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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Capitals 4, Hurricanes 3 (OT)

Capitals winger Tomas Fleischmann swung his stick against the boards in frustration early in the second period.  He had just missed a golden opportunity:  Hurricanes goalie Manny Legace was out of position and Fleischmann had the puck on his stick.  He had tried to thread the puck through defenseman Brian Pothier's skates, but his former teammate deflected the puck to Legace who smothered the chance.  This was Pothier's second defensive play on Fleischmann in less than a minute; he broke up a pass from Alexander Ovechkin that would have been an easy tap-in for Fleischmann if not for Pothier's quick stick.  Fleischmann was reaching a new level of frustration, only 1 goal in his last 15 games, not including 1 goal in 5 Olympic Games that ended with the Czech Republic bowing out much earlier than anyone had anticipated, never mind that the Hurricanes had two members of the Finnish Olympic Team that had knocked him out of the tournament.  

Fleischmann's streak of futility also did not include the previous game two nights ago when he was made a healthy scratch by the coach who had shown so much faith in him, and after Fleischmann had recorded an assist the game before.  Fleischmann had also been the recipient of an unfortunate tripping call in the first period when a Hurricane player had stepped on his stick, and he was on the ice when the Hurricanes scored their first goal of the game late in the first period, 18 seconds after the Caps had scored to make it 2-0.  So when Tomas Fleischmann fired his fifth shot on Legace 3:20 into overtime, he may not have been expecting his luck to change so quickly, but his one-time shot on a patient play by center Eric Belanger found the back of the net to end the game and a long period of frustration for the Caps winger-turned-center-turned-winger.  "Flash" made a statement to the coaching staff with his career best-tying 19th goal that he was back, ready for action, and would not be happy sitting on the bench.

The Carolina Hurricanes came to town armed with the knowledge that they were the last team to beat Washington in their own barn in regulation, and they were a desperate team trying to claw their way into playoff contention after appearing in the Eastern Conference Final last season.  They also had two players late of the Capitals on their roster who would be eager to show up their old team:  Pothier and Oskar Osala, both wearing numbers held sacred in DC (#5 and #32, respectively).  They walked away with a point to aid them in their chase of a playoff spot because the Capitals continuously allowed them back into the game.

Mike Green, named third star of the game for his two powerplay goals on the night, also gave the Hurricanes a couple goals back and had an amazing capacity to make strong parts of the team look bad.  On the Hurricanes second goal, Green, skating in the corner behind his own goal line, eschewed the safe breakout pass up the boards to an open Mike Knuble, instead trying to rifle a pass up the middle to center Nicklas Backstrom.  The pass was picked off by Chad LaRose who promptly victimized a flat-footed Jeff Schultz on a quick 2-on-1 with Tuomo Ruutu, fresh off a bronze medal performance with the Finnish Olympic Team.  Ruutu took LaRose's pass and buried it past Caps goalie Jose Theodore, who otherwise had a very strong outing.

The Hurricanes' third goal came on the powerplay on a night when the Caps had finally figured out how to pressure the opposing team and neutralize the man advantage.  Boyd Gordon, normally responsible for covering the point man, had tracked the puck carrying winger Ruutu along the half-boards.  As the puck made its way to the point, Gordon recovered and moved to the front of the net. With the puck at the point, Green turned his back to the play and skated toward the goal instead of challenging the point man.  At this point all four Capitals were within 20 feet of each other and within 10 feet of the goal, all covering one man.  Needless to say, Jussi Jokinen roofed Ruutu's pass past Theodore from the top of the circle, and he had all day to do it.

Green had other egregious errors on the night that his goaltender bailed him out on, perhaps leading to speculation that Mike Green was played too much at 26:22.  He pinched in on a powerplay and didn't recover in time to prevent a Brandon Sutter breakaway, nor did his teammates cover his vacant point.  Green tripped Sutter on the ensuing breakaway to give the young Hurricanes center a penalty shot, which Theodore denied.  Theodore also cleaned up the garbage when Green left Zach Boychuk wide open in front for an excellent scoring chance when he didn't check his surroundings and dickered with and ultimately missed a centering pass from the corner that went right past him to the deep slot about 10 feet from Theodore.  He also gave Eric Staal a wondrous scoring chance late in the second period when his clearing attempt ricocheted to the middle.  It almost seemed like he was thinking about getting a hat trick over playing defense.

Other notes on the night:

-Brendan Morrison looked good.  He had a nice bank-pass assist on Alex Semin's forehand-backhand cross-crease goal and he was buzzing around the crease all night and finished with a shot, a blocked shot, and was 9 for 17, or 53%, on faceoffs.

-Boudreau needs to keep David Steckel and Matt Bradley together.  They have great chemistry on offense and are very responsible in their own end.  Steckel also went 73% on faceoffs (8 for 11) and had a hilarious scoring chance while shorthanded that involved Manny Legace falling down behind his net.

-It was a nice gesture by Bruce Boudreau to start Scott Walker and Joe Corvo, recently of the Hurricanes.

-Boudreau also timed his timeout very well on the icing in overtime.  The Caps scored a minute and a half later.

-Ovechkin looked great on the powerplay, at least offensively.  He was as much to blame for the Sutter breakaway as Green was and left Theodore out to dry on another occasion, but his passing and shooting from the point reminded us why he's back there and why he led the league in powerplay scoring last season.  Ovie was also whistled for offsides a couple times when he got too eager and got involved in the physical play late in the game.  The rest of the top line looked good, too, they had good pressure and Backstrom had two assists, including a sublime saucer pass to set up Green's first goal.

-Was the Hurricanes' defense that slow tonight or was Brooks Laich that fast?  He got behind their defense for breakaways three separate times and drew a penalty and finished with 5 shots on the night.  Semin victimized their D for a goal, and drew a penalty with his hustle by getting around a defenseman.

-I liked having two net crashers on the powerplay.  Mike Green scored through a screen of Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble.

-As bad as Green was, Corvo was caught flat-footed at the blueline and let Ray Whitney have a glorious chance and also had a bad pinch in the second period on the powerplay.  Tom Poti let himself get boxed out on Carolina's first goal and couldn't recover to eliminate Patrick Dwyer, who had all day, it seemed, to bury his rebound.

-The Caps took their foot off the gas at the end of the first period and into the second and let Carolina back in the game.  The overlooked a worthy opponent, for whatever reason, with a 2 goal lead.  They have to realize there are no Cops to pull them over for speeding, they need to play hockey like they drive, pedal to the metal all the time, and coasting gets you in trouble.

-Is it just me or did Craig Laughlin's keys to the game remind you to do the dishes?  It sounded like he said to clean out the grease from the pressure cooker.

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