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Postseason Notebook -- November (pt. 2)

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
Nov. 19 at Anaheim

Eight is Great in Anaheim –
In his first visit to Anaheim nearly three years ago (Jan. 13, 2006), Caps left wing Alex Ovechkin recorded the first hat trick of his NHL career to help propel the Caps to a 3-2 overtime win over the Ducks.

In tonight’s second visit to Anaheim’s Honda Center, Ovechkin was involved in each of Washington’s first four goals in a 6-4 Capitals win. The star Washington winger assisted on his team’s first three goals here tonight and scored the fourth. After being involved in seven straight Washington goals in this building, Ovechkin watched as the Caps’ Matt Bradley and Dave Steckel, respectively, tallied his team’s last two goals.

With his four-point effort on Wednesday night, Ovechkin has moved into a tie for fifth place on the league’s scoring ledger. He has 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists) in 16 games on the season and his plus-18 mark leads the NHL.

Ovechkin has a five-game goal streak going and he has had multiple point in each of those games and six of the last seven as well.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Ovechkin is the first Capitals player to register at least one goal and two points in each of five consecutive team games since Dennis Maruk in 1980-81 (five games).

In his last five games, Ovechkin has six goals, eight assists and is plus-12.

Nov. 20 at Los Angeles
Streaking –
Washington’s run of points in consecutive games had reached eight (6-0-2) prior to Thursday night’s loss in L.A. That stretch was the team’s longest since it went 10-0-2 in a stretch of a dozen games from Jan. 28-Feb. 24, 2001.

The Capitals’ string of four straight road games with at least a point (2-0-2) also came to an end.

On the positive side of the ledger, Ovechkin collected an assist to run his scoring streak to six games (six goals, nine assists). Backstrom extended his career high scoring streak to seven games (four goals, 10 assists. And Kozlov now has a four-game scoring streak (one goal, four assists) going.

From the Elias Sports Bureau –
Going into Thursday’s game with the Kings, Ovechkin had scored 14 points over his last five games (six goals, eight assists), with at least one goal and one assist in each game. Ovechkin is the first Capitals player to score 14 points over a five-game span since Mike Gartner in February 1987. He’s the first player on any NHL team with 14 or more points over a five-game span since the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin had 15 points in five games last season (Feb. 2-10, 2008).

Nov. 24 at Minnesota
Missed It By That Much –
Washington closed out a four-game trip out west on a tough note on Monday in Minnesota, dropping a 4-3 decision to the Wild. Washington was down 2-0 after two periods of play, and was behind 4-0 just over seven minutes into the third period. Down four goals in the final game of the road trip and missing seven regular players (more on that in a bit), the Capitals staged an improbable rally in the last six minutes of the game, a rally that fell one tally short.

With just four able-bodied defensemen and 10 able-bodied forwards available for duty, the Capitals put the defensively stingy Wild on its heels and scored three goals in a span of 3:33. Nicklas Backstrom’s goal at 18:16 pulled the Caps to within one, but Washington was unable to get any more shots on net in a bid for the equalizer after that point, even after pulling goaltender Jose Theodore in favor of an extra skater.

Eric Fehr and Matt Bradley combined to break Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom’s shutout spell at 14:43 of the final frame. Fehr drove the puck down the left wing wall, carrying the disc just out of the reach of a Minnesota defender who was draped all over him. Fehr cut toward the goal and got a shot off, and Bradley was able to sweep the rebound behind Backstrom to put the Caps on the board.

Just 84 seconds later, Alex Ovechkin came down the same wall and beat Backstrom clean with a perfectly placed snapshot. About a minute later, the Caps earned a rare (on this night) power play and cashed in when Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom beat his near-namesake with just 1:44 remaining on the clock. Backstrom’s goal was the Caps’ third in a span of five shots.

“We were putting pressure on throughout the game,” said Fehr after the game. “but we just couldn’t quite seem to get pucks all the way to the net. They were blocking a lot of shots. But I think after we got that first goal it was a relief off our shoulders and guys realized we were still in it.”

Although Washington’s comeback bid fell short, the Caps came away from Monday’s game feeling good about themselves. Mentally, anyway.

“You know what? I am going to be able to go to sleep pretty easily tonight,” said center Brooks Laich. “I am happy with our guys. We battled hard. We lose guys to injury, the guys in the lineup stayed in the lineup and played through injury. I am proud of our guys for the effort they gave on a short bench on a long road trip.”

Wounded Soldiers –
As if losing the game wasn’t bad enough, Washington also lost four more players to injury during the course of Monday’s game. That’s in addition to the three players (forwards Sergei Fedorov and Alexander Semin and defenseman Mike Green) who sidelined with injuries when the game started.

Defenseman Jeff Schultz suffered a broken finger on his right hand early in the first period after taking just three shifts. Schultz will be out of the lineup 4-6 weeks. Heading into Monday’s match in Minnesota, Schultz was third among Caps defensemen with an average of 20:38 per game in ice time.

Shortly after Schultz’s departure, center Boyd Gordon left the game with back spasms. He is currently listed as day-to-day.

Already down a defenseman, the Caps dropped to four healthy blueliners on the bench when John Erskine was sidelined with an undisclosed injury in the second period and did not return. Laich took some shifts on defense in the third period just to give the four remaining healthy rearguards an occasional rest.

