Saturday, January 06, 2007

Pick an Alex, Any Alex

Whew. I'm exhausted. Absolutely, totally, crawling into bed at 11:30 on a Saturday night like a loser, wiped out.

And I just watched the darn thing.

Tonight's win was one of those great victories that combined some sparkling individual performances with just a great overall team effort, plus some drama and intrigue to give it just the right amount of spice.

For the second consecutive time, the Caps were able to put together a full 60-minute game (actually it was a 64 minute, 42.3 second game). Everything seemed to be clicking. The power play that had struggled recently connected for two goals. Ovechkin snapped his 5 game goal drought, just like we all knew he would. The PK looked sharp again tonight, with the lone power play marker coming as a result of another unfortunate stick incident. Olie wasn't tested a lot, but when he was he came up with the big save to keep it close.

There were only two bad things that stick out about tonight. First and foremost would have to be that scary moment when Vigier flipped over Olie - that image of Kolzig lying still on the ice made my heart stop, and I'm grateful that it wasn't as bad as it could have been. Good for Olie for getting back up, shaking it off, and shutting down the Thrashers for the rest of the night.

The other bad thing? Jon freakin' Sim picked up an assist on the first Atlanta goal. This is starting to get ridiculous...

The last Atlanta game was the Ovechkin show - tonight was the other Alex putting on a show of his own. I honestly think this is what makes him so exciting and at the same time so frustrating to watch. When he's not into it, he's making lazy passes and bad turnovers. But we know what he can do when he decides to actually play. It's not just the goal-scoring, either (although those goals were nothing to sneeze at). It's the little things. He wins the footraces, he plays physical, he makes the defensively responsible decisions (for the most part). He even gets into little scraps with Hossa. And for what it's worth, I would pay good money to see those two heavyweights drop the gloves. I'm just saying. Comedy on ice.

The thing I loved the most about tonight, though, was the great crowd on hand to witness it. Joe B. and Locker described it as a playoff atmosphere, and that's what it sounded like on TV. I can't remember the last time I could even hear the crowd, with the exception of Goat's "Let's Go Caps" or the Horn Guy leading the cheers. When the camera panned the arena, the patches of empty purple seats seemed much smaller than usual, and the majority of the occupied seats were cheering on the home team for a change.

And I have to say, if the Caps and Thrashers continue to play like they have in their last two meetings, this could develop into a really great rivalry that will continue to put butts in the seats for years to come. It's already got the foundation and now the most aggressive part of it has died down so all that remains is an intensity and physicality that is both clean and entertaining. This was a true run and gun style of game, with breathless rushes going both ways, great goals, big hits, very little trapping in the neutral zone...just an all-around fun game to watch.

Of course, if the proposed division and conference realignment takes place, this whole DC-Atlanta rivalry thing becomes a non-issue. Typical.

CapsChick's Stars of the Game, in no particular order:

- Alexander Semin - he has to have the best hands in the NHL right now, just so smooth and slick as he curls and weaves, dodging defenders at every turn. Both of his goals were things of beauty...and it doesn't get much more dramatic than scoring with 17 seconds left in overtime to give your team the win. I think I even spotted a big grin on his face during the post-goal stampede.

- Alex Ovechkin - a pretty goal in his own right plus a nice assist on Semin's first goal get Ovie right back on track, although to be fair he's continued to rack up points even during his little drought. He continues to play a complete game and develop himself as a true all-around power forward, doing the little and big things just when the Caps need him to.

- Steve Eminger - I'm so proud of Eminger for picking up his game over the past two or three weeks, right when the Caps needed him to do so the most. Coming into Thursday's game he had 5 points in 36 games, was a -11, and hadn't had a point since December 2. His play has gradually improved, though, and in the last 2 games he's got 3 assists and is a +3. He's making those great defensive plays and both taking and handing out the big hits, he's turned that diving poke check into an art form...and let's not forget the icing on the cake, a gorgeous behind the back, no-look pass to Semin for the game-winner in OT.

- Kari Lehtonen - I usually wouldn't do this for an opposing team member, but give Lehtonen a lot of credit for keeping Atlanta in it while facing a barrage of Caps shots. The Thrashers played well, but they showed their fatigue at times and their goalie bailed them out with saves both routine and borderline spectacular.

Honorable Mention: everyone else in a Caps uniform for putting together two straight wins - both at home, both coming from behind, both against tough conference rivals, both showcasing that rare 60 minute performance. And, why the heck not - players on both teams for making this a thoroughly entertaining game from start to finish.

Two days off for the good guys now before facing the ultimate bad guys, as the Philadelphia Flyers roll into town Tuesday night. The Caps will be looking to sweep the season series for the first time ever with a win over the Broad Street Bullies. It may not be as easy as we originally thought it would because the Flyers have decided to play some hockey over the last week. Still, Forsberg remains sidelined with an injury and they've never won a game that he hasn't at least started, including this afternoon's loss to Boston that ended their 3-game winning streak. If the Caps continue to play the way they have been, they shouldn't have any trouble making it 4 in a row.

I know I'll be there to see franchise history made...join me, won't you?

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