Postseason Notebook -- October
The first in a seven-part series that looks back on the Caps' 2007-08 season
Early O From Big D – Washington started the season with a big bang from a couple of its big blueliners. Defenseman John Erskine supplied the game-winning goal in Washington’s 3-1 opening night win at Atlanta on Oct. 5. The goal was the fifth of Erskine’s career, and it came in his 171st NHL contest.
“That’s the first one where I’ve actually shot the puck and I’ve scored,” he admitted afterwards. “Hopefully I’ll get more of them this year.”
Erskine got one more, against the Panthers on Jan. 19.
The Caps hosted their home opener on Oct. 6, and defenseman Milan Jurcina scored a power play goal to account for half of Washington’s offense in a 2-0 whitewashing of the Carolina Hurricanes that night. Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig recorded the 35th shutout of his NHL career in that one. With Kolzig’s shutout, the Caps held the opposition to one or fewer goals in consecutive contests, a feat they failed to accomplish throughout the entire 2006-07 season.
Through the first two games of the season, Erskine and Jurcina accounted for two of Washington’s five goals. In the final 80 games of the season, the duo combined for just one of the Capitals’ remaining 233 tallies.
Kolzig had the following to say after his shutout over the Canes in the home opener:
“We plan to make the playoffs. I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people. We totally believe that this is what we’re capable of.”
Shoot Out the Lights – The Caps launched 40 shots on goal against Atlanta’s Kari Lehtonen in the season opener. That’s more shots than Washington managed in any of its 82 games in the 2006-07 season. It would be the only time in Glen Hanlon’s 21 games as Washington’s head coach that the Caps would manage 40 or more shots on goal. They had five such games after Bruce Boudreau took over behind the bench.
Teen Sensation – Nicklas Backstrom became the 29th Capital to wear the team’s sweater as a teenager. He was the sixth member of the 2007-08 Capitals to join that exclusive club, taking his place alongside Olie Kolzig, Brian Sutherby, Steve Eminger, Boyd Gordon and Alexander Semin.
New York State of Mind – The Caps played four straight games against opponents from the Empire State beginning on Oct. 8 when they took a 2-1 decision in a matinee match against the Islanders in New York. The Caps dropped the next three to the Rangers and Sabres on the road and the Islanders at home.
Milestone Man – Alex Ovechkin recorded the first of several milestones this season when he netted his 100th career goal in an Oct. 12 game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
White Out – Pittsburgh made its first 2007-08 visit to Verizon Center on Oct. 20, and the Caps wore their away white jerseys for the only time in 41 regular season and four playoff contests.
A Little Help? – Fifteen different Capitals forwards dressed for the team’s first seven games of the season, but only five of them (Michael Nylander, Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Brooks Laich and Tomas Fleischmann) managed to score a goal in those seven games.
Along with Minnesota, Washington was one of only two NHL teams to go past Oct. 20 without scoring more than three goals in a game this season. The Capitals also failed to score more than three goals in a game in each of their final nine games of 2006-07.
It was the Caps’ longest streak without netting as many as four goals in a game since it went 16 straight at the end of 2003-04 and the start of 2005-06. Washington was held to three or fewer goals in each of the final three games of the ’03-04 season and each of the first 13 games of 2005-06.
Empty-Netter for Eight – On Oct. 24 against the Lightning, Alex Ovechkin sealed a 5-3 Washington win with just the third empty-net goal of his NHL career. It was the first empty-netter that he scored while the Caps were protecting a one-goal lead late in a contest, and the first he scored on home ice.
Ovechkin’s first career empty-netter came on Nov. 28, 2006 against the Lightning in Tampa Bay in a 5-2 Washington win. His second came at Carolina on Jan. 18, 2007, also in a 5-2 Capitals victory.
Ovechkin added a focus on defense to his game this season. After that game, Caps coach Glen Hanlon alluded to Ovechkin’s improved two-way play.
“The key point is that when your top player can play that well defensively,” Hanlon began, “and preserve a lead and you’re playing him every second shift in the last 10 minutes and he’s out there six on five doing those things, that’s what turns organizations around. When [Tampa Bay coach John] Tortorella got Vinny [Lecavalier] to play both ends of the rink and in Detroit when Stevie [Yzerman] played both ends of the rink like he can do, that turned their organizations around. That was a real plus.”
