Caps Keep on Keeping On

On Saturday night at Verizon Center, the Caps grabbed a 3-0 lead before letting the Florida Panthers even the score and get back into the game. But after retaking the lead on Alexander Semin’s power play goal late in the second period, the Caps crushed any hopes the Swamp Cats had of getting back into the game again.

The Caps outshot the Panthers 7-0 to start the third period, and by then Washington had increased its lead to 5-3. The Capitals kept the pressure on and never for a second let Florida think it had any hope of leaving the Phone Booth with as much as a point. It was a great win for many reasons, some of which we listed in the postgame notebook after it ended.

Two nights later, the Caps won another game, another big game, and they did so in completely different fashion. Sure, the 6-5 shootout win over Pittsburgh was a high-scoring affair, as a lot of the Caps’ games have been lately. But that’s the only similarity, that and the hugeness of it. They’re all huge for the Caps these days, as they are for most of the teams around the NHL.

This time the Caps won in a hostile environment where they had not won in more than five years and where they had won only once in the last nine seasons. They came from behind, they overcame adversity, some spotty officiating, injuries and a pair of power plays in overtime, almost always a death knell. (Since the advent of the 4-on-4 overtime, I’d love to know how many teams have had consecutive and/or overlapping power plays in the extra session. And I’d love to know how many of those teams’ opponents managed to escape without being scored upon. My guess is somewhere around five percent.)

Their best players were their best players. Their kids played like vets. Quintin Laing continued to amaze. And even though Olie Kolzig made fewer saves (10) than Alex Ovechkin had shots on goal (11), Kolzig played a Gerry Cheevers-style game and made sure the Caps didn’t come up empty by denying Evgeni Malkin’s hat trick bid in the waning minutes of regulation. After that, Laing, David Steckel, Jeff Schultz, Ovechkin and Semin took care of the rest.

No captain (Chris Clark), no first-line center (Michael Nylander), missing two top four defensemen (Shaone Morrisonn and Brian Pothier). No matter, Washington still got the two points. Nice to win in that building, even nicer because Carolina won an overtime decision earlier in the day after the New York Islanders hairballed a two-goal lead in the third period.

When it was all said and done, the Caps packed up those two points and headed off to Toronto where they’ll take on the Leafs on Wednesday. A win at the ACC that night will give the Caps their first five-game winning streak since Mar. 3-11, 2001. That long ago streak included two wins over the Penguins, including one of only two (well, three now) the Caps have managed at the Igloo in the last nine seasons. The Caps are the only team in the NHL that has gone that long between five-game winning streaks. Twenty-five of the 30 teams have won five straight at least once since the lockout.

While the Caps have not won five straight since before Dainius Zubrus first donned a Caps sweater, they’ve avoided losing two straight in regulation for 27 straight games now, their longest such streak in eight years. Washington closed out the 1999-00 season by going its last 49 games (!), from Dec. 27, 1999 through Apr. 9, 2000 without losing successive games in regulation. The Caps went 32-9-7-1 during that stretch and finished with 102 points and a Southeast Division title. That team stands as the best regular season Caps team in the last two decades.

While that sort of excellence might prove a reach for This Year’s Model, there are some fairly noteworthy things about this team and its players of late. So we’ll note some of them here, in no particular order.

This marks the latest stage of the season at which the Caps have been above the break-even point (22-21-5) since 2002-03, the last time they reached the playoffs.

After a dismal 1-7 stretch at home earlier in the season, the Caps are now 10-4-1 in their last 15 at home.

Washington is averaging 2.94 goals per game, seventh in the league. The 3.48 goals per game the Caps have averaged under Boudreau would be tops in the league. The Capitals have scored four or more goals in eight of their last 10 games.

The Capitals are one road win away from matching their total of road wins (11) for the entire 2006-07 season. Washington is currently 10-10-4 away from Verizon Center. The last time the Caps earned more points than games played on the road was in 1995-96 when they went 18-17-6 away from USAir Arena.

