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Postseason Notebook -- February

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
The Capitals kept up their torrid pace after the NHL’s All-Star break, firing their way to a 9-3-1 mark in February, their best record in that month since the 2000-01 Caps went 9-1-1 in the second month of the year. With nine wins in the year’s shortest month, Washington rolled into March having gone 27-9-2 in its previous 38 games.

Feb. 1 vs. Ottawa
Hats Off to Ovi –
Alex Ovechkin recorded his second hat trick of the season, the seventh of his career and the second of his career against Ottawa on Sunday to pace the Caps to a 7-4 victory over the Senators at Verizon Center. The hat trick put Ovechkin within a goal of 200 for his NHL career.

Now in his fourth NHL season, Ovechkin is on the verge of becoming just the fourth player in league history to reach the 200-goal plateau before the conclusion of his fourth season in the circuit.

Wayne Gretzky (269 goals after four seasons), Mike Bossy (241) and Mario Lemieux (215) are the only three previous NHL players to reach the 200 mark within their first four seasons in the league.

Ovechkin’s seven hat tricks place him seven on Washington’s all-time list behind Peter Bondra (19), Mike Gartner (13) and Dennis Maruk (10).

“He’s the star of the league,” said Ottawa coach Craig Hartsburg after today’s game. “People pay a lot of money to come watch him play and he performs every night. He’s certainly worth the price of admission; not for the other team, he isn’t, but certainly for the fans.”

Money is Green And Green Is Money -- Mike Green had a four-point game (one goal, three assists) on Sunday against the Sens, establishing a single-game career best for points in a game.

Green now has 40 points in just 38 games this season. At the moment, he is atop a logjam of defensemen and leads NHL blueliners in scoring. Right behind Green are Montreal’s Andrei Markov (39), San Jose’s Dan Boyle (38), the Islanders’ Mark Streit (37) and Detroit’s Brian Rafalski and Anaheim’s Scott Niedermayer (36 each).

No defenseman who spent the entire season in Washington has ever had sole possession of the scoring lead among blueliners at the end of an NHL season.

Green had five three-point games before reaching four here on Sunday afternoon against Ottawa.

An Even Dozen – Sunday’s win was the 12th of the season for Caps goaltender Brent Johnson. It was his first start since Jan. 10 and his first win in exactly a month. Johnson’s last win came by an identical 7-4 score over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Verizon Center on Jan. 1.

“He made the big save at the big time,” says Boudreau of Johnson. “That’s all we care about. It was 4-2 and [Jason] Spezza broke in on the power play and made that big save right then and that tells me that you’ve got a big league goalie.”

No. 4 With A Bullet – Ovechkin’s first-period goal was the 197th of his NHL career, putting him one ahead of Bengt Gustafsson (196) for fourth place on the Capitals’ all-time list. He now trails only Peter Bondra (473), Mike Gartner (397) and Mike Ridley (218) on the team’s all-time list. Ovechkin may be able to take Ridley down between now and season’s end.

Feb. 3 at New Jersey
Cooling Off the Devils –
Washington headed to New Jersey for a Tuesday night tilt with one of the hottest teams in the league, the New Jersey Devils. Winners of their last eight straight, the Devils had a difficult time with the Caps right from the start.

Mike Green and Brooks Laich scored power play goals in the game’s first nine minutes and Michael Nylander added an even-strength goal early in the second to give the Caps all the offense they would need. Nylander scored again in the third to notch his first multiple-goal game since Dec. 29, 2007.

The Caps won their third straight game in ending the Devils’ streak.

Feb. 5 vs. Los Angeles
200 for 8 – Alex Ovechkin netted the 200th goal of his NHL career in the third period of Thursday’s game. Although the goal went in the books as an unassisted tally, some credit should be given to Alexander Semin for some good corner work to force the turnover which led to Ovechkin’s whip of a wrister that beat L.A. netminder Jonathan Quick.

Ovechkin becomes just the fifth player in NHL history to reach the 200 milestone before playing in his 300th game in the league. Thursday was the 296th time Ovi laced up the blades for an NHL tilt. The only four players to get to 200 faster than Ovechkin are Wayne Gretzky (242 games), Mike Bossy (255), Mario Lemieux (277) and Brett Hull (280).

