Well, if nothing else, it was entertaining. The Caps survived a two-goal night from Evgeni Malkin and a rare 5-on-3 power play in overtime, capitalizing on shootout goals by Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 6-5 in a shootout.
And in its own way, it probably signaled what the Eastern Conference is going to look like going forward – if not this year, then in the years to come. These two teams are emerging as potentially the class of the East. It’s easier to see with the Penguins, as they are a more developed team at the moment. Even without Sidney Crosby, they are a loaded club in terms of youthful talent (they are third in the league in points among players younger than 25 years old). But one can start to see it with the Capitals in the play of Alex Ovechkin (no surprise there), Mike Green, and Nicklas Backstrom (who is a point-a-game player the last two months). The Caps are second in the league in points among the under-25 crowd.
Tonight, though, it was a battle of the Russians early as Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin traded haymakers and hits. First Ovechkin assisting on a goal by Viktor Kozlov, sending a screamer at goalie Dany Sabourin that rebounded to Kozlov for the quick deposit. Then Malkin…then Ovechkin…then Malkin…then Ovechkin. Ovechkin took an open ice run at Malkin to deliver one of his trademark hits, and Malkin shrugged him off and into the end boards as if Ovechkin was merely a nuisance. It was like watching Balboa and Creed trading head shots in Rocky II.
But the difference in this one was defense…yes, defense. And with apologies to Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and even Nicklas Backstrom with his second straight four-assist night, the MVP tonight was Quintin Laing. With the Capitals trying to kill off a 5-on-3 Penguin advantage in the overtime, Laing blocked consecutive drives by Malkin to keep the Caps’ hearts beating. Without those plays and the inspiration they provided late in that overtime, this game might not go to a shootout.
And let’s hear it for the “other Russian.” Malkin?...Gonchar?...Ovechkin?...Semin?
Viktor Kozlov had two goals for the Caps tonight, his second straight contest with a pair of markers, and he’s 4-2-6 in his last four games. With Michael Nylander on the shelf for the rest of this season, it is nice to see Kozlov stepping up like this.
Has Nicklas Backstrom reached a comfort level? Four assists…eight in his last two games…14 in his last 11. He has closed to within five points of rookie scoring leader Patrick Kane.
There were lots of numbers that deserve mention. For the Penguins…
Ryan Malone – who takes a fair amount of grief in Penguin Nation – managed a three-point night (goal, two assists) and logged more than 24 minutes. He’s one of those guys who absolutely has to step up for the Penguins in the absence of Sidney Crosby, especially on the road, where teams will get more favorable matchups against Malkin, if the Penguins are going to continue competing for a playoff spot.
Sergei Gonchar was a 30-minute man for the Penguins and had a three-point night of his own. Oddly, though, he did not register a single shot on goal (he had three attempts blocked).
Seven Penguins took draws tonight, and only one had a winning percentage. Tim Brent (no, not Tim Brant, the DC sportscaster…) won three of five draws. As a group, the Penguins were rather brutal…they won only 28 of 68 draws (41.2 percent).
Malkin had seven of the 15 total shots for
The Penguins had 24 hits…Georges Laraque did not have any of them in 10:31.
And for the Caps…
There was Tomas Fleischmann having another solid game. 1-1-2 (scoring on his only shot taken) and creating a number of opportunities in his almost-14 minutes of play.
Matt Pettinger had one assist, and it was a subtle beauty. Taking the puck from Backstrom, Pettinger backed off to give himself space to find Kozlov at the edge of the right wing circle for the Caps’ fifth goal to tie the game. It looked a lot like Backstrom…
The Caps beat two teams in the shootout in the last week that had a combined win-loss record of 17-4 before being beaten by the Caps.
The Caps had 24 hits…Donald Brashear had five of them in 8:32.
Alex Ovechkin has been held without a point in only three of his last 33 games (29-17-46, +8).
Ovechkin had 11 shots and 16 total attempts, but there was Alexander Semin with three shots and nine attempts, himself.
All told, the Russians went 6-6-12, +2 and had 23 shots on goal, not to mention two of the shootout goals*
As big as the four assists were, so might have been Backstrom winning 12 of 19 draws. It’s been a weakness in his game (one of the few), and this was welcome.
Backstrom, Boyd Gordon, and David Steckel were a combined 32-14 on draws (69.6 percent).
So there it was…ten goals on 45 shots…three goaltenders…five-for-ten on power plays. If you like offense, this was the game to watch over the first 60 minutes. But in the extra skating session, it was defense…the Caps’ ability to sacrifice and kill a 77-second two-man disadvantage that was the difference between getting one point and giving themselves a chance for two. And if that point comes in handy in April, y’all better be thinking of Quintin Laing.
* Ovechkin, Kozlov, Semin, Malkin, Gonchar