Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Caps Take Down Tampa Bay

Capitals 5, Lightning 3

The Capitals achieved their dual goals of breaking their four game losing streak and finding some more offense Wednesday night, beating the Lightning 5-3 on goals from Chris Clark (2), Brooks Laich, Dave Steckel and Alexander Ovechkin, who added an empty netter with four seconds left.

The talk around the Capitals has largely centered on line composition. After enjoying two career years playing on Ovechkin's right wing, Clark had been moved the checking line to the start this season. Following the overall offensive troubles, and especially Tomas Fleischmann's inability to get anything going offensively this year, Glen Hanlon decided to pair Clark with Ovechkin again in the Tampa Bay game. The decision paid near immediate dividends, as Clark netted a goal just 6:33 into the game, picking up the puck after a nice rush by Ovechkin (Ovechkin was credited with an assist on the play).

Ovechkin expressed his support for the move during the first intermission and continued his relentless play during the game. The numbers alone aren't indicative ofl how well Ovechkin's been playing this year, and that's saying something given he has five goals and four assists through the teams first eight games. There's no doubt Ovechkin has immense offensive talent but what makes him a dominant player more so than his puck handling or his shot is his athleticism. When he's on his game Ovechkin can use his strength to power his way through the opposition's checks, win battles for pucks, and dish out killer hits and use his speed to keep the other team working, get to loose pucks and create space for his teammates. Ovechkin's been doing this more so this year than last year, probably a combination of being in better shape early in the season and being amped up about the team's legitimate playoff prospects.

My biggest concern with moving Clark up to Ovechkin's line was who would take his place, but Brooks Laich stepped up and did a great job tonight against one of the best top lines in the league, playing smart in his own end and chipping in a goal off a nice feed from Pettinger. I've always liked Laich – he's a versatile, hard-working player who knows his own limitations but is capable of filling in either an offensive or defensive role. Laich doesn't have the speed or offensive talent of Clark, so having him on the right wing of the checking will diminish their offensive effectiveness somewhat, but having Pettinger (16 goals in 64 games last year; 20 in 71 the year before) gives the line a bit of offense and if Laich gets enough minutes he should knock in a few ugly ones in front of the net. Of course a checking line's first priority is defense and these three look like they have the potential to get the job done against most any top line in the NHL.

Speaking of defense, Shaone Morrison has done a great job of getting under opponent's skin this year. In the game against the Rangers Morrison stepped into, and dropped, Jaromir Jagr even though Jagr didn't have the puck, and managed to avoid a penalty; on other occasions he has riled up the opposition players both on the ice and on the bench. In tonight's game Morrisson stepped up on Vincent Lecavalier with a clean hit, upsetting Lecavalier so much he speared Morrisson (though it was called a slash) and then instigated a fight, in the process picking up 19 minutes in penalties (2 for slashing, 2 for instigating, 5 for fighting and a 10 minute misconduct) – with less than 15 minutes left in regulation. Kudos to Morrisson for not only helping to keep the Lightning's top line in check but taking their best player off his game, and out of the game, in the third period. Bolts coach John Tortorella claims Lecavalier's fight sparked his team but if I were a coach I would want a guy who had 108 points last year on the ice with my team playing from behind. At one point the Lightning tried to do the same the Capitals, specifically trying to get under Boyd Gordon's skin on a play after the puck had been covered by Marc Denis. They were barking up the wrong tree - Gordon has 26 PIMs in 141 NHL games and won the Brad Hornung Trophy in the 2002-03 season as the WHL's Most Sportsmanlike Player.

Aside of Morrison the Caps defense was pretty good for the most part tonight, holding a team that had averaged 40 shots a game on the road to only 29 and keeping the St. Louis/Lecavalier/Prospal line to only one goal (although St. Louis had six shots). The defense had a couple notable breakdowns, one resulting in the Lightning's first goal, scored when Jason Ward was left streaking to the net alone, and the other giving Caps fans everywhere a near heart attack when Brian Pothier tried to be cute with the puck in the game's final minute rather than clearing it out of the zone. In net Kolzig looked solid for the most part but two of Tampa's three goals went in through the five-hole, which is frustrating as a fan to say the least.

Wayward Sports Sons Three Stars:

(1) Alex Ovechkin (1 G, 2 A)

(2) Chris Clark (2 G)

(3) Dave Steckel (1 G)


"We understand each other. We played like we played the last two years: He scored and I scored"

-Alex Ovechkin on being put back on a line with Chris Clark


Dave Steckel's goal was his first in the NHL...Alexander Semin returned to the lineup 14:44 and had 5 shots...The Caps are clearly developing a lot of faith in Ovechkin's skill in his own end; he was on the ice during the game's final minute with a one-goal lead...There were audible boos on the telecast when the score of World Series Game 1 was shown and Boston was winning – I guess I'm not the only on in D.C. sick of the Red Sox...The Caps powerplay was 0-4 but generated good chances and 8 shots....At the end of his fight with Lecavalier, Morrisson fell the ice face first and required a leave of at least ten minutes to go the locker room and get stitched up...The Caps scratched Matt Bradley, Brian Sutherby and John Erskine...Tampa's goals were scored by Jason Ward, Paul Ranger and Martin St. Louis.


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