Round 2 of the five-rounds-in-two-weeks bout between the Caps and 'Canes followed a story line similar to that of Round 1: score early (Brian Willsie tallied just 2:35 into the game), work hard (the Caps had 15 takeaways and only 2 giveaways and blocked 15 shots) and get great goaltending (Brent Johnson made 49 saves). The result was similar as well, this time a 5-1 win at the RBC Center that prevented the 'Canes from clinching the Southeast Division title for at least another day or two. The Caps have now won consecutive road games for the first time since mid-January (and for only the second time all year) and have held the League's 3rd-highest scoring team to just two goals in two games, as many as Matt Bradley had by himself in the first 22:02 of last night's tilt.
So what has been the key these past two games that was missing over the previous eight? To begin with, the team was competitive in most of the games during the losing streak, losing five of the eight by just one goal, so, despite the results, the team wasn't that far away. But the big difference seems to be that the Caps started dressing seven defensemen, giving every one of the seven a little more energy later in the game than he otherwise would have had. For example, only two defensemen last night topped 20 minutes in ice time and top rearguards Shaone Morrisonn and Steve Eminger combined for a hair under 40 minutes. By comparison, two weeks ago the Caps had three 20+ minute blueliners, another within 21 seconds of 20 minutes and the Morrisonn-Eminger duo combined for more than 57 minutes on the ice (in fairness, the game two weeks ago did go to a shootout so there were five extra minutes of hockey, but the disparity is still notable). The Caps are now 17-0-0 when they hold an opponent to two goals or fewer, so it's pretty clear that if they play good defense and get solid goaltending, there's enough offense there to win games.
The WTimes' recap is here, and the WaPo has a couple of interesting stats to go along with its recap of last night's game:
- The 'Canes have won 14 of their last 17 at home, only losing to the Caps (twice) and the Penguins over that stretch (to me this says "worry not, 'Caniacs - your team is playing very well against the teams that it takes seriously, so they're probably just bored with the regular season and ready for the playoffs.").
- Last night was only the second time in the Caps' 31-year history that they played consecutive road games against the same opponent in the regular season.
Finally, while the hockey world has been flooded with highlight montages of Alex Ovechkin (who scored his 48th goal of the year last night, by the way), thanks to a tip from rh71 (host of Ovechkinfans.com), The Rink would like to direct your attention to "Montage #2 by Niket Desai" for the most current and perhaps the best montage I've seen. As was noted on the Caps Message Board, AO has a career's worth of highlights in 70 games. Amazing.
Thread of the Day: Let Me Be The First To Say: Majesky! (a little love for the Caps' much- maligned defenseman)
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
- Wanna dream big? Here's a list of players who will be unrestricted free agents after this season. I looked at the defensemen and drooled on my keyboard.
- If your life is just too jam-packed to pay sufficient attention to both hockey and Jesus or you simply can't get enough of the combination of pucks and the Prince of Peace, the San Antonio Rampage (AHL affiliate of the Phoenix Coyotes) have just the promotion for you: Faith Night. After Friday night's game against Peoria, "former dcTalk [who?] vocalist Kevin Max will perform live at the Express-News Headlines in the AT&T Center. The four-time Grammy Award winner [seriously?] is currently on tour doing solo performances promoting his recent album, The Imposter, which has been receiving great reviews for his cutting edge Christian music." Killer. On a side note, I wonder what constitutes "cutting edge Christian music."
- TSN.ca's Bob McKenzie wrote an article on the "loser point" and its minimal impact on the standings. Yeah, I wrote a similar post last week, but this idea has been much-talked about in the hockey media for weeks. Bottom line: BMac is no Tom
- Hart: Miikka Kiprusoff (Win, 25 saves on 26 shots against))
- Ross: Jaromir Jagr (4 points)
- Norris: Duncan Keith (Goal, assist, +2, 5 blocked shots)
- Vezina: Brent Johnson (Win, 49 saves on 50 shots against)
- Richard: Martin Straka (3 goals)
- Calder: Duncan Keith (Goal, assist, +2, 5 blocked shots)
- Aiken: Marc-Andre Fleury (Loss, 4 goals against on 17 shots in just 30:34 before getting pulled)