Caps captain Chris Clark took just one shift lasting 46 seconds in the third period. After the game, I was told we would learn more about his status on Wednesday. Washington will not practice on Tuesday; the team next takes the ice for a morning skate at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Wednesday at 10 a.m. in preparation for its game that night against the Atlanta Thrashers.

Between now and then, Washington will certainly need to summon a replacement player or players from AHL Hershey, which hosts Binghamton at Giant Center on Wednesday night. The Caps’ game against Atlanta begins a stretch in which Washington plays three games in four nights. The Capitals will have Thanksgiving Day off before playing host to Montreal on Friday and traveling to Columbus on Saturday.

Nov. 26 vs. Atlanta
The Eight Train –
Alex Ovechkin was a man possessed on Wednesday. He played 21:32 to lead the team, recorded a hat trick and an assist, fired 19 shots (five were blocked, eight missed the mark and six went on goal), laid a pair of hits, earned the team’s hard-hat as the game’s hardest working player and took over the team scoring lead, passing teammate Alexander Semin.

Ovechkin erupted for his eighth multiple-point game of the season on Wednesday. He now has 10 goals and 24 points in his last 11 games and has a dozen goals and 29 points on the season. Ovechkin leads the NHL with 16 even strength points in the month of November.

Coming into Wednesday’s game, Ovechkin had just one power play goal on the season. He tripled that total with a pair against the Thrashers. Ovechkin’s 47 hits in November are second only to the 52 recorded by Boston’s Milan Lucic this month.

The hat trick was the sixth of Ovechkin’s career and his second against Atlanta. He now has 23 goals and 44 points in 26 career games against the Thrashers.

New Blood – With their roster depleted because of a spate of injuries, Washington recalled four players – defensemen Karl Alzner and Sami Lepisto and forwards Chris Bourque and Graham Mink – from its AHL Hershey affiliate today.

Nov. 28 vs. Montreal
A Zero for 60 –
Jose Theodore stopped all 28 shots directed his way on Friday night against his old team, the Montreal Canadiens. In doing so, he helped the Washington Capitals claim a pair of standings points  in a 3-0 win and he earned the hardhat for his workmanlike effort between the pipes.

Playing just his second career game against his original NHL team (he gave up eight goals the first time he faced Montreal), Theodore was tremendous. He made several stellar stops and was at his best in the second period when the young and inexperienced defense playing in front of him frequently had difficulty getting the puck out of its own end in a smooth and efficient manner.

Theodore made 13 of his 28 saves in the middle frame when the Caps were clinging to a precarious 1-0 advantage. During one stretch of 9:30 in the middle of the middle frame, Theodore and the Caps were outshot by a 10-0 count. Had any one of those shots found its way past the Caps goaltender, a different game may have evolved from that point.

Even with the shutout, Theodore’s save pct. is .893 and his GAA is 3.01. Neither of those figures will place him among the NHL’s top 30 in either category. But he is 8-4-1 this season, and he is tied for 11th in the league in wins.

Although the NHL has devolved to the point where it awards standings points for shootout wins and losses, it still does not (not yet, anyway) award standings points for pretty save percentages or awesome goals against averages. Wins still matter most, especially when you defeat the NHL’s Eastern Conference All-Star Team.

“Seeing these young guys, with not a lot of experience come in and play with a lot of exposure, motivated me to make the next save,” says Theodore. “At this time of year, when you can get two points with key guys missing, is huge. I was seeing the puck well in the first period. Even though I didn’t get a lot of shots early on, I knew I would need a good shot to beat me. The guys did a great job. I was seeing the puck and I was able to react.”

Theodore has now won consecutive starts for the first time in a month, since he defeated Dallas in a 6-5 overtime tilt on Oct. 25 and followed up with a 4-3 shootout win over Nashville on Oct. 28. The shutout was his first as a Capital and his first regular season whitewash since March 24, 2008 when he was a member of the Colorado Avalanche.

Theodore’s shutout ended a dubious streak in which Washington had allowed at least one goal in 13 straight periods heading into Friday’s game.

Hanging a Moon on Montreal – Theodore’s Friday night whitewash of the Habs was the first Caps shutout since Cristobal Huet blanked the Florida Panthers in South Florida on March 29, 2008.

It was Washington’s first shutout at home in more than a year, since Olie Kolzig blanked the Carolina Hurricanes in Washington’s 2007-08 home opener on Oct. 6, 2007.

It was the Caps’ first shutout of the Habs since Kolzig blanked them 3-0 on Feb. 26, 2000 in Montreal.

It was the first whitewash of the Canadiens on District ice since Dec. 26, 1995 when Jim Carey was in goal for a 4-0 Washington win at USAir Arena. In Carey’s shutout nearly 13 years ago and this one, the Caps had five shutout wins in Montreal from three different goaltenders: Carey, Rick Tabaracci and Kolzig.

It was Theodore’s second shutout in this building. The first was a 1-0 win over Washington on Dec. 13, 1999 while he was with the Canadiens. That game was such a walk in the park for Theodore that he needed to make only 19 stops and was not named as one of the game’s three stars afterwards.

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