Knee-jerk Reactions: Caps vs. Bolts, 12.26.2007

Knee-Jerk ReactionsWell my initial plan of between-period updates has been thwarted by Windows Vista and its cantankerous behavior when interfacing with the Verizon Center’s wireless network. Next time I’m bringing a LAN cable … old-school is sometimes best.
Exciting game tonight, with the Caps dominating the visiting Lightning much more than the final score might suggest. As Lightning coach John Tortorella put it, when asked about the game-winning goal, “Don’t talk to me about the net being off or this and that. It could have been 8-2.” The Capitals played with heart, twice going down by a goal but roaring back with late-frame tallies that fired up the team and the crowd alike.
The Caps seemed inspired by the organization’s vote of confidence in Coach Boudreau and the removal of his “interim” tag, as all three Capitals goal-scorers tonight said in their post-game interviews. While Matt Bradley made a point to emphasize that the team never treated Boudreau as “interim”, Dave Steckel perhaps put it best: “He came in here and did a great job. He earned it.” And the coach has instilled in the team the need to reclaim home-ice advantage and make the Phone Booth a tougher place for visiting teams. Brian Pothier agrees: “Every team has to come into the Verizon Center saying, ‘This is going to be a really hard game.’ So far this year we haven’t established that, and it’s something we need to do.” Let’s hope tonight’s performance is the start of just that.

  • The opening faceoff was preceded by The White Stripes’ “Icky Thump” — killer riff, and a good choice start the evening on an up note (pun intended).
  • John Erskine is scratched, for what otherwise would have been his 200th NHL game. Alex Ovechkin, however, began Game #200 in a Capitals uniform at 7:08 PM tonight.
  • Bigger crowd than I’d expected; I don’t know the attendance stats at this point [update: 15,035 officially], but the Phone Booth seems more populated than the average weeknight. Anecdotal evidence (i.e., me walking about the concourse between periods and seeing concession lines dramatically longer than usual) supports the assessment.
  • Frustrating second-chance goal by Vincent Lecavalier at 5:43 of the first. Kozlov waved ineffectually at the puck as Lecavalier swooped in to put the rebound home; Ovechkin too had a close-up view of the goal. Of course, why those two forwards were the two Caps closest to the Lightning’s leading scorer in the faceoff circle?¢‚Ǩ¬¶ well, that’s a question Coach Boudreau likely asked Shaone Morrisonn and Mike Green.
  • Even when Dave Steckel loses a faceoff he’s very, very good at tying up the opposing center. That skill is underrated, particularly in the defensive zone.
  • Caps’ first PP of the night. Good puck movement, and a beauty of a shot by Ovechkin from the slot, then another pretty pass from Backstrom to Ovechkin a few seconds later that just missed. Unfortunately the Caps are making newbie goaltender Karri Ramo look like Georges Vezina. Later in the same PP Fleischman makes a nice move and has a great scoring chance, but Ramo makes the sprawling save on Fleischman’s not-enough-air-under-it shot.
  • Defenseman Doug Janik just stood up Donald Brashear at the blue line . . . color me impressed.
  • Finally a rebound goes the Caps’ way, and rewards the team’s hardest-working player of the night so far, Dave Steckel. Big, big goal to inject some life back into the building, and the team.
  • I’m not a fan of the Morrisonn-Green d-pairing tonight. Neither one clears the crease well, and Morrisonn seems off his game. This dislike is borne up 30 minutes later by the Bolts’ second goal — with both Green and Morissonn caught out of position on a long outlet pass — leading to a breakaway tally by Lecavalier. Morrisonn just isn’t a solid enough anchor for Green’s freewheeling ways. Like Gonchar needed Reekie, Green needs a bruising stay-at-home partner.
  • Of course, Green then follows with some stellar PP play, breaking up a shorthanded 2-on-1 and putting in a terrific shift. Fleischmann, however, continues to be snakebit, missing a gorgeous scoring chance on the same PP. He always plays hard, but five goals in 33 games isn’t top-six play.
  • Crossbar! Ergh?¢‚Ǩ¬¶ the Caps are skating circles around Tampa but can’t put them away. Ovechkin’s PP one-timer hits Ramo’s loose goal stick; then Mike Green fails to keep the puck in the zone while Ramo is stuck with a regular stick. Then Fleishmann fails on another keep-in attempt.
  • Thankfully, this dismal sequence if followed by another terrific shift from Steckel’s line, saving a near-goal with a mad rugby scrum just outside the crease. Is it too soon to suggest a name for them? Hmm?¢‚Ǩ¬¶ two of the three wear prime numbers, but Bradley’s #10 kills “The Prime Line” as an option?¢‚Ǩ¬¶ feel free to post suggestions as comments, as I’m drawing a blank. Regardless, tonight Steckel’s line was the team’s best shut-down group since Kono-Halpern-Dahlen.
  • Like loaves of bread thrown to the Coliseum crowds (c.f. Gladiator), so goes the Chipotle Burrito Dash.
  • Second period, 16:33 — Here’s hoping for another late goal to reinvigorate the team?¢‚Ǩ¬¶ it’s disheartening to see the Caps outplay the competition yet remain on the short side of the balance sheet.
  • 17:42 — Wish granted! Pretty shot by Pothier on a sweet feed from Ovechkin.
  • Ovechkin takes a penalty to prevent a Martin St. Louis breakaway?¢‚Ǩ¬¶ a bit of a ticky-tack call, but that was one of those rare “smart” penalties to take, even if it was necessitated by Ovehckin’s blueline turnover. Heads-up play by Tom Poti to burn the last few seconds of the ensuing penalty with some smooth puck possession down low.
  • Nylander looks sleepy, and a sloppy neutral zone play led to an extended Tampa offensive-zone possession that, fortunately didn’t lead to a goal. Other than a few pretty spin-a-rama moves, Nylander is having an off night. Putting him and Backstrom together along the left side on the PP seems to make it easier on the opposing goalie, since they’re both pass-first players.
  • Semin hits the post after a gorgeous end-to-end rush by Mike Green. I literally just grabbed my head and shouted, unable to maintain press box demeanor for a second there.
  • With four and a half minutes remaining, big hit by Milan Jurcina behind the Caps net leads directly to a terrific scoring chance at the other end?¢‚Ǩ¬¶ but despite carrying much of the play in the third, the Caps have so far been unable to take the lead.
  • Horrible non-call by the officials at 16:50 of the third, with Steckel getting knocked down though he wasn’t near the puck. 17 seconds later, Matt Bradley scores on a bizarre pop-up play off a Steckel shot that trickles in just before the net goes off its moorings. Now it’s under review?¢‚Ǩ¬¶ Crowd’s riled (as they should be) chanting “Goal! Goal! Goal!” Why it’s taking the referees so long I don’t know?¢‚Ǩ¬¶ perhaps they’re taking lessons from NFL officials.
  • After a painful delay, GOAL! The lesson: Don’t mess with Dave Steckel. Three-point night for Steckel, and first star of the game. Then to close out the game, terrific forechecking by Laich-Pettinger-Semin to keep Ramo in the net, then by Steckel and company. Unselfish finish by Ovechkin too, who with about 7 seconds remaining softly banked the puck into the neutral zone rather than trying for the empty netter and risking an icing call.

