The fifth meeting of the season between the Capitals and Thrashers felt uneasily similar to the Caps' first-round playoff series vs. Montreal last spring: a bewildering array of offensive opportunities by Les Capitals, and 46 shots on goal, was met by an amazing goaltending effort and an opponent that kept the a lot of those shots away from the slot, and blocked twenty more. (Incidentally, those Habs blocked an average of 26 shots per game in the series.) But more to the point, this was, and is, a hot Atlanta team that's now won 6 of its last 7, and bench boss Craig Ramsay is getting the absolute most out of his team (even without Evander Kane tonight) and his goaltender.
Is the Southeast Division up for grabs? Not quite, but the Thrash are looking a lot like the playoff team that it's currently positioned to become.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Apparently, the Thrashers like to keep their sticks up as well as their heads. Just ask any of Jason Chimera, Boyd Gordon, John Carlson, or Mike Green. Chimmer's mouth was a Halloween costume in the first period.
- Before Michal Neuvirth won the Calder Cup for the Hershey Bears in 2008-09, Ondrej Pavelec won it for the Chicago Wolves. After some early struggles in his NHL career -- and a freak loss of consciousness to start the season -- the kid is on a roll and absolutely scorching. Ask Mike Green about that too. You'll seldom see a point-blank glove save in the slot as good as the one Pavelec made on a wide-open Green late in the game.
- Coach Boudreau reunited Alexander Semin with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom to bail the team out (again) of what had become a real defensive logjam from Atlanta. But swapping Mike Knuble for Semin all but negated the offensive threat of that second trio.
- Eric Fehr was everywhere that he should have been in the first frame, putting three shots on net and driving to those high-traffic areas. But he cooled after that period.
- So since David Steckel committed a minor infraction that Jim Slater avenged by engaging Stecks in a fight, Slater need not be issued an instigator penalty? Steckel's knee-on-knee collision with Tobias Enstrom certainly wasn't pretty and probably wasn't legal, but the non-call on the instigator went against the rule book.
- Scott Hannan was praised by Craig Laughlin on JRR this morning for his gap control. He also seemed to be consistently in front of the play, except for when Alexander Burmistrov netted another beautiful tally tonight against the Caps, this time the GWG. Or was it Hannan's pairmate dragging him (and his ice time) down?
- Further to the point about the second line, Marcus Johansson played a solid game in his end and won 5 of his 10 draws, but was pretty quiet, seemed to react to, much more than direct, the play -- as a scoring line pivot should -- and made a few curious passing decisions.
- The toughest night at the dot for the Caps belonged to Backstrom, who won just 5 of 17 and was beaten by Bryan Little 5 of 6 times in the offensive zone.
- While Ovechkin finally scored a goal tonight, his almost four full minutes of power play time in the third did not result in another to make it a game.
- Speaking of Ovi's tally, the second intermission couldn't have come at a worse time. The Caps bent the Thrashers with a stunning display of puck possession and individual playmaking skill late in the middle stanza, but the break prevented Atlanta from breaking.
Still, in the six games since the debacle in New Jersey on the Monday before American Thanksgiving, some of which also could be considered "playoff-style" affairs, the Caps have allowed two goals or less in all but the one tonight, and killed 21 of 24 penalties. So hats off to an astonishing goaltending performance and move on to, hopefully, feast on the visiting Leafs on Monday.