The Caps have won more face-offs than their opponents in seven of their last nine games. They are at 56.3% in the face-off circle in those nine games.

Bruce Boudreau has won 16 games faster than any coach in Caps history. He has more wins than the first three Caps coaches (Jimmy Anderson, Red Sullivan and Milt Schmidt) combined to earn (11) and is already more than a third of the way to Bruce Cassidy’s total (47).

The Caps are 7-1 without Nylander. Washington’s power play is 8-for-22 (36.4%) in the four games since Nylander left the lineup. There’s no doubt that they are a better team with a healthy Nylander in the lineup, but guys have been stepping it up and getting it done in his absence.

Semin’s current pace translates to about 32 goals in an 82-game season, not far from his 2006-07 pace. He tied for fourth in the NHL with 17 power play goals last season, but only two of Semin’s 11 goals this season have come on the PP.

Ovechkin leads the league with 38 goals and he has played two fewer games than Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk, who has 37 goals. He also leads the league with 16 power play goals. Ovechkin’s 62 points are just two off the league-leading total of 64 (Vincent Lecavalier of Tampa Bay). The Caps’ left winger is threatening the team’s all-time marks for power play goals in a season (Peter Bondra’s 22) and goals in a season (Dennis Maruk’s 60).

Mike Green has six goals and 12 points in nine games in January, leading all NHL defensemen. Green leads all NHL defensemen with 14 goals.

Green has 11 goals, 23 points and a +3 rating in the 27 games since Boudreau took over behind the bench. He has led the team in ice time 13 times in the last 20 games, and has skated more than 25 minutes in 13 of the last 15 games, including a career-high 31:13 Thursday night against Edmonton.

Nicklas Backstrom is the first rookie in NHL history to record back-to-back four-assist games. Since Thanksgiving, he leads all NHL rookies with 31 points (eight goals, 23 assists) in 27 games. He now leads the team with 31 assists. Backstrom’s 40 points are second only to Chicago’s Patrick Kane (45) among all NHL rookies.

Backstrom had 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 13 games in December, and was named the league’s rookie of the month for his efforts. He has 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) in nine January games to date. Ovechkin was the NHL’s rookie of the month in December 2005 and January 2006 on his way to earning the 2006 Calder Trophy as the league’s top freshman.

Kolzig is seven wins shy of 300 for his career and Brent Johnson is three victories away from 100.

Kolzig is 7-1-2 since Dec. 22. You can point to his less than stellar peripheral numbers if you like, but they don’t deduct any standings points for those. And it’s not polite to point.

Johnson is 4-1 in his last five starts, and has allowed as many as three goals only once in those five outings.

After scoring four goals in his first 46 games, Viktor Kozlov needed just two games to get his next four goals. Coming into this season, Kozlov had averaged 19-30-49 per 82 games over the course of his NHL career. He is currently on a 14-38-52 pace in 2007-08.

Boyd Gordon has two goals and nine points in 11 games since coming off IR in late December.

Tomas Fleischmann has a goal and six points in his last six games.

Then there’s this, copped from my own GameDay Preview for the Caps-Pens game, and updated to reflect the results of Monday’s games:

St. Louis center Ryan Johnson leads all NHL forwards with 58 blocked shots. Johnson has played 46 games for the Blues this season.

Caps left wing Quintin Laing has cracked the top 40 among NHL forwards in blocked shots with 30, despite the fact that all 38 of the players ahead of him have played at least twice as many games as Laing this season.

Among all NHL forwards with at least 20 games played, Johnson and Laing are the only ones with more blocked shots than games played.

Laing has also been a plus or even player in 15 straight games, posting a plus-7 during that stretch.

Yeah, there’s a long way way to go. Yeah, they’re far from perfect. The penalty killing could be better. The goaltending and the defense could be more consistent.

I’d dust off the line The Wolf (Harvey Keitel) uttered in “The Bonnie Situation” segment of “Pulp Fiction” here, but it’s a family blog. You get the point. If the season ended today, they’d be golfing.

