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Postgame Notebook, 1-9-08

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
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Cooking at Home – Wednesday’s win was Washington’s third in succession on home ice and the Caps’ sixth in their last eight games on the Verizon Center sheet. The Caps are now 9-10-1 at home after starting the season with an anemic 2-7 record in their first nine home contests.

Two Under – Since the NHL began awarding standings points to losing teams after the lockout, the league has also blurred the line between what constitutes “.500 hockey.” But with Wednesday’s win over Colorado, the Caps have pushed their record to 18-20-5. To us, that means they’re still seven games under .500. But they are within two games of playing what we call “break-even hockey,” which we define as having the same number of points as games.

The last time the Caps were within two games of the break even level was back on Nov. 1 after they suffered a 2-0 shutout setback to the Rangers in New York. The next night in Washington, they dropped a 3-2 decision to the Flyers to fall to 5-8.

It will be the Flyers they’ll have to take on in their bid to draw within a game of break-even this time, too. Philadelphia visits on Sunday afternoon.

The Ladder of Success – The Caps were 15th and last in the Eastern Conference when Bruce Boudreau took over as the team’s head coach on Nov. 22. They slipped out of the cellar late in December, and with Wednesday’s win they’ve climbed into 13th place in the Eastern Conference standings, at least temporarily. With 41 points, the Caps are a single point ahead of 14th place Toronto, which is in Anaheim visiting the Ducks as we write this. If Anaheim can take away a regulation win, the Caps will wake up in 13th place on Thursday.

Before tonight, the last time the Caps were higher than 14th in the standings was Nov. 2, before the aforementioned loss to Philadelphia.

Diversity – David Steckel’s goal late in the third period against the Avalanche is the first game-winning tally of his NHL career. It also marks the first NHL goal he has scored against a team other than the Tampa Bay Lightning. Each of Steckel’s first three goals came against the division rival Lightning, and each of those came against different Tampa Bay netminders.

Next up for Steckel: getting a goal against a team with a plural nickname.

Feeling It –
For the first time this season, Caps defenseman Steve Eminger has played in back-to-back games. He skated 10:05 on the night and appeared to be starting to shake off the rust that has understandably accumulated during his lengthy stay on the shelf. Eminger drew a penalty in the first period, registered a plus-1 on the night and was credited with a team-leading total of four hits and a blocked shot.

Shots Down – Washington allowed just 19 Colorado shots on goal for the night, tied for the second fewest the Caps have allowed in any game this season. The Caps allowed just 18 shots in a 4-3 loss to the Blues in St. Louis on Oct. 27, and permitted 19 shots to the Hurricanes in Carolina in another 4-3 loss on Nov. 30.

Wednesday’s game marks the fewest shots the Caps have surrendered in a home game in more than four years, since they allowed just 18 shots to Phoenix in a 3-0 loss to the Coyotes on Jan. 7, 2004.

The 800 Club –
Colorado head coach Joel Quenneville stood behind the bench for his 800th  game as an NHL head coach on Wednesday, becoming just the third man in NHL history to both coach and play in 800 or more games in the league. Quenneville, whose NHL career included a nine-game stint with the Capitals in 1990-91, his final NHL stop as a player.

Quenneville joins a pair of Hockey Hall of Famers on the short list of men who have played and coached in 800 NHL tilts. Minnesota Wild head coach Jacques Lemaire and former Chicago Blackhawks bench boss Bob Pulford are the other two on the list.

Power Outage – The Avs failed to score on the power play in their two chances against Washington on Wednesday. Colorado is now 0-for-19 on the power play in its last seven games and has not scored with the extra man since a 3-1 win over Vancouver on Dec. 23.

Here at Postgame Notebook, we only have the means to go as far back as the 2002-03 season. But in that period of time, the Avs have never gone as many as seven games without a power play goal.

Kept in Check – Colorado winger Milan Hejduk is struggling mightily. The Caps kept him off the scoresheet in Wednesday’s game, extending his pointless streak to eight straight games. Since hanging a single-game career high six points (three goals, three assists) on St. Louis in a 9-5 Avalanche win back on Dec. 9, Hejduk has just four points (two goals, two assists) in 14 games. He is without a point and is minus-5 in his last eight games.

The drought is Hejduk’s longest in more than six years. He went 10 games without collecting a point from Oct. 27-Nov. 16, 2001.

Hejduk’s linemate Peter Stastny now has one assist in his last eight games and is without a point in his last four contests. An NHL sophomore, Stastny went five games without a point twice in his rookie season of 2006-07.

Down on the Farm – Hershey hosted the Norfolk Admirals on Wednesday night, and the Bears eked out a 2-1 win over their division rivals from the south. Chris Bourque scored his 11th goal of the season just 40 seconds into the game and Scott Barney netted the game-winner later on to make a winner of Daren Machesney (11-2-0-1). Machesney made 29 saves on the night.

Hershey winger Eric Fehr, sidelined with a hip injury throughout the first half of the season, played his first game in nearly 11 months. Fehr was originally credited with Bourque’s goal; he was later given the primary assist instead. Fehr finished the night with an assist, four shots on goal and a plus-1.

The game marked Fehr’s first game action since he played in Washington’s 3-2 shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks at Verizon Center on Feb. 21, 2007.

With 44 points, the Bears are tied with Albany for third place in the AHL’s East Division standings. Both Albany and Hershey trail second place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton by a single point. The Bears will visit the Baby Pens on Friday before returning to Giant Center for home games against Lake Erie on Saturday and Hartford on Sunday.

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