Thursday, October 13, 2011

Caps-Pens Recap

Ceremonial puck drop in honor of the Lokomotiv plane crash
tragedy. Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images from
The Capitals and Penguins have one of the fiercest rivalries in the sport. In recent years, the Caps have dominated the Penguins during the regular season, only losing twice in a shootout and once in regulation in the previous 14 games including a 7-for-7 record when playing in Pittsburgh. Now they can notch it up to 8-for-8. The Pens lead the NHL in points, even after tonight's loss, but they have also played twice as many games as the undefeated Capitals. These two teams will be battling all year, and tonight just got us started. Check out Lindsay Applebaum's write-up for the Capitals Insider for some more quick facts on the rivalry. For now, my five thoughts on the game:
  • Tomas Vokoun said he likes to play a game right after a particularly bad one. He made it very well known that he was not happy with his performance against the Lightning on Monday night. Well, tonight he showed that he certainly can bounce back. He was a huge reason the team only allowed one goal on the PK tonight despite the team taking five in regulation -- compared to the Penguins' zero. Oh yeah, and he stopped 39 of 41 shots, good for a .951 save percentage. This is why McPhee signed him, let's hope he keeps it up.
  • Speaking of the penalty kill, the Penguins were perfect this season going into tonight. They only took on penalty, and it was in OT, but that was all Washington needed. Backstrom and Wideman broke out on a 2-on-2 rush, and 19 shook off some of that off-season rust and threaded a beauty of a pass between the defenders' sticks. The puck landed right on the tape, and Wideman blasted the puck past former Caps' backup goalie Brent Johnson. Win.
  •  The Capitals are now 3-0-0, seemingly a great start to the season. Points wise, it sure is. However, all three came in overtime or the shootout, meaning all three opponents (two division rivals and possibly their biggest rival in the league) all got a point apiece. Nor did the team really "Rock the Red" and dominate the other team in any game. The first two were just ugly hockey, and tonight Vokoun was the real star of the night, despite not actually being named one of the three stars. Washington only got 19 shots on net while allowing 41 on their own. I know everyone is impressed with the third line, and they should be, but I again feel the need to reiterate how much I think Boudreau is mis-managing his talent with the current combinations.
  • Ovechkin has now had three games to show that he is back to form, and unfortunately he has failed to do so. He was credited with a goal tonight, but Green fired the blast that nicked off Ovi's skate and up into the net. The Great 8 has not looked himself for the better part of a year now. Some of it is obviously the focus that every team puts on him, but that didn't stop him the first four years of his career. Captain Cap needs to find a way to turn the afterburners on and get this team rolling again. Backstrom got two assists tonight, so he has started his own breakthrough, while Semin and Green have looked good, too. Time for Fearless Leader to do his part.
  • The biggest story of the game is going to be the fight between Jay Beagle and Aaron Asham. Beagle appeared to have the upper hand, but got demolished by two hits to the jaw. While Beags was laid out and bleeding, Asham made a taunting gesture and proceeded to verbally assault Ovechkin and the other Capitals players. The Pens fans, too, showed a little less than classy behavior with their own cheering, but that is to be expected when your guy wins a fight. For what it's worth, Asham did the right thing in challenging Beagle after 83 flipped the lid off Pens all-star defender Kris Letang (and earned a roughing penalty in the process). Asham said in interviews after the game that he was sorry for his post-fight actions, and repeatedly called them classless. He seemed legit, but you know what? That's too bad. Don't be surprised if he pays for his actions next time he is on the ice against the Caps. Not a single player on the team was happy, and none will forget. These are the things that come back to haunt enforcers in future matchups. More drama for the storyline here.
No Crosby tonight, but we'll see him next time around.
    When all is said and done, again, a win is a win. Especially one against the Penguins in their home arena. I hope Boudreau continues to lay into the team and hold them accountable. They can and should be much better than they've played so far. One final note on this front: my favorite target Marcus Johansson skated for the fifth-least amount of time of all Capitals skaters, ahead of only Hendricks, Halpern, Chimera, and Beagle, after a couple turnovers early in the game and being on ice for Pittsburgh's even-strength goal. Don't say you weren't warned: the second line center battle is not over yet. And now, your game highlights courtesy of

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