Among all active players in the NHL, Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne (322) is the only player besides Ovechkin to achieve the feat in fewer than 350 games.

Fast Start – Semin’s goal at the 15-second mark of the first period was the Caps’ fastest at the start of a game this season. Semin’s goal was the fastest by a Capital at the start of a game since Ben Clymer victimized Philadelphia’s Robert Esche exactly 15 seconds into a Jan. 9, 2007 game at Verizon Center.

Feb. 7 vs. Florida
Six Pack –
Green’s power play goal in the first minute of the third period gave him at least one goal in six straight games, extending the club record for defensemen he established when he scored against the Kings on Thursday.

Green’s streak is the longest by any NHL defenseman since Anaheim’s Fredrik Olausson netted a goal in five straight games from Jan. 8-18, 1999.

Green is now one game shy of matching the NHL record for most consecutive games with a goal by a defenseman. That record was established by Boston’s Mike O’Connell who tallied in seven straight games for the Bruins in January of 1984. O’Connell netted a career-high 18 goals that season.

O’Connell was chosen one pick after Caps coach Bruce Boudreau in the 1975 NHL Amateur Draft. Both players went in the third round, Boudreau with the 42nd overall pick to Toronto and O’Connell to Chicago with the 43rd choice. O’Connell was the first Chicago-born player ever to suit up for the Blackhawks.

Green’s power play goal was his 18th goal of the season, matching his single-season career high established in 2007-08. He later set a single-season best when he potted an empty-netter for his 19th of the season late in the third. Green needed 82 games to score 18 goals last season, but he has 19 goals in just 41 goals thus far in 2008-09.

With 14 power play goals, Green is two shy of Scott Stevens’ single-season team record for defensemen. Stevens had 16 power play goals in 1984-85.

Green’s empty-netter was the first shorthanded goal of his NHL career.  He earned the hardhat for his efforts on this night.

Feb. 11 at New York Rangers
More Late Killing –
Heading into the third period, the struggling New York Rangers had enjoyed the fruits of just 19 seconds worth of power play time on the night. That changed dramatically in the first half of the final frame when the Blueshirts were the beneficiaries of five straight minor penalties to Washington that came in quick succession. Included in the bunch was a double-minor to Shoane Morrisonn that resulted in New York getting a two-man advantage for 36 seconds.

With the five minors, Washington was shorthanded for 8:51 of the third period and was down two men for 36 seconds of that stretch. For the second straight game, the Capitals’ penalty killing corps came up huge and earned a point for the club.

On Saturday against the Panthers, Washington was able to navigate its way through a five-minute major whistled on Morrisonn with 5:01 remaining while clinging to a 2-1 lead. That major penalty also created a two-man advantage for the Panthers that lasted for more than a minute. Washington allowed just one shot on goal in the final five minutes of the Florida game, blocking seven shots over the same span and coming away with a 3-1 win.

Tonight in New York, the Caps killed off nearly nine minutes of shorthanded ice time in the third period without incident. The Rangers fired six power play shots on goal in the third, but Theodore and the Caps had the answer to all of them.

Two-Man Trouble --
Wednesday marked the sixth straight game in which Washington’s opponent was the beneficiary of a two-man advantage.

For the season, Capitals opponents have had 27 two-man advantages totaling 22:43. They’ve scored on nine of those 27 opportunities. Washington has had just 10 two-man advantage chances of its own, totaling exactly 10 minutes. The Caps have clicked twice in those 10 opportunities.

Lucky Seven – For the seventh consecutive game, Caps defenseman Mike Green scored a goal on Wednesday against the Rangers. For the second straight game, Green scored a pair of goals.

Green is now the co-holder of the NHL record for most consecutive games with a goal by a defenseman. He matched the mark of seven set by Boston’s Mike O’Connell in 1984.

Twenty –
Green’s first goal of the night was also his 20th of the season. He joins Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin as the third member of the Capitals to reach that plateau this season.

Green is the first Caps defenseman to score 20 goals in a season since Sergei Gonchar netted 26 in 2001-02. Green’s 2008-09 season is the 11th 20-goal campaign by a Caps defenseman in team history.