At the pace they’ve set since Boudreau took over, the Caps would put up 109 points over a full 82-game season. That would be a franchise record. If they can maintain that pace over the final 34 games of the season, they’ll finish with 94 points. Currently, front-running Carolina is on a pace to finish with 84 points. The New York Islanders, current occupants of the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, are on a pace to finish up with 89 points.

The bottom line is this: If they can keep it up, the next two and a half months — and maybe more — are gonna be a lot of fun around here.

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26 Comments on “Caps Keep on Keeping On”

  1. John Simmons Says:

    Amen brother.

  2. pgreene Says:

    i am troubled by my burgeoning sense of optimism. i just don’t want to be disappointed. but damn if this isn’t a fun team of which to be a fan right now.

    and, while i’ve been as big an olie-homer as anyone, please no one run his numbers in the last, oh, 15 starts.

  3. jwilliard Says:

    I have always believed.

  4. JCollins Says:

    I wanna give my own kudos to the penalty killers from last nights game in Pittsburgh and reitterate the importance of having guys like Laing that will lay out everything they have to get the points we so badly need. Its a reflectioon of Gabby and all he’s teaching and expecting from this bunch of team players.Its great to see team hockey again.

  5. Matt Says:

    what a game. thats one for the ages. Feels so good to be on the winning side, hopefully its a sign of things to come against the Crap & Gold.

    what are we gonna do with Kolzig? He looks slow, unsure of himself and like he’s lost his edge. You know how you can look at an athlete and you can tellif they are thinking or just playing…well Kolzig seems to be thinking way too much and not just playing. Just a view from 400 miles away

  6. Mike L Says:

    Great use of the word “hairball” as a verb… 🙂 Obviously you have some cats at home (my wife, daughter and I have five…one of whom likes to sit next to me on the sofa for away games on TV).

    The Caps are, as of now, only one of three teams in the league to have won 8 of their last 10. The others are Philly (who are responsible for one of the two Caps losses) and the other is Anaheim. The Caps are playing to their strength, in that they’ve given the Green Light (pun intended) to Ovie, Green, Semin, Kozlov, Baxkstrom, Poti, etc. Even Erskine has been seen going deep into the attack zone.

    There are two ways to build a team to play a sport: You can come up with a game plan and make the players fit, or you can look at the players you have and design a game plan for them. Glenn Hanlon had a good solid defensive system and the Caps GAA improved. But when you have a top notch set of offensive players and then go into the free agent market and get Kozlov, Nylander and Poti, you should turn them lose and let them show off their skills. Bruce has done that, and is in effect saying “I don’t care if we give up one more goal per game if we score two more goals per game.” Sure, there are nights it will backfire and the Caps will get hammered, but at the same time, there are nights they will overwhelm an opponent (see Ottawa) and put up a number that no one can match…

  7. Jeff Says:

    Ovechkin is the only reason that the capitals are any good this year

  8. Mike B. Says:

    Lifetime Caps fan here lovin the team we have now. This is one of the most exciting teams we’ve ever had! I like the personalities of our group. I love the winning. But most of all these guys look like they are having fun out there and it really shows! We’ve got our sites set on Carolina. Let’s not lose focus and let’s win the SE to get our spot in the playoffs. These guys are playing playing hard. I don’t even want to say they deserve it, even though they do, because that sounds like soeone is giving them something. I want them to go out there and take it!

    Keep up the good work boys!

    Mike

  9. Chris Caplinger Says:

    Jeff I hope your being sarcastic how you could ignore the fact that the caps having the lead leading goal scoring dman, a rookie posting up 2nd best rookie numbers and other things would just be mind boggling. Great win lastnight and i’m really getting pumped about this team more and more as the days go by

  10. David Says:

    Ovechkin is NOT the only reason! There are tons of other players that are performing at a higher level, i.e. Kozlov, Green, Semin, Backstrom, etc.

    They have found a way to play as a team and WIN! This is the first time in years that I have been this optimistic and excited about the Caps.

