to see them live in action and listen to them talk afterwards. Now I’m of the belief that I’m witnessing a notable turnaround in what was initially a terrible season, as well as Boudreau making an indelible impression toward transitioning from interim to unqualified Head Coach of the Washington Capitals.
Yes, that sentiment, that aura, was palpable in Verizon Center late last night. It was there because the Caps have strung together three straight wins over quality opponents; scored 14 goals in the process; done so without their captain, one of the game’s premiere playmaking centers, and one of the game’s best defensive forwards; and authored comebacks in two of the three victories.
Motzko Goal - 12Dec07 - Photo by Kate McGovern / OffWing.comHere is a theme quickly taking hold with the Bruce Boudreau Caps: secondary — and tertiary — scoring. Joe Motzko flirting with a hat trick? After the game Boudreau said all the right and polite things about Motzko having “good hands” and contributing to a Stanley Cup winner last season, but in the end, he’s a journeyman forward. But playing for Boudreau, in Boudreau’s system, motivated by Bruce Boudreau, Joe Motzko can hurt you. Tonight, he hurt the Rangers. As did Donald Brashear. And if you take a look back at Bruce Boudreau’s Hershey Bears, and Bruce Boudreau’s Manchester Monarchs, you won’t find rosters laden with top-heavy scoring. I’m not smart enough to be able to tell you why, basically, only Alexander Ovechkin could score under Glen Hanlon this season and why, three weeks later, everybody is scoring under Bruce Boudreau. But it’s happening.
Five goals against Henrik Lunqvist! And Steckel hit a pipe shorthanded, and Ovechkin missed on a breakaway. More musings:

  • Mike Green: think Sergei Gonchar but with inordinate defensive ability. In the coach’s post-game presser, Tarik El Bashir asked Bruce Boudreau, “Just how good is this kid gonna be?” For me, the coach’s immediate expression said everything: he got wide-eyed, he smiled broadly, he looked like a child beholding the base of a Christmas tree crammed full of wrapped goodies on Christmas morning.
  • Snow held up what would have been the Caps’ second goal of the first period. It was excruciatingly close to clearly passing over Henrik Lunqvist’s goal line. With the poor Verizon Center ice of a week ago, no snow could have accumulated in the crease, and the game would have been knotted at 2 at the first intermission. How could I tell? Hanging over us up in the press box, quite near,¬†are a half dozen sizable high-def TVs.
  • Donald Brashear’s assist in the first period was secondary in name only. He threw a terrific check to win the puck along the end boards, then dished a beautiful, hard and flat centering pass in the slot to Brooks Laich, whose hard shot was swatted home by Motzko.
  • It’s difficult to overstate how much more dynamic the Bruce Boudreau power play looks compared to its predecessor. No matter what unit of five is out there, they comport themselves with poise and the appearance of cohesion. This, too, I am noticing: a lot more “Ooooohs” accompanying a lot more near tallies from the home crowd during the man advantages.
  • Brashear/Orr - 12Dec07 - Photo by Kate McGovern / OffWing.comThe Brashear-Orr slow-dance: watching it made me think that the opponents of fighting have an uphill battle insofar as arguing against its entertainment value. Orr unleashed a flurry of fury early on, most of which didn’t land, then Brashear went bombs away in blowback.
  • The Caps’ first minor penalty occurred after nearly 33 minutes of playing time. More discipline taking hold.
  • Mike Green’s confidence and virtuosity rushing the puck created lanes for Joe Motzko’s second goal. He could have head-manned the puck to either of his wings on the play, but instead rushed up through the open center of the ice, backing up two Blueshirt defenders. This in turn opened lanes high in the Rangers’ end, within which Green deftly QB’d and Motzko showcased his “soft hands.”
  • Paul Coffey Jeff Schultz has got some serious point shot MoJo going on. Raise your hand if you thought he’d approach Christmas with more goals than Jordan Staal.
  • The snowballing effect of winning: Olie Kolzig spoke after the game about there being some “fragile moments” in the third period of Monday night’s tight 3-2 triumph over the Devils. But he said the Caps applied confidence gained from that experience against the Rangers Wednesday night, when it skated a tight third period conspicuously confidently. Boudreau added that on the bench he could tell the guys weren’t content with securing merely one point, even after falling behind 2-0. This is a different hockey team, folks, badly injured as it is.
  • This mini winning streak has vaulted Olie Kolzig’s career record back above .500: 286-285-63-18. Have this feeling it’s gonna stay that way.
  • Early in the third period last night Brendan Shanahan pulled up shy of plastering a vulnerable Alexander Ovechkin in the far corner boards when AO had his back turned to play the puck. I had two reactions. One, Shanny knew it was AO. Two, this is precisely the type of respect every player ought to show every other player in this league in such situations. Get word to Sean Avery and the Philadelphia Flyers.
  • Alexander Ovechkin was sober and measured in responding to press questions about the significance of last night’s victory. But when alluding to the team’s fans, whom he called “great,” he added, “We need support.” The brand of hockey this team is playing now and the effort it is putting forth merit many more fannies being in the stands Friday night.
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15 Responses to Knee-jerks & Notes: Caps-Rags, 12/12

