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Postseason Notebook -- November (pt. 1)

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
After starting the month of November with a pair of road losses at Buffalo (5-0) and at Ottawa (2-1 in overtime), the Caps came back to Verizon for some home cooking. And as was the case early in the 2008-09 season, they were cooking at home. Washington used a three-game homestand to fuel a five-game winning streak, a run that helped cushion a 2-4 finish to the month when injuries began to batter the team.

Left wing Alex Ovechkin missed the Buffalo game because he was in his native Russia visiting his ailing grandfather, and he did not record a point in the game against the Senators. But Ovechkin put on quite a show during the remaining games in November. He collected at least a point in 11 of his next 12 games, and totaled 11 goals and 25 points in 14 games for the month. His performance earned him the NHL’s First Star of the Month for November.

Nov. 6 vs. Carolina
No Johnny Come Lately –
Some will point to Brent Johnson’s performance in goal on Thursday and note that the Washington netminder has turned in two straight solid performances. While that is true, it’s also very shortsighted. The truth is, Johnson has been very good between the pipes for the Capitals for almost a calendar year now.

Thursday’s start marked his 17th appearance and 15th start since Bruce Boudreau took over as Caps head coach last Nov. 22. Including his win over Carolina, Johnson is now 8-5-3 with a 2.37 GAA and a .919 save pct. during that span.

More impressively, Johnson has done more with less. In Boudreau’s tenure as bench boss, the Caps have averaged 3.1 goals per game. But in Johnson’s 15 starts, the Caps have averaged just 2.6 goals per game. Furthermore, two of Johnson’s four regulation losses during that stretch have come in relief efforts.

So, despite getting half a goal less per game in offensive support than the rest of the Caps’ netminders over the last year, Johnson has posted an 8-3-3 record in his last 15 starts.

They Drew It Up That Way – Thursday night’s game against Carolina marked the fourth time in a dozen games this season that Washington has surrendered a goal against on the first shot it has faced in a contest. The Capitals are now 3-1 in games in which they give up a goal on the first shot on goal of the night.

Washington is now 4-2-1 when it surrenders the game’s first goal and 2-2-1 when it scores the game’s first tally.

Nov. 8 vs. New York Rangers
Johnny Three Times –
Saturday night marked the first time Caps goaltender Brent Johnson had started three consecutive games since March 9-12, 2007. He suffered a loss in each of those games, but is 2-0-1 on his current starting run.

Johnson was brilliant again on Saturday, earning one of the game stars for the third time in as many games. The third star against Ottawa on Tuesday and again on Thursday against Carolina, Johnson was the first star on Saturday against the Rangers. He stopped 28 of the 29 shots he faced with only Aaron Voros’ third period shot eluding him.

In each of the last three games, Johnson has been especially great after the game’s first 40 minutes. He has stopped 41 of 43 shots (.953 save pct.) in the third period and overtime of the last three games. Johnson is 3-0-2 in his five starts this season, and he has a 1.76 GAA and a .942 save pct. in those five contests.

Johnson dusted off his trademark pokecheck on Johnny Bower’s birthday (see below), denying Chris Drury on a third period penalty shot bid. Johnson has stopped two of three penalty shots he has faced in his NHL career.

Finally, Johnson helped the Caps earn a win against one of the NHL’s elite goaltenders. New York’s Henrik Lundqvist was brilliant in his own right tonight, making several stellar stops. Coming into the game, Lundqvist had allowed two or fewer goals in seven straight (make it eight) and 11 of 13 (make it 12 of 14) on the season. Lundqvist did his job on this night, but Johnson was a shade better.

Blueline Bonanza – In the season’s first five games, Washington defenseman combined for five goals and eight assists for 13 points with a combined plus-8. In their next six games, Caps blueliners managed just one goal and three assists for four points while posting a minus-6.  In their last two games, the Caps rearguard corps has combined for a goal and three assists and a plus-4.

Nov. 10 vs. Tampa Bay
The Return of Godzilla –
After this morning’s skate, Lightning goaltender Olie Kolzig admitted to some nervousness before facing his former Washington teammates for the first time tonight, saying he probably hasn’t been this nervous since his first NHL game (Oct. 11, 1989).

“It will probably be one of my harder games,” the ex-Caps goaltender admitted. “I’ve never been in this situation before where you’re playing against your old teammates. I’ve got 20 close friends on the other side but I’ve got 20 new ones here and we’re here to win a hockey game. So I’ve got to try to keep my emotions in check and just focus on stopping the puck. They’re obviously a potent offensive team and we’ve got to do everything we can to shut them down tonight.

“I think I’ll be into it once I face my first shot and kind of settle down.”

Kolzig didn’t see that first shot until 8:20 of the first period, and that shot from Caps defenseman Tom Poti beat him. The second shot – from defenseman Mike Green – also went into the Tampa Bay net. When Eric Fehr scored the Caps’ third goal of the first period on the team’s seventh shot at 16:24, Washington had all the goals it would need on this night.

The goals weren’t Kolzig’s fault, either.

