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Postgame Notebook, 11-26-07

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
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Poppin’ Fresh – Turnovers aren’t on the menu at the Verizon Center concession stands (and yes, they’d be costly there too, if they were) but they were the main course on the choppy (more on that later) Phone Booth ice surface tonight.

Looking to extend their own winning streak to a modest three games and to snuff Buffalo’s run at four, the Caps skated right with the swift and skilled Sabres for 60 minutes. But in a span of 3:40 in the middle of the second frame, Washington committed two egregious turnovers and both wound up in the back of its net.

“When we turn it over in deep and we’re caught flatfooted and they’re coming down with speed and bang, bang, it’s in the net,” said a dejected Olie Kolzig after the game. “Until we clear that up, we’re going to have nights like this.”

The Caps came out storming in the second and got the tying goal just 49 seconds into the period when Alex Ovechkin scored on his own rebound after a highlight reel rush up the ice. Washington outshot the Sabres 9-2 in the first 5:40 of the frame, and efficiently killed off a Matt Bradley slashing penalty at that stage.

Just seconds after having killed the penalty, Washington’s Michael Nylander tried to stickhandle a puck out of danger in front of his own net. But he collided with linemate Tomas Fleischmann, and the puck was left unattended in the high slot. Buffalo’s Daniel Paille collected it and made a deft pass, and the Sabres’ Jochen Hecht banged it past Kolzig to give the visitors a 2-1 lead.

Less than four minutes later, Nylander skated the puck toward the offensive zone. Instead of getting the puck in deep, he left an ill-advised drop pass for Fleischmann at the offensive blueline. The pass failed to connect and it sprung Hecht and Jason Pominville on a 2-on-1. Hecht fed a perfect pass to his linemate who was charging the net, and Buffalo had one more goal than it would need on this night.

Among all players who changed teams in free agency last summer, Nylander has more points (22) than all the others except Philly’s Daniel Briere (28). Nylander is on pace for
21 goals and 75 points this season, which would put him right in the same neighborhood he has occupied offensively in each of the last two seasons. But the slick center is also minus-13 – tied for the worst mark in the NHL at the moment – and is on pace for a minus-44.

Entering this season, Nylander was plus-94 lifetime and had not had a minus season since he was minus-9 in 1998-99.

In Friday’s win over Philadelphia, Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz committed a costly third period turnover that led to the tying goal. He has been out of the lineup since. In Saturday’s win over Carolina, blueliner Milan Jurcina committed a bad turnover in the waning seconds of the middle period rather than safely skating the puck out of his zone or passing to a teammate. It was corralled by a Hurricane and two smooth passes later Carolina’s Erik Cole skated between Jurcina and Erskine and beat Olie Kolzig for the Canes’ first goal of the game, with just 8.3 seconds left in the frame. Jurcina wasn’t in the lineup on Monday.

Don’t look for Nylander to be benched, but he has to be smarter with the puck in all areas of the ice.

“They ended up in our net,” said the Caps’ center after the game. “We’ve got to clean this up. We’ve been playing very good the last two games before this.”

Streaking –
Ovechkin’s brilliant goal in the first minute of the second period was his 17th of the season and it extended his scoring streak to nine straight games (eight goals, three assists). It is the longest current streak of its kind in the NHL. The longest scoring streak of Ovechkin’s career was 13 games, from Jan. 1 through Feb. 1 of last season.

Ovechkin fired nine shots on goal in Monday’s loss to the Sabres, bringing his league-leading total to 137.

Re-Write – In each of the last two games – both Washington wins – the Caps drew a penalty early in the first period and scored quickly on the resulting power play. When the “Bee Line” of Nicklas Backstrom, Donald Brashear and Matt Bradley drew an early penalty for the second consecutive game, the Caps had a chance to jump to another early lead with a power play strike.

Alas, it was not to be. There would be no power play magic for the Caps on this night; they were 0-for-3 with the extra man and would have to wait until the third period for their next man-advantage opportunity. The Caps managed only one power play shot on goal against the Sabres on Monday.

Ball Hockey – We’re not sure whether the ice wasn’t frozen well enough or whether it was the pucks, but Monday night’s contest at Verizon Center more closely resembled the ball hockey games of our youth than it did an NHL game played on frozen water. The puck hardly ever slid flat and true, and more often hopped about and dribbled off and over sticks like a tennis ball with a nail hole punched in it.

Asked if it was like following a bouncing ball, Hecht concurred.

"That's the way it felt out there,” he said. “It was never flat on the ice. It always seemed to stand up and move around. It was hard to handle, so you have to keep the game a little bit easier and just chip it in instead of making that nice pass."

Washington defenseman Tom Poti was even more critical of the surface.

“That’s how it is every game with this ice,” said Poti. “The ice is pretty embarrassing to say the least. The puck bounces around like a rubber ball out there. I guess it’s the same for both teams but it’s not the most ideal situation for us.”

First Cut is the Deepest – Washington is now 1-11-1 when it allows the first goal of the game. That’s the worst record in the league in that situation.

Semin, Eminger Return –
Left wing Alexander Semin was in the lineup for just the seventh time in 24 games and defenseman Steve Eminger got a sweater for just the second time in 24 contests this season in Monday’s match with the Sabres.

The scoresheet shows that both players were minus-2, but that’s not accurate. Eminger was credited with an assist on Washington’s lone goal of the night, but was not given the plus-1 he should have gotten on that tally. He should be minus-1. Eminger skated just 9:47 on the night, and took only two third period shifts totaling 1:25.

Semin looked rusty and out of sorts. He was also minus-2. Asked to assess Semin’s performance, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau responded thusly:

“I’ve never seen him play,” said Boudreau. “I have to believe he’s going to be better. I think his timing was off from talking to the assistant coaches. I think he’s looking for things to happen and they’re saying in there that game time he’s only played three games, so it’s going to take time for him.”

No Kidding Around –
With defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Dmitri Kalinin sidelined, the Sabres summoned defenseman Andrej Sekera from Rochester of the AHL. Coming into tonight, the 21-year-old Sekera was minus-7 in 11 games with the Sabres this season while averaging just 14:46 per contest.

Tonight, in the 14th game of his NHL career, Sekara was solid. He skated 21:47, the most of any Buffalo defender and the second highest ice time total he has ever logged in an NHL contest. Sekera was plus-2 and he was credited with three blocked shots on the night.

Rare Buffalo Bout –
Buffalo’s Andrew Peters and Washington’s John Erskine hooked up in a bout early in the first period, but there were far more punches thrown by both parties than punches landed.

Coming into the game, Buffalo’s five majors were the fewest in the NHL, its 107 penalties were second fewest and its 243 PIM were second fewest. Monday’s fight was just the second of the season for Peters and the first for Erskine, who became the ninth member of the Capitals top drop the gloves this season.

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