Monday, December 10, 2007

One to build on

Well, what a difference a day makes. After looking thoroughly average against the Devils in New Jersey, the Capitals came out and steamrolled Atlanta, scoring early and often en route to a convincing 6-3 victory. The Caps played well in all three zones despite missing their captain (Clark) their best setup man (Nylander) and their best penalty killer (Gordon). Indeed, the holes created by their absences forced Coach Boudreau to make some alterations in the lineup that paid dividends almost immediately.

Playing on a line with Alex Ovechkin and Matt Pettinger, Nicklas Backstrom looked every bit of the player the Caps were hoping for when they drafted him. He played with the poise and presence of a veteran, which lead directly to his goal. Backstrom positioned himself high in the zone just below the blueline in the center of the ice, where he was able to step up and intercept a weak pass attempt by the Thrasher defenseman. While most rookies would not have been in position to make the play, almost none would have been able to react instantly and fire the puck top corner without hesitation as Backstrom did. It was a play that showed all that Backstrom has to offer: great positional play, great read and reaction time, and a finisher's scoring touch. It's going to be a pleasure watching him in Washington in the years to come.

The Ovechkin-Backstrom-Pettinger line dominated play throughout the game, with each forward scoring once. Pettinger's rebound goal was just his second of the season, and hopefully will inspire the winger to continue to play with the reckless abandon he exhibited in getting to the loose puck for the rest of the season. Ovechkin's goal wasn't the prettiest he'll ever score, but tipping the puck out of midair to redirect it past Thrashers goaltender Kari Lehtonin was no small feat.

While the second line of Semin, Brashear, and Kozlov did not directly produce a goal, it was the cause of Jeff Shultz's tally. Semin held the puck down low and drew multiple defenders before being buried from behind with a cross check from one of Atlanta's defenders. But the stage was set, as all the traffic in front screened Lehtonin and he never saw Shultz' shot as it drifted past him.

And what more can be said of Mike Green? He continues to be the Capitals best offensive defenseman, and his two tallies on the night bring his season total to 7, tied for second on the team and tied for first in the league among defensemen. His outstanding puck control and skating ability constantly keeps the opposing team on its heels, and his finishing on both goals was nothing short of superb.

Tonight, the Capitals look to produce a modest two game winning streak at home against New Jersey. Both teams will play their third game in four nights, but looks for the Caps to be the fresher team due to their five day layoff before that stretch. Look for the Caps to take control of the game early and put buckets of shots on the Devils goaltender. Whether or not the Devils can weather the storm in the first period and a half will dictate whether or not they have a chance in the game.

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