“They weren’t the Islanders of ‘84 by any stretch,” said Lightning coach Barry Melrose after the game. “They had three scoring chances and they put them in. It wasn’t what they were doing; we were awful.

“It was brutal. After the game I told the guys, ‘Why try when you are down three to nothing? Why do it then?’ I was very disappointed in the play. It was very disappointing to play like that in front of Olie (Kolzig) in Washington.

“We have a lot of guys who have to do some soul searching. We have a lot of players who aren’t playing well right now. You see how well you can play, until they do it for 60 minutes, that’s where we will have problems. We’re a good team and when you come in here just swinging a stick check and nobody’s hitting anybody, you say ‘excuse me’ when you go to the net, it’s what’s going to happen.

“If I’m those guys, I can’t look Olie in the face. Probably the biggest game he’s played in years and they show up and do that for him. Those guys should all be hiding their eyes when they walk by Olie Kolzig tonight.”

The large crowd 17,932 was into it. They threw out a louder and heartier “O” than usual during the anthem. They joined in an abbreviated “O-lie, O-lie” chant immediately after the anthem. And they responded with a warm standing ovation when a 90-second tribute video to Kolzig was shown on the scoreboard after the first television timeout.

“It was great (the fan support),” said Kolzig. “It felt like old days. I really didn’t pay much attention to the video. It was really nice, but I’m not a big fan of being the center of attention, but it was really nice that they did that. I was flattered by the reception I got, but it’s time to move on. It will never be just another road game, but it won’t be as emotional as today.

“I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t nervous but that really didn’t have anything to do with spotting them three goals. I would have liked to have stopped one of those first two goals. My head was scrambled a little after the first two goals. I just told myself to keep battling. It was a bad start. We’ll just have to move on.”

Quote of the Year – Asked after the game what adjustments his team made during intermission after a brutal start, Lightning coach Barry Melrose deadpanned: "We sang 'Kumbaya' around the fire after the second period."

Drought Stopper –
Ovechkin scored a pair of goals in Washington’s home opener against Chicago on Oct. 11, but had not tallied since until netting the Caps’ fourth goal of the night against the Lightning. In between, Washington scored 33 goals 11-plus games without any goal contributions from Ovechkin. It’s the longest goal drought of Ovechkin’s career, and the most consecutive goals the Capitals have ever scored without help from No. 8.

Nov. 12 at Carolina
Young Guns Blazing –
Alexander Semin (two goals, three assists) set a career high with five points as the Caps cruised to a 5-1 win over the Hurricanes in Raleigh. Linemates Nicklas Backstrom (one goal, three assists) and Alex Ovechkin (one goal, two assists) also had multiple-point nights as did defenseman Mike Green (goal, assist) as the Caps claimed their fourth straight win.

Nov. 14 vs. New Jersey
A Big Tally –
When the New Jersey Devils last visited Verizon Center on Oct. 18, the Capitals nursed a 2-1 lead into the third period. Washington ended up losing that one, 4-3 in the shootout. It remains the lone blemish on the team’s home record in its last 14 dates at Verizon; the Caps are 13-0-1 since last losing in regulation at home on Mar. 9.

In tonight’s dance with the Devils at Verizon, the Capitals held a precarious 1-0 lead into the late minutes of the second frame. With 89 seconds remaining in the middle stanza, the Caps collected a key goal. Tomas Fleischmann netted his fifth of the season to double the Washington lead and give the Caps some needed breathing room against the defensive-minded Devils heading into the game’s final 20 minutes.

It would prove to be a big goal.

“I was very concerned about getting that second goal,” said Caps coach Bruce Boudreau after the game. “I didn’t want to keep it 1-0 because they were coming too close. I wanted to get the second goal to at least give us a little bit of breathing room.”

For Fleischmann, the goal was a nice reward after having had several strong chances and playing very well over the last few games.

“Fleischmann deserved the goal,” said Boudreau. “I thought he was by far the best player on the ice tonight on both teams. If he had any luck, he would have had a five-point night tonight. But we’ll take him playing like that on a consistent basis. It gives you so much depth on the second line.”

The 500 Club – Viktor Kozlov’s assist on Fleischmann’s second period goal was the 500th career point for the big Russian. Kozlov – a former Devil – now has 186 goals and 314 assists in 841 career NHL contests.

Two or Fewer – Friday night’s win over New Jersey marks the sixth consecutive game in which Washington has held its opponent to two or fewer goals. That is the longest such streak the Caps have put together within the confines of a single season since they reeled off six straight games with two or fewer goals against from Nov. 22-Dec. 2, 2000. The Caps went 5-1 during that run.

The Capitals allowed two or fewer goals in three straight games to end the 2006-07 campaign and in three straight games to start the 2007-08 season.

The last time Washington allowed two or fewer goals in as many as seven straight games was a seven-game run from Feb. 1-13, 1999.

Nov. 15 at New Jersey
Stolen Point –
Alex Ovechkin’s goal in the final second of regulation enabled the Caps to steal a point in the game, but Washington ultimately dropped a 6-5 shootout decision to the Devils. Ovechkin had two goals and an assist and Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and four assists, including a brilliant pass on the game-tying goal.

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