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Postseason Notebook -- December

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
As December dawned, the Capitals found themselves at the bottom of the NHL, the Eastern Conference and the Southeast Division standings. With a record of 8-16-2 for 18 points, the Caps had four fewer than any other team in the Eastern Conference and three fewer than any other team in the league.

Nice Run for No. 1 –
The Caps got off on the good foot in December, beating the Panthers 2-1 in Florida on Dec. 1. Brent Johnson was in goal for the Caps that night, and the win started a strong personal stretch for the personable Caps goaltender.

Starting with that 24-save triumph over the Panthers, Johnson posted a record of 6-4-1 with a 2.38 goals against average and a .917 over the remainder of the season, a stretch covering 12 appearances (11 starts). Johnson finished the season one win shy of 100 for his NHL career.

Changing Habits –
Early in the season, the Caps had a bad habit of giving away leads or playing loose when ahead in games. A 6-3 win over the Thrashers on Dec. 8 at Verizon Center began to reverse that trend.

After jumping out to a 3-0 lead over Atlanta, Washington watched the Thrashers get back in the game on Todd White’s 5-on-3 goal midway through the second period. But the Caps not only killed off the subsequent 5-on-4 Atlanta power play, they roared back with two more goals of their own less than three minutes after White’s tally.

“It was a great way to answer back,” said Caps coach Bruce Boudreau after the game. “That’s probably the most impressive thing we did because in the past, from what I’ve seen since I’ve been here, if [the opposition] scores, they drop their heads a little big and the next five minutes it’s more ‘hang on’ time. This was more of a determination. They went right back at them and scored. That’s the way you have to be if you want to be successful.”

Home Cooking – Nicklas Backstrom’s first period goal on Dec. 8 vs. Atlanta was his third of the season and the third of his NHL career, but it was his first NHL regular season goal in front of the home folks at Verizon Center.

Exactly a minute after Backstrom’s goal, Jeff Schultz scored his second goal of the season, the second goal of his NHL career, and his first ever goal on Verizon Center ice.

No Power Needed – All six Washington goals came at even strength in the Dec. 8 win over Atlanta, marking the first time the Caps scored six even strength goals in a game since Mar. 18, 2007 when they downed the Lightning by a 7-1 count at Verizon Center.

Goodbye, Monkeys –
Prior to the Caps’ 3-2 win over the Devils on Dec. 10, Washington had lost 14 straight games (0-12-2) in which they’d surrendered the game’s first goal. The only previous time the Caps won in such a situation during the ’07-08 season was on Oct. 8 on Long Island when they eked out a 2-1 win after spotting the Isles a 1-0 lead.

The win over New Jersey raised the Caps’ record to 2-16-2 in games in which they trailed at some point.

The win also marked the first time all season that Washington won consecutive home games. The Caps’ previous pair of successive wins at home came on Mar. 16-18 against Toronto and Tampa Bay.

Washington’s win over the Devils was its first against New Jersey at the Phone Booth since before the lockout. Washington’s previous win over New Jersey in the District came on Feb. 19, 2004. The Caps were 0-3-1 against the Devils in their prior four meetings in the District before the Dec. 10 game.

Finally, the win over the Devils marked the first time in 2007-08 that the Caps followed a three-goal victory with a win in the next game. Dating back to the 2006-07 season, Washington had dropped seven of its last eight games immediately following victories by three or more goals.

No. 1 for No. 53 – Quintin Laing netted the game-winner on Dec. 10 against New Jersey. The goal was the first of his NHL career. He joined David Steckel, Jeff Schultz and Nicklas Backstrom as the fourth Capital to net his first career NHL goal in 2007-08.

“I’m really happy for him,” said Boudreau. “Here’s a guy that’s toiled in the minors for most of his life, from the low minors and the East Coast League to the American League and he’s getting a chance here now and for him to score the game-winning goal in an important game for us I thought was a really cool thing.”

Kid Power – Both Backstrom and Schultz scored in their second consecutive games for the first time in their young NHL careers on Dec. 10. Moreover, they scored in the same order as they did in the previous game against Atlanta. In each of those two contests, Backstrom scored Washington’s first goal of the game and Schultz supplied its second.

Even Outburst – Heading into the Dec. 12 game with the Rangers at Verizon Center, the Capitals had managed just one even strength goal in their last four meetings with the Blueshirts and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

Before Dec. 12, the Caps’ last even strength goal against Lundqvist and the Rangers was on Dec. 30, 2006 at Madison Square Garden. That Ben Clymer goal – with assists from Lawrence Nycholat and Steve Eminger – was Washington’s lone tally in a 4-1 loss. It came at 17:31 of the third period.

Tell that to Joe Motzko.

On the night that Clymer beat Lundqvist for Washington’s most recent even-strength goal against New York, Motzko was picking up three assists for the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch in a game against the Manitoba Moose out in Western Canada. On Dec. 12, Motzko scored his first goal as a Cap – and his second in the NHL – late in the first period to end Washington’s even-strength drought against Lundqvist and the Rangers at 198 minutes and 20 seconds.

The Caps had to wait just 19:56 for Motzko to notch the team’s next even-strength strike against Lundqvist and the Rangers. Those two goals were Motzko’s only tallies as a Capital; he was traded to Atlanta for Alexandre Giroux on Feb. 26.

