Saturday, March 15, 2008

Keeping Hope Alive

Photo courtesy of AP


That's one word you could use to describe the Caps' 4-1 victory over the Thrashers last night. Simply dominant.

Despite falling behind 1-0 in the first and appearing a little sluggish to start the game, the Caps still managed to outshoot, outdraw, outhit and outscore a weary Atlanta team en route to a crucial two points. It was a truly great team win and continues a long stretch of games in which the Caps have simply outplayed their opponent, including the two heartbreakers last weekend. Wins like this are what make you believe in the unbelievable, expect the unexpected and keep hope alive.

But back to the game itself.

First of all...Brooks Laich. Is there anything you can say about this guy that hasn't been said in recent weeks? He's clutch, becoming a player who can play in any situation at any position and still rack up points. He now has three multiple goal games in his last nine, racking up 10 goals and 12 points in his last 12 games - those are Ovechkin-esque numbers for sure, and he now sits just one goal shy of his first 20 goal season. Brooks was truly the star of the game last night and you could feel the whole crowd pulling for him to get the hat trick by the end. It'll happen eventually.

But he was but one star among many last night. The entire team absolutely shut down any hope of a Thrashers attack, stifling them to allow only 11 shots - a low mark even for a team like Atlanta that is routinely outshot.

It was textbook defensive positioning all night long, with Olie making the necessary saves but not really facing any sort of sustained attack from anywhere in close. The one goal against was a perfectly placed, wobbling shot from the point that came just as a penalty to the Caps was expiring - the only offense provided by an Atlanta team that barely sniffed the offensive zone.

Watching the second period alone was like watching poetry in motion. It was shift after shift of puck possession, from the top line down to the gritty fourth-liners and everyone in between. They ran the Atlanta defense around until they were dizzy and peppered Lehtonen constantly, who basically prevented this game from getting any uglier than it already was with some sparkling saves to keep it close.

And it wasn't that close.

Ovechkin was dominant, scoring his 57th of the year and putting him one point shy of his second 100-point season (and 3 shy of 300 for his career) - but he didn't have to be. The beauty of the team win is that the rest of the team was right there to back him up and his goal was nothing more than icing on the cake.

Mike Green was flying all over the place and seems poised to break out of his recent goal-scoring slump in the coming days. The line of Bradley, Gordon and Brashear was entertaining and dominant all night, arguably the best line through 60 minutes with some great chances that just didn't cash in. Matt Cooke gave the Caps a breather with a perfectly timed, perfectly placed and joyously celebrated shorthanded goal.

And congratulations to Sami Lepisto, whose assist on Laich's second goal gives him his first NHL point!

Now for the usual scoreboard watching, looking around the league to see who helped us and who goes on the "useless" list. The one most concerning Caps fans was last night's Buffalo-Carolina game, a tricky one as the Caps could have leapt over the Sabres with a Carolina win but would have fallen further behind in the Southeast division.

With the fresh eyes of morning it appears that the result, a 7-1 drubbing by Buffalo, worked out just fine for the Caps. They now sit 3 points behind Philly for the 8th seed and remain one point behind Buffalo; they've pulled to within 5 of the Southeast lead once more and still have two games against the Canes plus a game in hand.

Meanwhile the Rangers pick an inopportune time (shocking) to end their point streak, falling to Florida 3-2 and allowing the Panthers to stay neck in neck with the Caps. You know, it just wouldn't be a regular NHL season if Florida didn't make one last run at the playoffs in the dying days of the season, would it? All we can hope is that this year turns out like all the others...and they fall just short once again.


Anonymous said...

Every time I see this picture of Ovie about to hug Brooks the first thing that pops into my mind is "It's good to be Ovie!"

Sorry, can't help it, Brooks Rocks.

CapsChick said...

Couldn't agree more ;)