Green joins Gonchar (twice), Kevin Hatcher (twice), Larry Murphy (twice), Al Iafrate, Sylvain Cote, Robert Picard and Scott Stevens among Caps defensemen score 20 goals in a season. Hatcher holds the club record for blueliners with 34 goals in 1992-93.

Feb. 14 at Tampa Bay
Green Night –
Caps defenseman Mike Green scored a goal for the eighth consecutive game, immortalizing himself as the first NHL defenseman ever to achieve the feat. With his father Dave in attendance, the 23-year-old Calgary native scored on a Washington power play at 5:33 of the second period to erase Boston’s Mike O’Connell from the record books. O’Connell had scored in seven straight games for the Bruins in 1984.

Green is now just one game shy of matching the Washington franchise record for most consecutive games with a goal, jointly held by Alan Haworth (1985-86) and Mike Gartner (1986-87).

Green’s eight-game streak is the longest in the NHL since 1998-99 when both Miroslav Satan of the Buffalo Sabres and Teemu Selanne of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim had eight-game goal streaks.

Tonight’s goal was Green’s 15th power play tally of the season, tying him with Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek for the league lead in that category. Green is now one power play goal shy of Scott Stevens’ franchise record for most power play goals by a defenseman in a season (16).

Green leads all NHL defensemen with five game-tying goals. His plus-27 is third best among league blueliners. His 50 points is tops among NHL defensemen, and is six more than any other rearguard in the league.

Clash of the Kids, Part Deux – Washington goaltender Michal Neuvirth, a 20-year-old rookie, made his NHL debut tonight for the Caps, becoming the eighth player to achieve that distinction for the team in 2008-09. He went up against another relatively inexperienced NHL netminder, Tampa Bay’s Mike McKenna. For McKenna, tonight’s game against Washington was just the sixth of his brief NHL career.

But it wasn’t the first time Neuvirth and McKenna have gone head-to-head.

On Jan. 31 Neuvirth was in goal for the AHL Hershey Bears against McKenna and the Norfolk Admirals. Neuvrith stopped 25 of 27 shots he faced that night to best McKenna, who stopped 31 of the 35 shots he faced in a 4-2 loss to the Bears.

Neuvirth’s “welcome to the NHL” moment came early in the first when Vincent Lecavalier put the first shot on the Washington goal. The shot somehow went through Neuvirth, but trickled just wide of the far past. It wasn’t a conventional save or a pretty one, but it was Neuvirth’s first in the NHL.

Neuvirth made a legitimately strong stop on Lecavalier at 9:08 of the first when the Lightning sniper – whose 152 goals the last four seasons are fourth most in the NHL over that span – came in all alone on a breakaway. Neuvirth didn’t bite, held his ground and made a flashy glove save on Lecavalier’s bid to go high on the kid’s glove side.

At night’s end, Neuvirth had 31 saves and his first NHL victory.

Two months and a day after fellow 20-year-old freshman Simeon Varlamov notched his own first NHL win over the Habs in Montreal, Neuvirth became the second rookie goaltender to enter the win column for Washington this season.

The last time the Caps had more than one rookie goaltender record a win in a season was 2003-04 when Rastislav Stana, Maxime Ouellet and Matt Yeats all recorded their first NHL victories. The Caps have never had two rookie netminders finish the season with records better than .500. Varlamov is currently 2-0 while Neuvirth is 1-0.

Feb. 15 at Florida
Eight For The Great Eight –
Alex Ovechkin recorded his eighth career hat trick and surpassed the 40-goal plateau for the fourth time in as many seasons on Sunday as the Caps turned back the Florida Panthers by a 4-2 score in the third game of a three-game road trip.

Ovechkin’s second goal was a beauty. He was like a wide receiver, trying to achieve separation from his man – Florida defenseman Jay Bouwmeester – at the Panthers blueline while Nicklas Backstrom collected the puck behind the Washington net. Ovechkin gave Bouwmeester a bit of a slip, moving toward the wall and that was all Backstrom needed to fire a pass more than 100 feet onto Ovechkin’s stick.