Coach Boudreau and several of the players spoke strongly about belief after the game tonight–belief that continued hard work would pay off; belief that being down a goal despite outplaying an opponent was something they could, and would, overcome; belief that no opponent or obstacle is insurmountable. The team unity and confidence are inspiring; Head Coach Boudreau has indeed earned his new title.

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6 Responses to Knee-jerk Reactions: Caps vs. Bolts, 12.26.2007

  1. dmg says:

    I’d been thinking Steckel looked about ready to break out offensively, as he’s been looking very good in the offensive zone recently. And he did put up 30 goals in Hershey last year.

  2. HotDog88GT says:

    Probably the most noticeable improvement in the Caps has been the ability to come back from a deficit.

  3. Victor says:

    I’m still not happy they played “Cotton-Eyed Joe” for the Dance Cam. That’s a Pittsburgh song!
    And why is Michael Nylander not catching as much crap as he should, while Kozlov is getting reamed by the fans and the blogs? He’s the only Cap who’s +/- is in the double-digits on the wrong side; as of last night, Kozlov was one of the few on the plus-side (just barely, but I’d take +1 over -15 any day).

  4. TG says:

    Orderedchaos,
    Any blowback in the press box from the shouting/violation of demeanour?

  5. Jordan says:

    I think people look at Nylander’s point totals and it shuts them up. Kozlov’s, not so much.
    Great game, though. Ramo was good, too. I’ll have to check him out next time I’m in Virginia Beach, assuming the ‘ning don’t keep him up.

  6. OrderedChaos says:

    TG: No, it was so loud in the sections abutting sections that I doubt anyone noticed my reaction. 🙂
    As for Nylander, I think Jordan’s correct that Nylander’s point total deflects part of the criticism his play merits. The fond memories fans have of his previous stint in a Caps uniform probably factor in as well.
    As I said in the post, Nylander’s performance has been uneven at best, and last night he was particularly shaky. But in the euphoria of an exciting victory and a strong overall team effort it was hard to dwell on the negatives last night.

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