Backstrom Wins it for Blue in Double OT
It was just a scrimmage at a meaningless summer development camp scrimmage in July. But for us shootout haters, it was bliss. Nicklas Backstrom’s goal in the second overtime gave Team Blue a 3-2 triumph. The final of the four camp scrimmages takes place Saturday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex at 4:30.
After a 60-minute running clock battle, the Blue and White teams skated to a 2-2 tie at the ’Plex on Friday. This was surprising insofar as more than half the game was played on special teams, not because so many penalties were called (in fact, none were) but because the two sides agreed to spend about half the game trading power play chances. Every player on both sides got ample opportunity to show what he could do on both the penalty killing and the power play units. The PK was well ahead of the PP, as the score showed. To the best of my recollection, only two of the five goals were scored in 5-on-4 situations.
Team Blue started the scoring early in the contest. The line of Brett Bruneteau, Travis Morin and Jeff Lovecchio was particularly impressive most of the day, and a strong early shift resulted in a goal. Bruneteau did some good work with the puck, skating around in the offensive zone and eluding defenders. He and his mates were then able to work the puck back to the blueline. After White goaltender Dan Dunn made the stop on a point shot, Lovecchio pounced on a rebound and banged it in.
Shortly thereafter, Team White’s Sean Backman found himself skating in with speed on a 2-on-1 that was threatening to become a 3-on-1. Backman had options, and he took a quick look around. Having sized up the possibilities, he did the right thing. He shot, and put a hard, accurate wrister into a small opening. Short side, glove side. Goal scorer’s goal, as they say.
The festival of power plays then ensued, but neither team was able to convert on its numerous power play bids during the remainder of the first half.
In the second half, Lovecchio narrowly missed another chance to score. Defenseman Viktor Dovgan wound up with the rebound several feet in from the blueline. He curled off and saw Morin open on the right side. Dovgan slid him a perfect pass; Morin wound up and one-timed into the cage behind goaltender Justin Mrazek.
Once again, White wasted little time in answering. With the potent and skilled duo of Karl Alzner and Josh Godfrey on the points, White found a way to solve Blue goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who had not surrendered a goal in either of the previous two scrimmages. Alzner slid a pass across to Godfrey who drilled a blast that hit the crossbar and dropped to the ice behind Neuvirth. Kyle Wilson was camped at the doorstep and he banged it home before Neuvirth could even figure out where it was.
Right after Wilson scored, Osala chimed one off the post to Neuvirth’s right.
After a five-minute 4-on-4 overtime session failed to produce a victor, the two teams went to a second five-minute session of 3-on-3 hockey. A couple shifts later, it was over. Backstrom was on the ice with Francois Bouchard, who had another impressive outing. Backstrom seemed to have a bit more jump to his step than the rest of the skaters at that point; he made a strong backcheck to strip a rushing forward of the puck on the bench side of the surface. Backstrom was still in his own end of the ice — but on the opposite side of the bench — and he and Bouchard had both been out for a long shift. Instead of skating off for a change, he saw Bouchard skate the puck out of the zone and Backstrom turned on the jets. A 2-on-1 developed, and Bouchard threaded a perfect pass across. Not content to one-time the pass on goal, Backstrom took the puck, drove the net, deked goaltender Simeon Varlamov and flipped it over the prone goaltender to end the game.
Death to the shootout, please.
Here are some other random observations from the day’s activity:
Theo Ruth continued to pick his bodychecking spots well. Bryan Lerg was again impressive with the puck. After one sequence where Lerg glided across the middle with the disc and went behind the cage looking to create something, Ruth rubbed him out.
Alzner made two strong “keeps” at the blueline on the same shift while his team was on the power play. He again had a good day and stood out as one of the headiest players on the ice. While his team was on the power play, Alzner did a good job of serving as a conduit between his team’s forwards and the stick blade of Godfrey. Don’t forget, Godfrey is the guy who possesses the 99.7 mph slapshot.
Justin Taylor did something to incur the ire of big Joe Finley, but wanted no part of a potential tussle as the two went off for a change. Smart move.
Stephen Werner had one of the better shorthanded scoring chances of the day, skating in with speed and getting a shot off.
Wilson’s relative wealth of experience (four years of college hockey, a year pro and a long playoff run at Hershey) was evident. He knocked the stick out of Andrew Glass’s hands at one point while the latter was looking to get something started in the offensive zone. Wilson’s goal came from being in the right spot at the right time, and he also showed that knack quite a bit in his own end today.
Two of Hershey’s “black aces” during the 2007 Calder Cup playoffs — defenseman Jamie Hunt and forward Andrew Gordon — were spotted jostling for position in front of the net during a power play sequence.
Neuvirth was again impressive in goal. He moved laterally to make a stellar stop on Osala on an odd-man rush. In the first overtime, he made a brilliant save to deny Lerg, who had been sprung on a breakaway by a sharp Backman pass.
Washington may be up in the air as to its plans for the young goaltenders in its system for 2007-08, but there’s no doubt in Neuvirth’s mind as to where he wants to be. He told a couple of reporters after the scrimmage that he wants to play pro this season, and would rather play a handful of games as a pro backup than play 60 games in the OHL. His English has improved greatly, and he told us he took lessons almost every day while he was in Plymouth last season. He is very confident in his ability, and from what we’ve seen of him this week, there is no reason why he shouldn’t be.