Saturday, March 29, 2008

Huet, Kozlov shine in Caps win

Capitals 3, Panthers 0

Coming into the final stretch the Washington Capitals are looking increasingly like a team of destiny (or an unstoppable force, for those more scientifically inclined fans) and last night's 3-0 over a Florida Panthers team that needed a win to keep any glimmer of playoff hope alive did nothing to diminish that feeling, as the Capitals emerged victorious behind stellar performances from Viktor Kozlov and Cristobal Huet.

With their win, Washington caps a 5-1 road trip that exceed the expectations of even the most optimistic fan but still leaves the Capitals on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, one point behind Philadelphia for the eight spot in the Eastern Conference and two points behind both Boston (for seventh in the Conference) and Carolina (for first in the Southeast Division)(note: all three teams have a game in hand on the Capitals). Who would have thought that even after picking up ten points in the six game swing the Caps would still be on the outside looking in? At least on the plus side for Caps fans, it was nice to have a game that didn't induce any gray hairs.

On the ice the Washington Capitals number one goal is to maintain focus, play smart and do their best to pick up every single point that's still available to them. In the front office of the Washington Capitals to number one goal should be finding a way to get newly acquired netminder Cristobal Huet under contract for next season. Speculation is that Huet would be looking for something in the range of an average salary of five million dollars for three or four years and if that's the case he's well worth the money. The Capitals are used to shelling out 5.45 million a year for Olaf Kolzig and although a number of players including Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Mike Green and Brooks Laich are going to get significant raises next year, you'd have to think that Ted Leonsis and George McPhee will find a way to devote a significant chuck of cash to the goaltending position, especially given how much this season illustrated the impact of mediocre goaltending on an otherwise very good team.

No doubt there are alarm bells going off for some Caps fans at the thought of signing a goalie to play the next three or four years for the the team given that Semen Varlamov and Michael Neuvirth are both pretty decent prospects. But the reality is that Neuvirth just turned 20 last week and Varlamov is only 19, so both are likely a ways from being capable NHL regulars. Like pitchers in baseball or quarterbacks in football, goalies tend to take long to develop; Kolzig didn't become the Capitals' starter until after his 25th birthday, Evgeni Nabokov was the same age when he became San Jose's number one and Jean-Sebastien Giguere wasn't a starter until he was 23. Even most highly-regarded netminders take a little while to get going: Roberto Luongo wasn't a clear cut starter until he was 22 and Rick DiPietro only really put everything together last year, at age 25. Some goalies establish themselves at a younger age, but in all likelihood it's going to take at least a couple seasons before either of the Capitals' goaltending prospects will be ready and Huet seems to be more than capable of holding down the fort until then.

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Viktor Kozlov
- 1 goal, 2 assists, +3, 7 shots
(2) Cristobal Huet - saved all 32 shots sent his way
(3) Alex Ovechkin - 1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 2 hits, 4 shots

Quick Hits

  • Even if Eric Fehr doesn't turn into the type of sniper the Capitals once hoped he should still be a valuable player as a big guy with decent hands who isn't afraid to throw his body around, as evidenced by his 3 hits and 3 shots last night.

  • I wonder how long that Ovechkin-to-Nicklas Backstrom play from behind the net is going to work before other teams catch on?

  • If Bruce Boudreau had been the coach of this team from the season's outset, I think we'd be talking about Ovechkin hitting 70.

  • The Panthers managed to shoot and miss the net 15 times.

  • The Capitals only had one player (Sergei Fedorov) who was over 50% on draws; not surprisingly the Panthers had only one player (Greg Campbell) who was below 50%.

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