  1. hockeygrl76 says:

    That game truly was a fun one to watch. I’m a STH and am absolutely amazed at the turnaround this team has had…
    Motzko looked good, Green is awesome, and AO is looking so good. I mean he’s always been good but he just keeps getting better…oh and lets not forget Nick B. and AS they have definately been getting more comfortable in the last few weeks. I guess AS’s ankle is feeling a lot better and the rust is coming off!!!

  2. hockeygrl76 says:

    Do you guys go back in the locker room? Is the mood a lot different now then it was in the Hanlon days?

  3. hockeygrl76: Yes and Yes

  4. dj-jer says:

    Um, Pucksy…you didn’t really mean to say Bruce would be the “unqualified Head Coach,” did ya?

  5. Yes I did, dj-jersy, as in title unqualified

  6. strungout says:

    And Steckel hit a pipe shorthanded
    Henrik actually made the save on that one….kicked the leg up at it. It was a heck of a rush by Steckel.

  7. TG says:

    And I’d just like to point out that Mike Green now has more goals this season than Jaromir Jagr.

  8. HotDog88GT says:

    If the Caps hold up under the speed of the Sabres this Friday I’ll be more convinced. They looked bad against the Sabres last time – but that was prior to the six day layoff.
    Also of note, Semin hasn’t been getting any good shots in this year. Hope he finds his stride soon.
    Interestingly, the game was not available in my area last night (Central NY). I saw it via Center Ice, but none of my Ranger-fan buddies could see it.

  9. jdug says:

    I was pleasantly surprised by Mike Green’s play early in the season, and was hopeful that he could continue to progress as a defensmen and in the coming years be a true top pairing defensmen. But I am shocked that he has come so far so fast. With apoligises to AO, Green was the best player on the ice last night. It is a shame that he won’t even get a sniff of the all star game, I can’t think of 5 other Dmen who are playing better in the East.

  10. CAPITOLg says:

    I love it, the “bad” ice causes Shanahan to fall down springing the breakaway for the OT win!! Beautiful game.

  11. Grooven says:

    1. Brashear looked so confident as he backed away from Orr in the squaring-off before the fight. I could just picture him saying “Are you sure? You really want to do this? Last chance to back out…” Orr threw a few, had almost all of them blocked, then got pounded.
    2. Lundquist’s save from his belly by kicking up his leg to block a shot going toward the open net… Yes, there was no small degree of luck, but it was a very aware and positionally sound move too. Wow.
    3. Semin seems to be in his groove finally with the way he squiggles around the ice.
    4. The overall play of the Caps is much better and much more exciting. Sure there are bad passes, plays, shifts etc, but no team is going to play a perfect game. But if they keep this up, the season will be a whole lot more fun to watch.

  12. Chris says:

    I couldn’t care less about the fight — Brashear had 2 assists last night. 2 assists! I am glad I was at the game just to see that.
    I am forced to disagree with Grooven, though. While Semin looks like he is getting his legs back, I think he is still making bad decisions with the puck.
    Bottom line, the Caps won me back coming back from down 2 early. That’s the first real character game that I have seen out of them. They actually should have won it in regulation — that save on Steckel was absolutely sick.

  13. errantelf says:

    I nearly died when Lundqvist managed to get his foot in the way of Steckel’s shortie. It was an amazing save, but I’m a Steckel fan and really wanted to see him get that one.
    As for the puck that stopped on the goal line… I sit in 402 and had a perfect view of it. I knew it hadn’t gone in though I had risen to my feet already in anticipation before it got swept back away from the net. Now that you mention the snow, it reminds me that I had noted something about the ice crew last night. Every time the shovels came out, the guy charged with cleaning Henrik’s crease was only getting the middle and top half of it, leaving snow piled up around the posts and sides of the goal line while Kolzig’s crease on the other side was left shiny and new. I was mildly annoyed by it last night, but now I realize just how important that observation was- It may have given NY that OT point.

  14. Jed St. Landau says:

    It’s too bad AO was too polite to his teammate to knock that puck over the line rather than celebrating the goal that wasn’t!

  15. Meza says:

    If I recall Henrik “attacked” an Islander ice girl earlier this season for cleaning his crease to much.

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