Dept. of Important Games –
It’s only January, but Saturday night marked Washington’s most important game of the year to date. The contest against the Panthers was the Caps’ only divisional game in a span of 37 days, a rarity in an era in which teams play 32 of their 82 games against divisional foes. Coming into the game, Florida held a one-point edge over Washington for third place in the Southeast Division, so the Caps’ 5-3 regulation win catapulted them over the Cats and into third place in the division.
The win would also put Washington back at the break-even mark at 21-21-5. Washington was 20-20-7 after 47 games last season, but that was the latest they’ve been at break-even since 2002-03. The Caps went 8-20-7 in their final 35 games last season.
Most importantly, tonight’s game was one of the “games in hand” the Caps had on the top two teams in the division, so in picking up two points, they gained two on both first-place Carolina and second-place Atlanta. Washington is now three points off the Hurricanes’ modest division-leading pace and it trails the Thrashers by only two points. The Caps still have three games in hand with Carolina and two with Atlanta.
Since Bruce Boudreau took over as Washington’s head coach on Thanksgiving Day, the Caps have collected 34 points, more than any other team in the Southeast Division. Over the same span Atlanta has accumulated 26, Florida and Carolina both have 23 and Tampa Bay has 21.
Three Spot –
The Caps grabbed a 3-0 lead in a game for just the fifth time this season. They also did so on Nov. 8 at Ottawa, Nov. 23 at Philadelphia, Nov. 24 against Carolina and Dec. 8 against Atlanta. Washington has won each of the five games in which it jumped out to a 3-0 lead, but it needed overtime to do so in the game against the Flyers. Go Johnny, Go – John Erskine
’s first period goal was his second of the season and first since opening night when he tallied in Washington’s 3-1 win at Atlanta. The goal matches his single-season career high, he scored two goals (in just 16 games) as a member of the Dallas Stars in 2002-03.
Erskine’s goal gives him eight points this season, and that is a new single-season career high for the big defenseman. He totaled seven points in 29 games with the Capitals last season and now has eight points in 26 games with Washington in 2007-08.
Swedish History Lesson –
Center Rolf Edberg hailed from Stockholm and was – along with defenseman Leif Svensson – one of the first two European players to play with the Capitals.
On Mar. 10, 1979, Edberg established a Capitals rookie record when he recorded four assists in a single game. Nearly 28 years later, Caps center Nicklas Backstrom
matched that mark with four assists in tonight’s win over the Panthers.
After the game, Backstrom said he had never heard of Edberg, which isn’t surprising because he played in the NHL years before Backstrom was born in 1987. But Backstrom’s father Anders, who was a 10th round draft choice of the New York Rangers likely played against Edberg.
After finishing up in the NHL, Edberg returned to his native Sweden where he played the 1981-82 season with AIK Solna of the Swedish Elite League. Anders Backstrom played that season and the next one with Brynas IF Gavle of the SEL.
Coming into Saturday night’s NHL action, Backstrom was tied for second in NHL rookie scoring with injured Chicago center Jonathan Toews. Both Toews and Backstrom had 32 points. The Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane leads all freshmen with 44 points, pending the outcome of Chicago’s game with Phoenix.
Secondary Scoring –
Besides Erskine’s goal – which came from a brilliant and hard-working shift by the Quintin Laing-David Steckel-Matt Bradley line – the Caps also got a couple of goals from Viktor Kozlov.
Kozlov now has six goals on the season and three in the month of January. With offensively gifted players Michael Nylander, Chris Clark and Brian Pothier out of the lineup indefinitely, it’s important for the Caps to get a steady diet of secondary scoring.Chemistry Set –
The Caps’ first line of Backstrom, Ovechkin and Kozlov picked up eight points (three goals, five assists) in the win over Florida. The trio accounted for 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) on the just-completed five-game homestand.Closing the Gap –
Ovechkin’s goal was his 36th of the season and his 15th power play goal. He trails Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk by one goal for the league lead, and as mentioned earlier, the Caps have two games in hand with Atlanta. Ovechkin leads the NHL in power play goals and he has accounted for 41.7% (15 of 36) of Washington’s extra-man tallies this season.
Ovechkin’s Saturday night strike was his 16th third period goal of the season; only Kovalchuk (18) has more among all NHL players. Power Surge –
The Caps notched three power play goals in a game for the first time since doing so against the Hurricanes on Nov. 24 and just the second time this season. During the homestand, Washington was 6-for-25 (24%) with the extra man.Divisional Dominance –
Saturday night’s win was Washington’s fifth straight in games against divisional foes. The Caps are 6-1-1 against Southeast Division opponents since Boudreau took over, A Blow to Mo –
Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn – one of Washington’s steadiest and most reliable blueliners – was felled by a Florida shot just before the Panthers’ second goal. Morrisonn hobbled off and did not play for the rest of the game.
According to a Caps’ spokesperson, Morrisonn is fine and will accompany his teammates on their upcoming trip to Pittsburgh (Monday) and Toronto (Wednesday). When Johnny Comes Marching Home –
Since joining the Caps early in the 2005-06 season, Brent Johnson has seen the lion’s share of his duty on the road. He has played 51 of his 69 games as a Capital on the road and has garnered 46 of his 62 starts on the road. But Johnson started and won two games during this homestand, defeating Ottawa on Tuesday and Florida tonight.
Johnson made his 200th NHL start on Saturday and collected his 97th career victory. Happy Birthday –
To Hockey Hall of Famer and fabled “Kid Line” left winger Harvey “Busher” Jackson, born on this day in 1911, and to ex-Caps defenseman Sylvain Cote, born on this day in 1966.The Kid’s All Right –
Panthers center Shawn Matthias made his NHL debut against new Jersey on Friday, and potted the first two goals of his NHL career tonight against the Caps. The 19-year-old kid was playing with Belleville of the OHL until the Panthers called, and he was a member of Team Canada’s gold medal-winning World Junior Championship team earlier this month.
Originally drafted by Detroit, Matthias came to the Panthers in the Feb. 27, 2007 deal that sent Todd Bertuzzi to the Red Wings.
Matthias will share his “first NHL goal” date with John Ogrodnick (1980), Kelly Buchberger (1988) and Trent Klatt (1993).Down on the Farm –
The Hershey Bears put a 5-1 hurting on the Springfield Falcons at Giant Center tonight. Kyle Wilson led the way for the Bears with a hat trick and an assist while Frederic Cassivi made 24 stops between the pipes.
Scott Barney and Grant Potulny also scored for Hershey. Dean Arsene and Joe Motzko each had two assists and Eric Fehr picked up a helper as well. Wilson, Motzko, Fehr and Arsene were all plus-3 on the night.
The Bears lost a 4-2 decision at Albany on Friday night with Chris Bourque
scoring both Hershey goals. Daren Machesney absorbed the loss in goal. Hershey hosts Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in a 5 p.m. game on Sunday at Giant Center to close out a busy weekend.
Hershey is fifth in the AHL’s East Division, one point behind fourth-place Binghamton and just two points behind Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Albany, which are tied for second.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays rode goaltender Davis Parley’s 24-save performance to a 2-0 win over divisional rival Augusta at North Charleston Coliseum. The Rays got goals from captain Cail MacLean and from Pierre-Luc O’Brien.
The win was South Carolina’s fourth in a row. The Rays are in second place in the ECHL’s South Division with a 25-12-1-1 record. They trail first place Texas by 11 points.