    Washington is historically a football town (I’m a HUGE Skins fan), but the Caps are finally giving us something to look forward to instead of next year’s NFL Preseason.

  11. Scott D Says:

    The rebuilding is OVER. Whether this great play continues or not, we now know they can play at this level over an extended period of time. That is promising. This team is fun to watch. I would reccommend going to see a practice. You’ll see that these guys really like being around eachother. I will stick with my prediction, the CAPS will win a Stanley Cup before the Redskins win another Super Bowl. It’s too bad this town doesn’t see what the rest of the country is seeing. One of the great comeback stories in any sport. Keep it up, CAPS!!

  12. MD Says:

    I agree that the Caps are really playing as a team, and playing like a team that has gelled. They sure look like they are enjoying themselves and like they look forward to being out there – – unlike before, when they looked like they were just out there because it was their job to play hockey. They are indeed a fun team to watch and hopefully the DC/MD/VA area will catch on to their momentum and support them as they continue to play great hockey. Go Caps!

  13. Jeff Alprin Says:

    I’ve been a season ticket holder since 1974, and have lived through awful teams, bad teams, some good teams in the 80’s and 90’s, and the rebuilding. I almost did not renew a few years ago. When they drafted Ovechkin, I decided to give it a few more years. What a good decision. I love the games now, and even when they lose, I know they are explosive and in virtually every game. What a lot of good young players. I think in another year the commentators will be comparing Backstrom to Crosby. If they keep playing like this, attendance will pick up and even the media will start covering the Caps as they should be covered.

  14. Jeff Alprin Says:

    I’ve been a season ticket holder since 1974, and have lived through awful teams, bad teams, some good teams in the 80’s and 90’s, and the rebuilding. I almost did not renew a few years ago. When they drafted Ovechkin, I decided to give it a few more years. What a good decision. I love the games now, and even when they lose, I know they are explosive and in virtually every game. What a lot of good young players. I think in another year the commentators will be comparing Backstrom to Crosby. If they keep playing like this, attendance will pick up and even the media will start covering the Caps as they should be covered.

  15. Rob Says:

    Mike-

    As usual, another masterful combination of great writing and fantastic stats. See you Thursday night.

    Rob

  16. Mike Shwedick Says:

    Great article man! Just sums it all up. Shame on the MSM for ignoring all of this for the most part. It’s a great time to be a Caps fan, something we have been waiting for for a long time. The 2000’s have not been fun to say the least and they are just starting I believe.

  17. gusty161 Says:

    Vogs,
    Great column. Any word on Morrisonn? is he on the trip. A big deal was made (rightfully) of Crosby being out of the lineup but does his loss equal that of Clark, Nylander, Pothier and Morrisonn? I don’t think so.

  18. TJ Says:

    And dont you love it how there is nothing on the NHL.com main page about the Caps big win. If the Pens would have won Im sure there would be a front page story on NHL.com, but since the Caps did there is absolutely nothing, its a shame the NHL is so biased.

  19. Joshua Says:

    It’s about time.

  20. Anthony Says:

    Didn’t anyone tell Gabby that we aren’t supposed to win shootouts?

    I’ve always been a big fan of Kolzig, but I’m starting to get worried.

  21. CapitalSpirit Says:

    When you consider where this team was two months ago, and then look at Monday night’s game against Pittsburgh, it’s almost enough to make you wonder who those guys in the white sweaters were, and what they did with the Washington Capitals.

    Kidding aside, it was quite the relief to be able to go into the Igloo and skate away with two points for the first time in a long time.

    Let’s see: sweep best team in the Eastern Conference–done. Come from behind to win in Pittsburgh–done. Win 4 games on a 5-game homestand–done. Win a 12-round shootout against the best team in the league at shootouts–done. 27 games (and counting) without back-to-back regulation losses? Done.

    Next trick: home-and-home wins against the Leafs?

