Saturday, November 27, 2010

60 Minutes of Beautiful Hockey & A Natural

The Washington Capitals played their best sixty minutes of hockey last night and, boy, was it fun to watch. They took their game to the high flying Tampa Bay Lightning and stifled them with defense. Yes, that's right, the Caps shut down the league leading point and goal scorer, Steve Stamkos, who made one shot on net and ended minus 2. Martin St. Louis, the other top 10 league leading scorer, managed two shots on net and ended minus 1.

That the two rookie blue liners John Carlson and Karl Alzner were asked to shut down the Stamkos line and did so effectively says a lot about the future of the Caps defense. Carlson played a Calder Trophy worthy game on defense during his 24:55 TOI. He unleashed a shot past net minder Mike Smith off of a beautiful faceoff win by Marcus Johansson, blocked 3 shots and ended the night plus 1.

The rest of the blue liners chipped in, too. John Erskine got the second goal to start the second period barrage and ended the night plus 1. Tom Poti blocked 4 shots and potted the last goal of the 6-0 domination.

By pure luck, I happened to be sitting on the side of Verizon Center where the Caps shoot once so I witnessed the enigmatic Alexander Semin natural hat trick show about ten rows off the ice behind that goal. It took him 4 minutes, 29 seconds to score those three goals. The first one he connected with as it bounced off the ice from a pretty Johansson pass. The second two were from plays started by Alex Ovechkin and passes from Nicklas Backstrom.

Semin's play was impressive on both ends of the ice and his penalty killing just keeps getting better and better. All the Caps, in fact, played well on both ends of the ice keeping up their forechecking throughout the game and sacrificing their bodies when necessary. It's a rare sight to see that for sixty minutes from this team.

Semyon Varlamov didn't get much work last night, only 17 shots, for which I'm grateful. Although his play in net impresses me and he got the shutout, his groin problems make me fear for his longevity.

The other player I have to mention is Marcus Johansson. After starting out slowly and working through an injury already this season, he appears to be coming into his own and adjusting to the smaller NHL rink. His beautiful pass to Semin and key faceoff pass to Carlson netted him a 2 point night. He looks more and more confident, too, as he gains experience and his skating ability stands out.

Was Coach Boudreau's intense practice after two horrible hockey games the inspiration for this performance? I hope so and I hope they keep it up. No matter how talented a team is, it takes effort to win hockey games in the NHL and even more so in April, May & June. The Caps forget that more than they should and it bites them every time. Last night, they played the way their supposed to and the results showed.

Carolina is next up tomorrow.

Let's go Caps!

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