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Postgame Notebook, 1-24-08

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
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Johnny On The Spot – The Washington Capitals have gotten into the habit of winning a lot of high-scoring, firewagon hockey games of late. So the last two contests – a pair of low-scoring, one-goal affairs against the Toronto Maple Leafs – have been a departure for Washington. But the Caps eked out a 2-1 win in a squeaker on Thursday, behind the clutch goaltending of Brent Johnson.

Johnson made frequent saves and he made key saves throughout the game. He stopped a pair of terrific Toronto shorthanded chances just seconds before Brooks Laich’s power play goal gave the Caps a 1-0 lead in the first period. In the final 10 and a half minutes of the second, the Caps were outshot 7-0, but Johnson kept Washington’s precarious 1-0 lead intact.

“Tonight they outskated us,” said Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “I think they played a lot better tonight than they did last night. Our goalie won us the game.”

Johnson has been a backup goaltender in the league for the last four seasons, the last three with Washington. As a backup, his starts on home ice are generally few and far between.

After going 2-8-3 at the Verizon Center in 13 starts during his first two seasons with the Capitals, Johnson has exceeded that home ice win total in a span of just 10 days. He defeated Ottawa on Jan. 15, Florida on Jan. 19 and now Toronto on Jan. 24 at the Phone Booth.

Johnson won six games (6-15-7) in his 28 starts for the Capitals last season. He has already matched that win total in 2007-08. Thursday’s win raised his record to 6-5-1 on the season. He is now two wins shy of the 100 plateau for his NHL career.

The improvement of young Caps players such as Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and others since Boudreau took over the reins has been well documented, but Johnson has been tremendous in limited duty over the same time span. In seven appearances (six starts), Johnson is 5-1 with a 2.05 goals against average and a .926 save pct. He has not given up more than three goals in any of those six starts, and has allowed two or fewer goals in five of the six.

Another Rung on the Ladder –
By virtue of its win over Toronto on Thursday, the Caps climbed into sole possession of second place in the Southeast Division standings, just a single point behind front-running Carolina.

Carolina leads the division with 52 points, the Caps have 51, the third-place Thrashers have 50, the fourth-place Panthers have 49 and cellar-dwelling Tampa Bay has 45. Washington was the only Southeast Division team to collect two points on Thursday.

The Capitals are three points behind the New York Islanders and New York Rangers, the current co-occupants of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings.

Eight is Great –
Washington won a total of just eight games in the first two months of the season (8-16-2). The Caps now have eight wins in the month of January (8-3). The total of eight wins in a month is the most for the Caps since they won nine games in March, 2002 in what ultimately proved to be a late and fatal bid for a playoff berth.

Ovie Watch –
Alex Ovechkin failed in his bid to reach the 40-goal plateau before the All-Star break, but he did pick up two assists to pull to within single point of Tampa By center Vincent Lecavalier, who began the night as the NHL’s scoring leader with 66 points.

However, Daniel Alfredsson feasted on Tampa Bay goaltending and defense on Thursday night, hanging a hat trick and four assists on the Bolts to leap from 60 to 67 points and jump past both Ovechkin and Lecavalier.

Powering Up –
Laich’s first period power play goal was his first extra-man tally of the season and the fourth of his NHL career. He is the 11th different skater to record a power play goal for Washington this season.

White Hot Russian –
Viktor Kozlov’s goal in the third period proved to be the game-winner. It was his ninth goal of the season – tying him with Nicklas Backstrom for fourth on the team – and his fifth in his last four games. Kozlov’s last game-winning tally came on Feb. 7, 2007 when he was with the Islanders in a 2-0 win over Philadelphia.

Extension for 87 – After the game, the Capitals announced that they had signed veteran left wing Donald Brashear, 36, to a one-year contract extension. Brashear, now in his second season in a Caps sweater, is on the verge of surpassing the 900-game and 200-point plateaus for his NHL career.

He has played in 896 NHL games, totaling 198 points and 2,393 penalty minutes in the process. Not many guys with Brashear’s role manage to survive the rigors of the NHL for 14 years, as Brashear has.

“That’s exactly what he said when we sat down,” says Caps GM George McPhee. “We did it in about five minutes. He said, ‘There aren’t many guys like me around.’ I agreed with him and we did it.

“He has a real presence. He knows that role as well as anyone ever has. And he makes our team better.”

With continued good health, Brashear has a realistic shot at playing 1,000 career games in the league, a remarkable achievement for anyone, but especially for a guy with Brashear’s role and job description.

200 Club –
Caps defenseman Steve Eminger played in his 200th NHL game tonight, one night after Brooks Laich played in his 200th NHL contest. Washington defenseman John Erskine is on the verge of joining his teammates in the 200 club. Erskine is at 198 and could get to 200 one week from tonight when the Montreal Canadiens visit Verizon Center.

Ratings Are In, and Up -- Monday's Pittsburgh/Washington game on the Versus Network received a 1.65 rating in the Washington market, the highest ever NHL regular-season rating for the Washington market on VERSUS. The game delivered a 0.41 national household cable rating and 437,495 viewers. That makes it the network’s second-highest rated NHL game this year.

For the season to date, the NHL on Versus is averaging a 0.26 national household cable rating, 194,646 households and 271,485 viewers. Those figures are up 24%, 29% and 36% from last year's to date averages of 0.21, 150,349 and 199,436.

In addition, men 18-34 (+9%), men 18-49 (+34%) and men 25-54 (+53%) viewer figures are up from last year. The network's exclusive night ratings are up 32% from last year (0.33 vs. 0.21) and their non-exclusive ratings are up 6% (0.19 vs. 0.13).

Happy Birthday – To early-era Caps star Guy Charron, born on this day in 1949. Happy birthday also to Original Six blueline stalwart Gus Mortson, born on this day in 1925.

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