No. 1 for No. 39 – Capitals center David Steckel notched his first NHL goal in the Oct. 24 game against the Lightning, doing so in his 20th NHL game. Steckel scored 30 goals for the AHL Hershey Bears in 2006-07.
Shots Down – From Oct. 18 through Oct. 27, the Caps held the opposition to fewer than 30 shots on goal in five straight games. That may not seem like a monumental achievement, but the local team hadn’t put together a modest streak like that since before the lockout.
A six-game streak that ran from Feb. 27-Mar. 8, 2004 marked the last time the Caps went as many as four straight games without allowing as many as 30 shots on goal. Ironically, the first game of that streak also marks the last time the Caps defeated Vancouver netminder Roberto Luongo, then of the Florida Panthers. Luongo’s Oct. 26 win over Washington was his10th straight over the Capitals.
Captain Down – Caps captain Chris Clark suffered through an injury-riddled campaign in 2007-08, and was limited to just 18 games in uniform as a result. His woes started on Oct. 26 when he was felled by an Alex Ovechkin slapshot to the head. The blast opened up a large wound on Clark’s ear, and it also hampered his equilibrium. This particular injury sidelined Clark for eight games.
“It’s not good,” said Hanlon after the game. “He’s getting stitched up right now. I don’t really have any information. Whatever it is, it’s not going to be good. We’re waiting to see how he is doing.”
A Stirring Tribute – Dave Fay, the longtime Washington Times’ beat reporter who lost a lengthy battle with cancer in July of 2007, was honored during the first period of Friday’s game. Fay’s family – his widow Pat, his son Michael and his granddaughter Serena – were on hand as checks for more than $20,000 were presented in Dave’s name to Hockey Fights Cancer.
Many of the 12,705 in attendance stood and applauded as the Caps paid tribute to Fay, who spent a quarter of a century chronicling the ups and downs of the Capitals for the Times. Up in the press box where Dave’s customary seat remained empty throughout this season in his honor, several of his longtime colleagues were moved to tears.
Prior to the Vancouver game, Caps coach Glen Hanlon spent a minute remembering his old friend.
“I remember Dave every night,” says Hanlon. “Every time I walk into that press room, I always [acknowledge him]. I wonder how he’s doing up there. He’s missed.
“Hockey is an unbelievable sport. Players hit each other over the head, and the brothers fight on the ice and people will phone [each other] after. The media will write what they want and the coaches won’t like it, but in the end you respect people who work hard. We miss people who have been in our business for a long time. It’s a tough business to stay in for a long time and the ones that do obviously have a lot going for them. It’s extremely sad, especially for a guy who was too young to die. For us, it’s a good cause. It’s his cause. We’re thinking about him a lot.”
First Strike – Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz joined Steckel as the second member of the Capitals to record his first NHL goal this season when he tallied against the Leafs on Oct. 29 in Toronto. Steckel’s first marker came in Washington’s previous win, an Oct. 24 triumph over Tampa Bay at Verizon Center. Both Schultz and Steckel were members of the 2006 Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears.
Schultz netted his first NHL goal in his 44th NHL contest. His first AHL goal came in his first AHL game, a Calder Cup playoff contest against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on May 7, 2006.
First Shot Blues – For the third straight game, Washington surrendered a goal on its opponent’s first shot on goal. Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin scored on the Canucks’ first shot on goal of the game in a 3-2 Vancouver win on Oct. 26 at Verizon Center. The Blues’ Brad Boyes scored on his team’s first shot on goal of the game on Oct. 27 when St. Louis edged the Caps 4-3.
On Oct. 29 in Toronto, it was the Leafs’ Alexei Ponikarovsky who netted a goal on his team’s first shot of the game. Ponikarovsky also scored his first NHL goal against Washington netminder Olie Kolzig on Feb. 1, 2001.
He Was Framed – In the first period of Washington’s Oct. 29 win at Toronto, Leafs captain Mats Sundin tripped Caps winger Matt Bradley. Bradley had the puck on his stick at the time, and in the process of being hauled down he ended up firing the puck over the glass, thereby incurring a delay of game minor himself.
November Notebook here>>
December Notebook here>>
January Notebook here>>