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Welcome to Caps 'Round the Clock, a blog covering the Washington Capitals and the NHL. In season, I update the Blog after every practice and on game day with Caps news and information, and then provide a recap and analysis after each contest. I also write a periodical Prospect Watch and weekly feature pieces on the state of the Men in Red and other things Capitals. And of course, I will post videos and tidbits from around the League and offer my two cents as the season wears on. In the offseason, I write a Report Card for each player, and will keep you updated on all the news about the Caps through the summer. I'm glad you're here, and hope you come back!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Rapid Rewind: No Guts, No Glory

Do you like my artistic capability?  I like Sasha's.
The Washington Capitals pulled out a gutsy win tonight, recovering from a 2-0 deficit to defeat the New York Islanders 3-2 at Nassau Coliseum.  After falling behind 2-0 on the road and playing thoroughly awful hockey over the first 27 minutes, the Capitals clawed within one in the second and then tied and won the game within three minutes of each other early in the third.  Despite it being the Islanders, this was still a huge two points for the men in red after last night's performance, and will help set the tone for a huge month of march.  With the win, the Capitals climbed within three points of Division leader Tampa Bay, although the Bolts have two games in hand.  More importantly, however, they kept the Canadiens three points back of fifth place as Montreal beat Carolina tonight.

The Islanders got off to a good start, buzzing the Caps zone early and getting some good shots off on Michal Neuvirth, who had to start after Semyon Varlamov was injured at the morning skate.  The Islanders were rewarded for their pressure when Jeff Schultz took a penalty at the 4:13 mark.  The New York power play was strong, pressuring the Caps end and getting rubber at Neuvirth, but the Caps were able to hold them off, particularly the goaltender, who was sharp several times.  Soon after, the Capitals got a power play of their own a minute after the penalty kill expired when Al Montoya tripped Marcus Johansson at the 7:35 mark.  But the Capitals miserable power play continued to be just that, as Washington failed to record their first shot of the game during the man advantage and got very little rhythm going.   The Caps finally got their first shot 12 minutes in off the stick of Jason Chimera, but the Islanders continued to carry play to Washington with good zone presence and transition play.  The Islanders finally broke through at the 13:48 mark when Kyle Okposo converted a 2-on-1 break for a 1-0 New York lead.  The Islanders continued to press the Capitals end, and got another break when Jason Chimera was sent off for slashing at 17:30.  But the Capitals were able to kill off the penalty with some good work down low, and the teams headed to the dressing rooms with the Islanders up 1-0, and with a 14-5 edge in shots on goal.
The Islanders again set the tone for the second period, coming out hard and getting rewarded 33 seconds into the frame when Travis Hamonic (WHO?!) took a slapshot from the point that eluded Neuvirth and put the home side up 2.  Matt Hendricks then tried the oldest trick in the book to try and fire up his team when he fought Zenon Konopka, but it didn’t work, and the Caps kept letting the Islanders come at them and carry play.  Michal Neuvirth had to continually bail his team out, and Bruce Boudreau finally called his timeout about six minutes into the frame to try and quiet things down.  But it only got worse, as Brooks Laich took a very bad offensive zone penalty at the 6:07 mark to send Wshington down a man.  During the kill, Nicklas Backstrom got a shorthanded break up ice, but it was turned aside by Islanders goalie Al Montoya.  But the great penalty kill gave the Capitals life, and Brooks Laich buried a transition goal at the 9:44 mark to break the Capitals’ shutout streak and give them a breath of air.  The Caps used that energy to try and buzz the Islanders end more, but could not get their equalizer through Montoya.  The game then settled into a back and forth rhythm for a bit, with neither team getting much going.  But over the last five minutes, the Caps really began to get back to their game plan, establishing a good forecheck and getting some solid chances; however, the middle frame closed with Washington still down, 2-1.
In the third period, it was the Capitals who set the tone as Washington came out very hard, building on their excellent play in the latter half of the second period. The Capitals established a good, early forecheck, used their speed to open up the Islanders defense.  Their persistence paid off at the 2:24 mark when Marcus Johansson used some of his own wheels to beat his man and dish to Brooks Laich in front; Laich then calmly fed Mike Knuble at the goalmouth, and 22 banged it home for a tie game (HEY! What a suprise! If you go to the net, you score!). The Caps then really began to hum, entering the offensive zone wide and with speed and attacking with a purpose. They were rewarded again when Alex Ovechkin found Alexander Semin on an rush up ice; Sasha ripped the puck over Montoya's shoulder bar-down for a 3-2 Caps lead at the 5:44 mark.  Washington kept pressing, and earned themselves a power play a little over two minutes later when Matt Moulson was boxed for cross checking.  But Semin killed the man advantage with (another) offensive zone penalty, sending the two teams to four on four.  The next minute and 56 seconds were certainly entertaining, but neither the Caps or Isles could convert another goal.  As the period wore on, the Islanders began to crank up the pressure on the Capitals, and came close inside five minutes several times.  But the Capitals were able to counter enough to keep them from equalizing.  With Montoya out of the net, Jack Capuano called his timeout with only 18.3 seconds remaining.  Despite a scare right off the faceoff, however, the Isles ran out of time and the Caps escaped Long Island with two huge points.

Observations:
Michal Neuvirth won his team this game.  He had no chance on either goal, and was simply spectacular in the late stages of the first and middle stages of the second to keep his team within striking distance.  This, even after last night's 6-0 bludgeoning by the Rangers.  It's unfortunate that he had to start, because it means that Semyon Varlamov is injured again, but 30 certainly earned it this evening.  He'll get the second leg of the home-and-home Tuesday.

Will the real Alexander Semin please stand up?  His game winner tonight only he could have pulled off; a wicked wrist shot through traffic that no one had a chance to even blink at before it was in the net.  And yet, he can't cash wide open looks in front of the net sometimes.  It is games like this that make you wonder what could be if young Alexander applied himself.  Sasha is so incredibly gifted, it's a shame when he does not give two hoots.  But this was not one of those nights.

This was a huge win.  Again, it's the Islanders (and Al Montoya), but two points are two points, especially this time of the year.  This was a game that Capitals needed to have, and despite an awful first half, they found a way to get it done and win their third out of the last four.  To have lost this game going into a home game with the same Islanders team, the pressure on the Capitals Tuesday would have been huge.  Now, they can hold their sticks a little less tightly (and I can stop worrying about a heart attack even though I'm 18).  Huzzah!

The Capitals will likely be off tomorrow after games on consecutive nights before taking the ice again Monday for a practice.  Their next game, which (as I may or may not have said) is against the Islanders, will be on Tuesday at 7 P.M.

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