Postgame Notebook 10-05-2007
It went well.
Washington played a tremendous first period, jumping out to a 2-0 lead after the first 20 minutes. There were a few anxious moments in the second and early in the third, but once Viktor Kozlov tipped home Mike Green’s point shot at 5:27 of the third period, the Caps put the hammer down on Atlanta’s attack and kept it there.
“Because we stayed out of the box in the first period we didn’t really give them anything,” observes Caps goaltender Brent Johnson. “Once we did we gave them outside shots all night. If not for just a couple of breakdowns, they really had all outside shots. They got the one goal; it was a deflection that went off the side of the net. I was trying to get back to the post and obviously it went off the back of my leg. But with this style of play, if we continue this we’re going to win a lot of games this year.
“There was good, strong defense by the forwards. They were unbelievable. Especially [Alex Ovechkin]. That is doing it for the team. That is just awesome. I went up and gave him a big hug. He has got a big apple on his lip, but that’s just great. If everyone can play like that we’re going to win a lot of games.”
The “apple” below Ovechkin’s lower lip came in the third period, from the shaft of Thrasher defenseman Steve McCarthy’s stick. It required 14 stitches to close the wound. Ovechkin played through it and was at his best in the closing minutes.
The Caps got goals from two of their three significant off-season acquisitions: Kozlov and Michael Nylander. They also got a rare goal from defenseman John Erskine. Their special teams play was solid. And with the game on the line in the third period, the Caps showed off their defensive prowess. Atlanta had seven shots on goal in the first five and a half minutes of the third period, but got just two shots the rest of the way, after Kozlov’s insurance tally.
The Caps effectively clogged up the neutral zone, cycled the puck in the offensive zone and backchecked diligently. Matt Pettinger laid out to block a would-be shot from between the circles late in the third and Alex Ovechkin – playing what Caps coach Glen Hanlon later termed “his best game as a Capital” – made a terrific play on a backcheck to break up a late scoring chance.
Washington had seven power play chances to Atlanta's four on the night, and it outplayed the Thrashers in virtually every aspect of the game.
As the clock struck midnight, Washington’s plane departed Atlanta and skied its way back to the District. On board were 23 hockey players, several coaches, several staff members, several members of the media, assorted luggage and bags of hockey equipment.
And two points.
Southeast Swingaround – Last season, Atlanta won the Southeast Division title and the Capitals finished in the cellar of the Southeast. One of Washington’s goals this season is to emerge from divisional play with a winning record. They got off on a good foot with Friday’s win, and will have a second chance to make some Southeast hay when the Carolina Hurricanes visit Verizon Center on Saturday.
Of the 32 playoff berths earned in the NHL since the lockout, none has been earned by a team with a losing record against its own division.
Something Old, Something New, Something Blue — The Caps’ attack on this night was supplied by something old (Nylander, a former Cap), something new (Kozlov) and something blue (blueliner John Erskine). Two of the Caps’ three goals came off shots from the point.
Johnny On the Spot – Message board geniuses decried Glen Hanlon’s decision to start Johnson in goal in Friday’s season opener, but the personable Caps goaltender quieted the m[asses] with a strong 28-save performance in goal against the Thrashers. The win came in Johnson’s first opening night assignment since Oct. 4, 2001 when he dueled the Blue Jackets’ Ron Tugnutt to a 3-3 tie while wearing a St. Louis Blues sweater.
Johnny Hit the Spot – Erskine’s goal was just his second in a Capitals uniform and his fifth in 171 career NHL games. Erskine’s first goal as a Cap was an empty-netter against Buffalo on Dec. 2, 2006. Steve Eminger picked up the lone assist on that tally.
Before that, Erskine scored an unassisted goal while with the Islanders on Mar.14, 2006 in a 6-1 New York win over the Devils.
“It hit one of their guys and went in off [New Jersey goaltender Martin] Brodeur,” remembers Erskine.
The second of Erskine’s two goals as a member of the Dallas Stars was also an unassisted tally, as was his goal against Atlanta on Friday.
Erskine’s last assisted goal with a goalie between the pipes was on Jan. 22, 2003 with Dallas, with Mike Modano assisting. That was his first NHL goal. Modano and Eminger are the only two players ever to gain an assist on any of Erskine’s five NHL strikes.
Erskine’s teams are 5-0 in games in which he scores a goal, but Friday night’s tally marks his first career game-winner. And according to Erskine himself, his first “intended” tally.
“That’s the first one where I’ve actually shot the puck and I’ve scored,” he says. “Hopefully I’ll get more of them this year.”
Shooting Gallery – The Caps opened fire on opening night, launching 40 shots at Atlanta goaltender Kari Lehtonen. That’s more shots on goal than the Caps had in any single game last season. The last time Washington exceeded the 40-shot plateau in a game was on Apr. 15, 2006 when it fired 49 at the Panthers’ Roberto Luongo in a 2-1 win at Florida.
Tie-Breaker – Heading into Friday night’s season opener in Atlanta, the Caps were dead even in season openers in their previous 32 seasons: 15-15-2. Friday’s season-opening victory pushes the Caps a game to the good in that department, and they’ll stay there until opening night of 2008-09.
Road Openers – The last time the Capitals collected a win in their first road game of the season was in 2002 when they opened the road slate with a 2-1 win over the Isles on Long Island in Bruce Cassidy’s second game as Washington bench boss.
Fast First – Nearly 26 years ago, ex-Cap Ryan Walter authored the fastest opening night goal in NHL history. Walter scored just 12 seconds into Washington’s season opening 5-3 loss to the Sabres at Buffalo on Oct. 7, 1981.
Five years after Walter’s goal, Minnesota’s Kent Nilsson erased the former Caps captain from the NHL’s record book. On Oct. 11, 1986, Nilsson netted a goal for the North Stars just 10 seconds into what would wind up a 4-4 game between the Stars and the Nordiques in Quebec.
Incidentally, ex-Cap Dino Ciccarelli is co-holder of the NHL record for most goals in season opening games. Ciccarelli and Michel Goulet each netted 14 opening night strikes during their respective NHL careers.
Hall of Fame B-Day Day – Friday marked the birthday of three Hockey Hall of Famers: the late NHL goaltender Lorne Chabot (1900), goaltender Patrick Roy and forward Mario Lemieux (both in 1965).
Foremost Firsts – Three pretty good NHL centers notched their first career goals on this date, too. Detroit’s Steve Yzerman tallied his first NHL goal against Winnipeg on this date in 1983. Mike Modano scored his first goal for the Minnesota North Stars on this date in 1989 and Hurricanes pivot Rod Brind’Amour netted his first goal in the league for the Blues against the Blackhawks, also in 1989.
Little Feat – Bryan Little became the first Thrasher ever to score a goal in his NHL debut.