Monday, February 11, 2008

Learning to win... ugly

The game against the Rangers on Sunday afternoon marked a turning point for this young Capitals team. It's one of the first times I can remember that the Caps have been thoroughly outplayed, outshot, taken too many penalties and still escaped with a victory. For a young team learning to win ugly, to get two points despite playing a less than stellar game, is one of the hardest things to do.

The Caps got off to a good start, with Alex Ovechkin pouncing on a loose rebound to put the Caps up 1-0 after a delay of game call on career minor league goaltender Steve Valiquette. But after that, the Caps would show only short spurts of offense, and spent most of the game mucking it up in the neutral zone or chasing the puck in their own.

Agitator and all around douchebag Steve Avery was able to take a freak bounce off the sideboard, cut inside Shoanne Morrison (who was unable to control the bouncing puck) and fire a quick wrist shot past Olie Kolzig to tie the game at one. The score seemed to lift the Rangers to life, as they spent the next period dominating puck possesion and the flow of play. They were rewarded with a Chris Drury putback of a Martin Straka shot from the hash marks that put the Rangers ahead.

That is where the Caps newfound confidence seemed to keep them in the game. Instead of panicking and having the players break out of the system and attempt to win the game singlehandedly, they stuck with their gameplan, kept firing pucks at the net, and caught a break when Alex Ovechkin fired an off balance one legged shot on goal, which Valiquette was unable to fully control. Boyd Gordon pounced on the rebound and slid it underneath the diving goaltender, and the Caps were back in business.

The Rangers still held control of the game for the rest of the game, but strong goaltending by Olie Kolzig combined with an effective penalty killing lead by Dave Steckel and Brooks Laich kept the Rangers off the board. And then, less than a minute before the third period was to expire, Ryan Hollwig blatantly tripped a Capitals player, setting up almost a minute and thirty seconds of 4 on 3 in overtime. It wouldn't take nearly that long, as Mike Green blasted a shot from the top of the circles past Marc Staal and a screened Valiquette for the win.

Other notes on the night:

It was good, no, it was GREAT to finally see the Caps win a game in front of a big home crowd against a team whose fans tend to be real jerks when the visit DC. Don't believe me? After a burrito giveaway between faceoffs, the Caps mascot pretended to dump an empty box of burritos on the head of a Rangers fan. The "fan" punched the box, and stood up as if he was going to strike the mascot (and generally for liability reasons the mascots are girls). Really classy. It's one thing to come support your team when they come to town. It's entirely another to be a drunk jackass when you do so.

Great job by the fans of stifling any attempts at a "let's go Rangers" chant in our building. Nice job, folks. Give yourselves a pat on the back. Especially Horn Guy. Way to cut 'em off at the knees.

Jaromir Jagr is past his prime. Waaaay past it.

Good to see Olie looking like the Olie of old (instead of old Olie), stopping 31 of 33 shots and being named the games first star.

Alex Ovechkin's goal was made possible by Eric Fehr's presence in front of the net. Fehr's got the tools, but it's still too early to pencil him in as a top line NHL power forward.

Jaw all you want, Colton Orr. It's become clear you're scared as hell of the Donald. And with good reason.

The Caps get a much needed rest until Wednesday, when they look to avenge one of their poorest performances of the year, a pathetic home loss to the Atlanta Thrashers in which the Caps allowed only 12 shots but lost 2-0.

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