Bouwmeester recovered well and angled Ovechkin off as the Caps winger carried the puck toward the net, but in doing so he also played into the cagey Russian’s hand. As he so frequently does, Ovechkin slid a snaphot between Bouwmeester’s legs. The Florida defenseman doubled as a screen, and the puck beat Panthers netminder Tomas Vokoun. The Panthers, who had been buzzing the Washington net for a good bit of the third period, were suddenly down 3-2 with just 2:31 left.

Ovechkin completed the hat trick with a clearing bid that bounced off the post and became an empty-net insurance tally. His first goal was a power play strike in the first period and the first goal of the game.

After the game, Ovechkin told the assembled media that he warned Vokoun during pre-game warm-ups that he’d be scoring two goals against him tonight. He did, and that makes six goals now in nine games during his NHL career against the Florida goaltender.

Twenty of Ovechkin’s 41 goals this season have come in the third period. Two more were scored in overtime. His 30 power play points are the most in the league. Washington is 23-2-1 in games in which Ovechkin scores a goal.

Twenty/Forty – Ovechkin’s 40-goal season is the 20th in Capitals history. Mike Gartner has five, Ovechkin and Peter Bondra each have four and Dennis Maruk has two. Bobby Carpenter, Geoff Courtnall, Dave Christian, Dino Ciccarelli and Mike Ridley each have one.

Road Warriors – The Caps completed the trip with a 2-0-1 mark, taking five of a possible six points. Washington is now 9-3-2 in its last 14 road games.

Power Disparity –
In their last eight games, the Capitals have had to face 21 third period opposition power plays, one of which was a five-minute major. During the same span, Washington has had exactly three third period power play chances of its own.

Feb. 18 vs. Montreal
Another Highlight Reel Tally –
Ovechkin added to his league-leading total with his 42nd goal of the season at 10:07 of the first, and the Great Eight also added another clip to his burgeoning highlight reel with his 205th career goal.

Ovechkin collected the puck in the neutral zone, then banked an indirect backhand pass off the wall to himself as a means of eluding Canadiens defender Roman Hamrlik. The Caps left wing then gained the attack zone and began to angle toward the middle of the ice, trying to gain position on the backchecking Kyle Chipchura.

Ovi then lost his footing but as he did, he brought the puck back and tucked it behind Price, following it to the net as he did.

“I’ve seen that [Alex’s Jan. 16, 2006 goal in Phoenix] about a thousand times,” said Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, “but I thought [tonight’s Ovechkin goal] was as amazing a goal as I’ve ever seen. To backhand it off the boards to self in full stride, and then beat it … I don’t know if you know how hard it is to go from backwards to forwards and beating a guy that’s skating after you, that’s a tremendous feat.”

Price concurred.

“I just covered the bottom half of the net like I’m supposed to,” began Price, “because he’s sitting on his butt. Somehow he found a way to get the puck off the ice when he was sitting on his [butt]. I mean, he did it against Phoenix, too. He’s a premier hockey player and athlete in sports and he does that stuff for a living. He’s just got the natural talent. He’s an unreal athlete, and he seems to pull it off quite often.”

Feb. 22 vs. Pittsburgh
Special Delivery
– Special teams was the story early in Sunday afternoon’s game as the Caps’ tenacious penalty killers and skillfully precise power play unit gave the Caps an early lead and kept the Pens from taking charge of the contest themselves. Washington won, 5-2.

Alex Ovechkin scored a power play goal to give the Caps the lead at 6:53 of the first period. Ovi’s goal was remarkably similar to a power play goal the Caps scored earlier on the current homestand. Nicklas Backstrom and Sergei Fedorov worked a give-and-go down low in the Pittsburgh zone, but instead of firing the puck into the net for a goal of his own as he did on Tuesday against Montreal, Backstrom threaded a perfect pass through the slot and set up Ovechkin for a one-timer that he promptly buried.

The Pens tied it on a 4-on-4 goal midway through the frame, but Washington’s strong penalty killing kept Pittsburgh’s power play in check and prevented the visitors from ever taking the lead.

Less than a minute after Maxime Talbot’s tally tied it, Alexander Semin’s nifty power play stick work at the top of the Pittsburgh crease undressed Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and gave the Caps a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish.

