For one reason or another NHL teams often have a difficult time getting going at the beginning of the first home game after a long road trip. Last night was no exception, as the Caps returned home after seven straight tilts away from the Verizon Center. In fact, down 2-0 to the Candycanes less than five-and-a-half minutes into the game, the Caps could have easily mailed it in last night, taken solace in the five points they'd taken from the 'Canes in the previous three games between the two teams spanning the last dozen days and prepared for the eighth and final meeting of the season with the Southeast Division champs on Friday. They could have mailed it in, but they didn't, just as they haven't on so many other nights this year.
The Caps fought back, tying the game in the second period and briefly taking a lead in the third on Dainius Zubrus's career-high twenty-first goal of the year and second of the game before Mark Recchi sent the game to overtime with a four-on-three powerplay goal. Tied through overtime, the game went to a shootout where the Caps' three shooters were all stuffed by Baby Food and where Matt Cullen was able to beat Brent Johnson to give the visitors the win.
Also noteworthy from last night's game: the paid attendance of 14,867 is more than 1,000 more tickets sold than the Caps have averaged on the year (and only 600 fewer than the first-place 'Canes are drawing). No word on whether or not Tony Kornheiser was one of the nearly 15k, but maybe hockey isn't quite "dead" in Washington after all... I thought Rico Fata (not to be confused with Rico Fatass), played his second-straight great game, bringing a ton of energy at a few key points in the game... Ovechkin was credited with a whopping nine hits to go alongside two helpers (extending his season-best point-scoring streak to ten games). The kid can do so much even when he's not scoring goals that it's simply incredible. Steve Eminger added eight hits himself... former Cap Calle Johansson was in attendance and got a loud and lengthy standing ovation when shown on the telescreen, likely an acknowledgement from the fans that he could still be a top-six defenseman on this year's team. Easily... For a 'Canes fan's perspective on last night's game (as well as advancing the ball on some new Rink nicknames) head over to Red and Black Hockey.
In other Caps news, Hockey's Future has the Caps ranked seventh in their Spring 2006 Organizational Rankings, down from second last year (due largely to the fact that the Caps' most talented youngsters are playing for the big club and thus are no longer prospects). Here's what HF had to say:
Strengths: The Capitals have several forwards who have great potential for the NHL. Alexander Semin is a very skilled offensive winger, although there are some questions about whether he will return to the NHL anytime soon. Eric Fehr has all the makings of a terrific sniper and Chris Bourque is adapting well to his first season in the AHL. Meanwhile, both Tomas Fleischmann and Jakub Klepis played well during their short debuts in the NHL and both have bright futures. On the blue line, Mike Green has also seen NHL time in his first professional season, while Jeff Schultz had a career year in the WHL.HF also has a review of the Caps' prospects, including Schultz, who played in the Canadian Junior leagues this year.
Weaknesses: The prospect pool took a big hit with the graduation of not only Alexander Ovechkin, but also Steve Eminger and Shaone Morrisonn out of the top five. Overall depth is a concern. Goaltending is the weakest area for the Capitals, with Maxime Daigneault heading the list of three unremarkable goalies. It's an area that will need to be addressed in the coming draft.
Top Five Prospects: Alexander Semin (LW), Eric Fehr (RW), Mike Green (D), Chris Bourque (C), Jakub Klepis (C)
Finally, the team announced yesterday that they signed defenseman Jamie Hunt and forward Matt Stefanishion to two-year entry-level contracts.
Thread of the Day: Will The Caps Be Feared Again Like They Were In the '80s?
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
- Check out yet another example of how a "with it" owner is in touch with the emerging media that is blogging as Paul Kukla interviews Ted Leonsis over at Kukla's Korner.
- Kudos to Caps/Bears defenseman Mike Green on being named to the AHL All-Rookie Team.
- A new hockey term has been born. The "Sidney Crosby Hat Trick" is a goal, an assist and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the same game (coined by Decline the Penalty)
- It's always nice to be linked to by Deadspin.
- The CP has its picks in for the NHL awards and their Calder goes to... who else?
"Ovechkin. In no uncertain terms the most sensational rookie season in a long, long time."
"Right now I would go with Ovechkin," [CP runner-up for Most Valuable Player Jaromir] Jagr answered when asked to pick a winner... "He's by far, I think, the best rookie this season," Baby Face said.
- Hart: Patrik Elias (3 goals, including the game-winner, 2 assists, +2)
- Ross: Patrick Elias (5 points)
- Norris: Brian Rafalaski (Goal, 2 assists, +2)
- Vezina: Vesa Toskala (Win, 1 goal allowed on 26 shots against)
- Richard: Patrick Elias (3 goals)
Calder: Kari Lehtonen (Win, 2 goals allowed on 40 shots against)
- Aiken: Marc-Andre Fleury (Loss, 6 goals allowed on 27 shots against)