How Sweep It Is!
The last Saturday of 2007 proved fruitful for the Washington Capitals’ organization as all three teams — the Caps, the Hershey Bears and the South Carolina Stingrays — picked up big wins. I was in Hershey to witness the Bears’ 6-1 win over Norfolk, so we’ll start with that one.
Hershey netminder Daren Machesney was nicked for a goal on Norfolk’s first shot of the game, just 38 seconds into the contest. But Machesney and his mates didn’t stew about it any. Less than an hour after he hopped off a plane that took him from Philly to Harrisburg (after a previous flight brought him from Charleston, SC to Philly), Stephen Werner and linemate Andrew Gordon helped set up Grant Potulny’s tying goal on the line’s first shift of the game.
After Ben Clymer drew a pair of penalties to give the Bears a two-man advantage, Joe Motzko fired a shot past Norfolk netminder Jonathan Boutin at 8:05 of the first. That was all the offense the Bears would need on this night, but there would be more.Clymer potted a power play goal of his own at 19:24 of the first to send the Bears into the locker room with a 3-1 lead and a 15-5 advantage in shots on goal.
Early in the second, Machesney made a fabulous coast-to-coast save. He looked quick to me all night, quick on his feet and quick to his feet. The Bears started to get into some penalty trouble midway through the second, and the Admirals were sniffing about for a chance to get back in the game. Machesney never let them catch a whiff.Norfolk outshot the Bears 9-0 over a span of five and a half minutes midway through the contest, but the Hershey goaltender had the answer to all of them. Late in the second, the Ads took a bench minor for too many men on the ice. Clymer scored his second power play goal of the game just 22 seconds later, and that would be all for the Admirals on this night.
Norfolk got all of two shots on goal in the first 12 minutes of the third as the Bears whittled the clock. The visitors’ frustration deepened when Motzko stripped an Admiral in the neutral zone and patiently set up Chris Bourque for the latter’s first goal in 10 games. A few minutes later, Hershey’s Sami Lepisto drove the net only to find David Schneider’s elbow in his face. Lepisto got fired up, dropped the gloves and handled the Norfolk defenseman capably in his first AHL bout. Bears defenseman Josef Boumedienne — still sidelined with a hand injury — told me after the game that Lepisto and Schneider have competed against each other for the last four seasons in Finland.
A couple minutes after that fight, Norfolk’s Radek Smolenak tried to goad Motzko into a fight. Passing up the chance at a Gordie Howe hat trick. Motzko declined. But Louis Robitaille obliged Smolenak later, taking care of the Admirals forward just as he had already done earlier in the period with Norfolk’s Adam Henrich.
All that was left was for the clock to run out, and before it did Scott Barney scored Hershey’s fourth power play goal of the night. It was the first time this season the Bears netted more than two power play strikes in a game.
Gunning for a third straight 100-point season, the Bears are now on pace to finish with 95. They’re 10-5-0-2 under head coach Bob Woods, and they’re missing a load of key talent. I walked down the hall to catch up with some of the wounded during the second intermission and there were defensemen Tyler Sloan, Sean Collins and Boomer, forwards Andrew Joudrey, Jay Beagle, Malcolm MacMillan and Eric Fehr. Defenseman Dean Arsene hasn’t played yet this year; he was in the radio booth with my buddy John Walton.
There are a lot of talented players nursing ailments and itching to get back at it, and a lot of patchwork quilting going on down on the ice. But the Bears keep winning. And let’s not forget that goaltender Freddie Cassivi and forward Quintin Laing are currently up in Washington with the Caps.
I was keeping an eye to the Caps’ game via the internet, and was astounded by what I “saw.” The goals kept coming for both teams, and the Caps wound up on the good end of an 8-6 decision thanks to Alex Ovechkin’s first four-goal game in the NHL. I was more astounded when I came home and saw the goals and Donald Brashear’s beatdown of Chris Neil.The Caps finished December 7-3-3.
At this exact moment one year ago I was riding a train home from New York with a sick and beleaguered bunch of Capitals who had just lost their fourth game in five nights, a 4-1 loss to the Rangers in New York. The loss dropped the Caps to 16-16-7, but they were already a couple weeks past what would prove to be their 2006-07 high water mark.
This year’s model is four points behind at 15-19-5, but there seems to be more reason for optimism now than there did at this time last season. There are 14 other teams in the conference, and the Caps have yet to play Boston this season. Of their other 13 Eastern Conference foes, Washington has taken at least a point out of their most recent meeting with 11 of them (only Buffalo and Montreal fall on the outside of that list.). That’s how you move up in the standings, and the Caps are now out of the Eastern Conference Cellar for the first time since Nov. 9.
Much work remains of course, but you also get the sense that some of the Caps still aren’t playing as well as they can. Get some of them up to more established levels of consistency, keep up the development of some of the young guys, and get Chris Clark, Brent Johnson and Fehr back to health and it’ll be interesting to see what they can accomplish over the season’s final 43 games.
Here are a few noteworthy items from Saturday’s 8-6 win over the Sens in Ottawa:
* Fourteen goals were scored in Saturday night’s game. In 1997-98, the Caps and Sens combined for 15 total goals in the four-game season series between the two teams.
* Six of Caps’ previous seven four-goal performances were from Peter Bondra. The most recent of those was on Dec. 27, 2000 against the Sens in Ottawa.
* The Caps’ last four-goal performance at home was also courtesy of Bondra, in a 10-1 win over the Lightning at MCI Center on Feb. 3, 1999.
* The last time the Caps and an opponent combined for as many as 14 goals in a game was Jan. 11, 2003 in a 12-2 Washington win over Florida.
* Washington is 5-2-3 in its last 10 games. Only one Eastern Conference team has accumulated more points than the Caps’ 13 in their last 10 games: Ottawa with 15.
* The Caps have swept the Sens on the road for first time since 1995-96 when they outscored them in two games by a combined 8-5 in Ottawa, one fewer goal than was scored on Saturday night.
* The Caps have a chance for their first winning season series vs. Ottawa since 1999-00 when Washington went 3-1 in four games, during which each team scored nine goals.
Finally, how about a big shout out to coach Jared Bednar, captain Cail MacLean and the boys down in South Carolina? Despite losing goaltender Davis Parley, defenseman Grant McNeill and forwards Werner and Steve Pinizzotto to Hershey in the previous 36 hours, the Stingrays went into Charlotte on Saturday night and got four first-period goals on their way to a 5-2 win.The victory was South Carolina’s 10th in succession, matching a franchise record. South Carolina set a new franchise mark on Sunday when it recorded its 11th straight win, a 13-round, 3-2 shootout win at home against Gwinnett. The Rays are now tied for third just four points behind second-place Gwinnett in the ECHL’s South Division standings. The juggernaut Texas Wildcatters lead that division comfortably with a stunning 24-2-1-4 record.