The Penguins were benefactors of each of the game’s last six power plays, but Washington’s penalty killers were brilliant. Ex-Caps defenseman Sergei Gonchar scored a power play goal with a high blocker-side blast that beat Caps goalie Jose Theodore, but that was all the Pens could muster on eight power play chances that totaled 14:02 in duration.

“They put pressure up ice,” noted Penguins interim head coach Dan Bylsma of Washington’s penalty killing corps. “When you do that, you can interrupt and delay and the the time off for the power play breakout. They’re aggressive in [the] zone. It really comes down to execution on a large part on several different plays.”

With two power play goals in just three tries on Sunday, Washington is now 13-for-36 (36.1%) with the extra man in its last 11 games. The Caps are up to 24.1% in power play efficiency on the season.

The Caps have not been above 20% in power play success for an entire regular season since 2000-01 when they finished at 21.2%. Washington’s all-time franchise record is 23.9%, established in 1984-85.

It’s Almost Over – Ovechkin scoring is a virtual death sentence to Washington opponents. Washington is now 35-2-1 in games when Ovechkin scores.

Bad Boys – In their last 11 games, the Caps have come out on the short end of an extremely large disparity in power plays.

Washington has enjoyed the fruits of 36 power plays in those 11 games, compared to a whopping 59 for the opposition. The disparity is even more ridiculous when it is isolated to include just the third period. Opponents have had 26 third period power plays to Washington’s four over the last 11 games.

On Sunday against Pittsburgh, the Pens had eight power play chances to Washington’s three, and Washington had only one full two-minute power play on the afternoon. The Penguins had three third period power plays while the Capitals had none.

Here’s a stat for you. The saintly Penguins did not face a single Washington power play in the game’s final 43 minutes. The irascible Capitals were whistled for six penalties that resulted in Pittsburgh power plays during the same stretch.

Two-Man Trouble –
Once again, the Caps had to face down a two-man disadvantage in this game, and they managed to do so without incident.

Washington’s opponents have had 28 two-man advantage opportunities good for a total of 24:20. Capitals foes have cashed in on nine of those 28 chances this season.

The Capitals have had 15 two-man advantage opportunities of their own this season totaling 10:15 in duration. Washington has not scored a goal on the two-man advantage since Nicklas Backstrom did so in Los Angeles on Nov. 20.

After 60 – The Caps are 38-17-5 at the 60-game mark of the 2008-09 season, the best mark in franchise history at that stage of the season. The Capitals have 81 points in 60 games, meaning they could play .500 hockey the rest of the way and still finish with 103 points.

Feb. 26 vs. Atlanta
First Things First –
When Alexander Semin notched a power play goal at 4:27 of the first period on Thursday against the Thrashers, it marked the 14th straight game in which Washington has scored a first period goal.

That streak is the Capitals’ longest since they scored first period goals in 14 straight games in February-March of 1990. Washington’s franchise record for most consective games with a first-period goal is 18, set in 1988-89.

Early Power –
Most of Washington’s power play opportunities in the last 13 games have come early in the contests, and as a result, most of the Caps’ power play goals during that span have also been early strikes.

The Capitals are 12-for-23 (52.2%) on the power play in the first period of their last 13 games. They are 3-for-18 (16.7%) on the power play in the second period of those same 13 games. Finally, Washington is 2-for-10 (20%) with the extra man in the third period of its last 13 games.

It’s also worth noting that four of the Caps’ 10 third period power plays in the last 13 games have come in the last two games.

Two things are at play here, and neither of them are good indicators for the home boys. Washington is drawing fewer and fewer penalties as the game wears on, an indication that the Capitals may be guilty of taking their foot off the gas a bit after the first 20 minutes.

The Caps are showing a killer instinct early in the game on the power play, converting more than half of their first period opportunities. But they seem to be content to rest on their extra-man laurels after that, rather than going for the jugular and putting teams away.

With 20 regular season games remaining, Washington needs to hone its killer instinct and start putting teams away. Skating hard for 60 minutes and routinely drawing five or six (or more) power plays a game and being relentless rather than cute on the power play in the latter stages of games would be a good start in that direction.

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