Right in the Grapes –
Just past the 15-minute mark of the first period of the Dec. 12 game against the Rangers, Alex Ovechkin’s blast caught Lundqvist right in the, uh, groin. The Rangers goaltender was down on the ice for a few moments and Rangers head athletic trainer Jim Ramsay briefly tended to him. At that stage of the game, Lundqvist had stopped all 10 of the shots he had faced.

Exactly 30 seconds later, Motzko beat Lundqvist for Washington’s first goal of the game. Beginning with Motzko’s first goal, the Caps scored five times on 25 shots the rest of the way.

“I think Ovie hurt him a little bit with that one shot,” said Boudreau. “He looked a little slower after that. From what I gather he is such a character person he would never say it was hurting. But his movements on Schultz’s goal were a little slow I thought, from what I’ve seen on TV.”

Three in a Row –
The win over the Rangers gave Washington its first three-game home ice winning streak since Jan. 4-9, 2007. The victory also gave Olie Kolzig three straight wins for the first time since Jan. 4-9.

Washington also scored three or more goals in a game for the third straight game for the first time in 2007-08 and the first time since Mar. 15-18.

Big Night for the Big Guy – Donald Brashear dished out a first period beating to New York’s Colton Orr then followed up with a pair of pretty assists – one secondary and one primary – for his first two-point night as a member of the Capitals. Brashear’s previous two-point game in the league came on Oct. 22, 2005 when he had a goal and an assist as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers in a 5-2 win at Toronto.

First Comeback from a Deuce – Prior to Wednesday’s win, the Caps had never rallied to win from a deficit of more than one goal in 2007-08. After falling in a 2-0 first period hole, the Caps dug out and earned a win. They also notched their second straight win in a game in which they did not score the game’s first goal.

Saturday Night Special –
Brent Johnson’s Dec. 15 win over the Lightning was his second straight and his second straight in a Saturday night start. Johnson has earned 30 of his 99 career victories in Saturday night games.

Johnson is 30-14-2 with four shutouts, a 2.37 goals against average and a .914 save pct. lifetime on Saturday nights. His only shutout as a Capital came on a Saturday night, on Apr. 1, 2006 in a 1-0 Washington win at Ottawa.

He is 69-74-21 lifetime with nine shutouts, a 2.69 goals against average and an .899 save pct. on the other six days of the week combined.

This One Goes to Eleven –
Going into the Dec. 17 game at Detroit, the Caps had outshot the opposition in 11 straight road games, the longest such streak in franchise history and the longest in the NHL since the Boston Bruins outshot foes in 15 straight road contests in 2001-02. The previous best for Washington came in 1982-83 when it outshot opponents in 10 straight road games.

The Caps outshot the Wings through regulation in that Dec. 17 contest but finished even with their hosts at 30 shots apiece.

Four in Six for 55 –
Jeff Schultz’s goal in the final minute of the first period of the Detroit game was his fourth goal in six games and his fourth goal in six shots on goal.

It took Schultz 44 games to net his first NHL goal; it took him just 21 games to notch the next four of his NHL career.

Title Change –
On Dec. 26, the Caps announced that the word “interim” had been removed from the front of head coach Boudreau’s title. Then the Caps went out and defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 at Verizon Center.

“It’s a great reward for me,” said Boudreau after the game. “I wonder what other title we can have because every time it seems to work for a win. It was fabulous. I thought we deserved the win.  Again, we didn’t score the first goal but we kept on coming and kept on coming. Eventually, I think we were rewarded.”

“We’re happy for him,” said Caps defenseman Brian Pothier. “We’ve been playing hard for him since the day he got here. He’s a blue-collar, great guy. We want to go out and win for him. We accepted him right away and he had our respect and confidence right away. We felt in the room that it was inevitable, that it was going to happen.”

Gotta Be Some Kind of Record – Caps center David Steckel netted the third goal of his NHL career on Dec. 26 against the Lightning. Steckel’s first two goals also came against the Lightning, and they both came in different games against different goaltenders (Marc Denis and Johan Holmqvist, respectively). The Dec. 26 tally came against a third different goaltender, rookie Karri Ramo.

Elias Sports Bureau confirmed that Steckel is the first NHL skater to score his first three goals against different goaltenders on the same team since Edmonton’s Raimo Summanen scored his first three NHL goals against the Los Angeles Kings’ Markus Mattson, Bob Janecyk and Darren Eliot from Mar. 31, 1984 to Oct. 20, 1985. While Summanen’s goals came against three different netminders, they came over the course of only two games, not three as did Steckel’s.

Hat Plus One –
Ovechkin notched the first four-goal game of his career in the month’s final game, an 8-6 win over the Senators in Ottawa on Dec. 29. Even more impressive was the fact that the Caps star left wing played the game with a large and painful gash in his thigh, an injury sustained two days earlier in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

"Oh yeah, it was bothering me," Ovechkin admitted after the game. "It was a little bit of pain but it's okay, I feel pretty good tonight. My parents were here, they arrived from Moscow and I was excited. It was a great time."

"What impresses me most is that he actually played tonight," said Caps goalie Olie Kolzig. "If you guys would have seen the gash on his leg and I know a lot of guys were, not begging him but leaning towards, 'Hey, you think you can play tonight?' He had a lot of courage and he put on a heck of a show."

Boudreau figured if it worked once, it might work again.

"I was looking for his skate to cut his other thigh, if that's what he's going to do every game," quipped the Caps coach.

October Notebook here>>

November Notebook here>>

January Notebook here>>

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