  22. Matt Says:

    Hi all. Life-long fan, first-time commenter. I couldn’t agree more with the comment from TJ regarding the lack of publicity about the win on NHL.com. I guarantee there would have been a huge “Yeah!” close-up of Malkin plastered on the home page if the Pens had won, along with a caption like “Malkin Magic” or “Malkin Takes Charge”. Last night was one of the most amazing nationally televised games of the season, yet it didn’t even make the headline.

    I don’t understand why the league/media/officiating have always seemed biased towards the Pens against the Caps. The officiating last night was atrocious. The overturned goal should have been a holding-the-stick penalty on the Penguins, not a hooking call against Bradley. Then, the 2 calls leading to the OT 5-on-3 were just absurd. (The overturned goal wasn’t even mentioned in TV highlights I saw) It truly shows the character of this team that they were able to overcome those conditions and come away with 2 points, even while missing so many key players.

    These are exciting times, and I love watching a team that NEVER gives up. These guys have proven their ability to come back and work through adverse situations time and again, and it will be quite an interesting next few months. See you Thursday!

  23. Tom in FL Says:

    Come on, guys, get over it. The league isn’t biased toward the Caps because Ovechkin is one of the two poster boys of the league. Did y’all watch the Versus guys during/after? I’ve been watching since black-n-white/with snow in 1964. “Bergmann to Delvecchio – a shot – Howe, rebound, a goal!” Anyway, this was one of the most exciting games they ever put on VS. Games like this and the TV audience should increase and the Cap Centre (or whatever name) should fill up like the Olympia back in the day.

    My prediction is the Caps are hot and the Leafs are not. I believe Gabby gives the nod to Johnny Wed night and the Caps take them, 5-2. OV, Kozzie, Flash, Backstrom and -YES!- Poti finally scores. So Gabby comes back with Johnny Thursday and it’s like 7-1. The Leafs are so ready to cave so like you need to plunge the dagger deep and make the blood run and let them die.

    Two games:
    Johnson 2 wins
    OV 2 goals, 2 assists
    Backdoor (my nickname, feel free to copy) 1 goal, three assists
    Kozzie 1 goal, 2 assists
    Poti 1 goal 2 assists
    Green – same

    Right now the Caps have to be a decent shot to take the SE. Once they make the playoffs it is only yes/no hot goaltender to compete for the Cup. Any team with Ovehckin can win the Cup. Soon they will say he is the most dynamic competitor in team sports. Maybe Tom Brady is better. Maybe A-Rod is better. Maybe KG is better. But the three of them together don’t have half Alex’s personality.

    Alex rules, and that’s the end of it, and he’s a Washington Capital!

    I don’t miss living in the miserable north having done so for 40 years nearly but with 12+ in Florida I can say that I miss the Caps with season tickets and steamed crabs and that’s about it. Sorry, Mom, I’d come back to visit but only if OV comes to dinner. And I know you aren’t much of a cook so I don’t think you could even get Quintin Lainge with no teeth to come by so forget it. I will watch on the hockey package. Sitting here in just shorts with the back door open it is like 72 outside enough for humans so the rest of you can do your best with the single digits. Good luck. Lived in Livonia as a kid and then East Islip and later Bel Air MD so if you don’t know better to get in out of the cold – sorry.

    The bottle of wine is empty. The sooner I sleep and awake and peform my duties the sooner the puck drops in TO with two anthems and OV scores and the Caps put two more points up on the board.

  24. Turk from Alaska Says:

    Hey Vogs,

    News travels slow up here in Alaska… is it safe to come in off the ledge yet?
    ~Turk

    GO CAPS!

  25. Johan Says:

    Woho! Let’s go Bäckström! I’ve watched him since he came up in Brynäs in Sweden. He’s probably the biggest talent in Swedish hockey since Peter Forsberg. Henrik Zetterberg didnt really devolop as early as Bäckström so I don’t count him. I’m really loving that his doing well in the NHL, I just hope the keep playing him alongside Ovechkin, they could be the new Kurri/Gretzky.. Okay, maybe not, but atleast close! 😉


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