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Postseason Notebook -- February

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
Alex Ovechkin’s virtuoso performance against the Montreal Canadiens on the final day of January lifted the team’s record to 24-23-5. With 53 points, the Caps were second in the Southeast Division, just three points behind the first place Carolina Hurricanes. Washington was 14 points behind Carolina on the day (Nov. 22) Bruce Boudreau took over as Washington’s coach.  On the morning of Feb. 1, a mere nine points separated the five teams in the Southeast, and although they were only three points from the top, the Caps were also just six points from the Southeast cellar.

Having played just one of their previous 15 games against divisional opponents, the Capitals’ February slate featured six divisional games among the 13 contests on the slate. 

Opportunity Lost –
Washington certainly had the Atlanta Thrashers in a good spot coming into their Feb. 2 game, at least on paper. Winners of five straight and eight of their previous nine games at Verizon Center, the Caps were idle the previous night while the Thrashers had all they could do to come from behind twice and pull out a 5-4 home ice win over the Buffalo Sabres.

Atlanta was 3-6-1 in its previous 10 road games, and needed overtime to record two of those wins. More telling, the Thrashers came into the Feb. 2 game with a pitiful 1-8-1 record in the second of back-to-back games, and they had been outscored 53-20 in those 10 games.

Finally, Atlanta was without top goal scorer Ilya Kovalchuk, who missed his second straight game because of a knee injury. He had accounted for more than a quarter (26%) of all the Thrashers’ goals at that stage of the season.

None of that mattered. The Caps outshot the Thrashers 36-13 but everything that was in Washington’s favor on paper added up to a 2-0 loss on the ice in what was the most important game the Caps have played after Feb. 1 in the last five years.

Washington was shutout for the second time in its previous three games, and held to two or fewer goals for the fourth time in its last five.

Southeast Showdown – Back-to-back road wins on back-to-back nights in Columbus and Philadelphia on Feb. 5-6 set up a crucial Feb. 8 home date with the Hurricanes, the first meeting between Washington and Carolina in more than two months.

After the Canes edged the Caps 4-3 in Raleigh in the previous meeting between the two teams on Nov. 30, Carolina held a 13-point advantage over Washington in the Southeast standings. When the two teams finally renewed acquaintances on Feb. 8 at Verizon Center, the Caps sat atop the division, holding a slim one-point advantage over the Canes.

For the first time since Mar. 13, 2003, Washington was leading the Southeast. But the Caps were unable to add to that lead.

Power Outage –
Carolina entered the Feb. 8 game with the league’s worst penalty killing unit, and having lost one of its top penalty killers (Chad LaRose) to a broken leg in its previous game.

The Caps got their first two power play chances of the night in the first period, between Carolina’s two goals. Washington got three more extra-man chances in the second period – including a two-man advantage for 1:10 – and two in the third. By the middle of the second period, the Caps had four power play chances, more than they’d had in any of their previous six games, dating back to Jan. 23 at Toronto.

On the night, the Caps had seven power play chances against the league’s most anemic penalty killing team, the most power play opportunities they’d had in the last 22 games dating back to a Dec. 17 contest in Detroit. Having fallen into a 2-0 hole in the first period, Washington needed those power play chances to get back into the game.

The Capitals spent 11:10 on the power play, but managed just eight shots on goal. Few, if any, were memorable. Only one came during the 1:10 two-man advantage. By game’s end, the Caps’ extra-man drought had stretched to 1-for-24 (4.2%). Washington’s failure to convert cost it a chance to hold onto the lead in the Southeast Division.

“The power play defines how the game ended,” declared Boudreau afterwards. “You have to make teams pay if they’re going to take that many penalties and we didn’t and it has been a recurring problem for the last few games. I have to have guys on [the power play] that are playing it the way we’re supposed to be playing it.

“It’s something we’ve tried to address many times. Sometimes you’ve got skilled players and they always think they can make the cute play because they’ve got so much skill. But in the end, if you look at the power plays that work, it’s meat and potatoes, getting the puck to the net, crashing the net and getting ugly goals. It’s something we have to either learn or change the guys up that are on there.”

700 Club – Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig played in his 700th game in a Caps sweater on Feb. 10 against the Rangers at Verizon Center. He became the first Washington goaltender to achieve the feat and joined seven other Caps – Calle Johansson, Peter Bondra, Kelly Miller, Dale Hunter, Michal Pivonka, Mike Gartner and Rod Langway – in that distinct group.

More important than the milestone was Kolzig’s play. He was stellar from start to finish, turning in a vintage Kolzig performance and making several big stops to ensure that Washington gained at least a point on this day. The Capitals spent 12 minutes of the game playing a man short and Kolzig made nine of his 31 saves while the Rangers were on the power play.

Kolzig was named the game’s first star on Sunday for his efforts. It marked the first time Kolzig was the No. 1 star of a contest since he earned that designation in back-to-back contests on Oct. 6 and 8 against Carolina and the Islanders, respectively.

Finally, the 3-2 win over the Rangers was the 296th of Kolzig’s NHL career, tying him with former Flyers great Ron Hextall for 23rd place on the NHL’s all-time wins ledger.

Record Breaker –
The game-winner in overtime on Feb. 10 against the Rangers was the third goal of its kind for Caps defenseman Mike Green this season. With three career game-winners in overtime, he has more than any other defenseman in Caps history. Calle Johansson had two overtime game-winners during the course of his 983 games in a Capitals sweater.

Green’s three overtime goals in 2007-08 established a single-season franchise record for the most overtime game-winners in franchise history.

Washington defeated the Rangers twice in overtime at Verizon Center in 2007-08, with Green supplying the game-winner in both. His other overtime strike came in Montreal on Jan. 5.

Southeast Shuffle – Washington opened a three-game Southeast Division road trip with a 3-2 shootout loss to the Thrashers in Atlanta. The three-point outcome (two for the Thrashers and one for the Caps) left a three-team tangle atop the Southeast Division. Carolina, Atlanta and Washington were all tied with 60 points while Florida was fourth with 58 and Tampa Bay fifth with 54. The Caps had played one fewer game than both the Hurricanes and the Thrashers at that point.

“I think with the [number of] divisional games that everybody is playing I assume teams are going to be beating teams,” says Boudreau, “and there are going to be a lot of three-point games. It’s like playoff hockey from here on in. I don’t foresee any team winning the division by eight or 10 points. I just hope we’re the team that ends up ahead by one.”

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