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Dial “M” For Mason – In the world of movies, Alfred Hitchcock is known as “The Master of Suspense.” In the world of coaching, there are some who consider Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock “The Master of Defense.” With eight of his players – including his top three scorers and five of his top nine forwards – sidelined with various injuries, Hitchcock and his charges managed to whitewash Washington by a 3-0 score for the second time in 42 days.
Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason, a 20-year-old first pro who started this season with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL, came into Friday night’s game as the NHL’s leader in both GAA (1.82) and save pct. (.934). He was tied for the league lead with five shutouts. After blanking the Caps 3-0 on Friday, Mason now leads the league in shutouts as well.
Playing with a cobbled together lineup and with a few players who were still ailing, Hitchcock’s did exactly what he said they had to do before the game: win each period. Columbus scored one goal in each frame.
It marked the first time the Caps had been shutout at home since Atlanta’s Kari Lehtonen pitched a 2-0 shutout on Feb. 2, 2008.
Mason was terrific at controlling his rebounds, the Jackets were very adept at getting to the rare rebounds he left for the Caps, and Columbus blocked 16 of Washington’s shots. The Caps managed to get 45 shots on Mason, and they missed the net entirely with 14 others. So the Caps teed up 75 shots to the Blue Jackets’ 43 (23 on goal, 11 blocked by Washington and nine misses).
“It’s kind of a relief to be honest with you,” said Hitchcock after the game. “I think everyone knew our situation and I think we gained a lot of confidence by surviving the first period. I think a lot of our guys were in awe of what’s going on. I think we were nervous and wondering what the heck was going to happen. We had not even spent any time [with the lines]. We never had one line that was even a line a week ago, and to come here and survive the first period gave us some good confidence. Then, when we got the first goal we kind of lifted ourselves from there. But, they’re a great team. I would not want to play this team with this lineup ever again.”
A Rare First Strike – The Caps have been dominant in the first period of home games this season, but the Jackets nicked Washington for a first-period strike on Friday. In 21 home games this season, the Capitals have now outscored the opposition 26-10. In their last 16 games on Verizon Center ice, the Caps hold a 15-4 scoreboard advantage.
Flash and Feds – Friday’s game marked the return to the lineup of Washington center Sergei Fedorov and left wing Tomas Fleischmann. Fedorov skated 15:55 (including 3:33 of power play time and 1:16 while the Caps were shorthanded) and totaled four shots on goal.
Fleischmann logged 16:25 (including 4:20 of power play time and 2:37 while Washington was a man short). He had two shots on goal and three takeaways.
Even as two players were returning to the Washington lineup, two more were headed to the sidelines. Defenseman Jeff Schultz sat out with a recurrence of the finger injury that kept him out for more than a month and Boyd Gordon (see below) headed to the sidelines after his back “seized up” during the pre-game warm-up.
Western Woes – The Caps are now 6-7 against Western Conference teams; they are 21-5-3 against the East.
The Great Eight – Alex Ovechkin skated eight shifts for a total of 8:56 and fired eight shots in the first period of Friday night’s game against the Jackets. Four shots went on goal, two were blocked and two missed the net.
Ovechkin kept pumping pucks at the exact same rate for the rest of the night, with the exact same results after 60 minutes. He finished with a dozen shots on goal, but six other bids were blocked and a half dozen missed the net altogether.
His numbers were the same for each of the three periods: four shots on goal, two blocked and two missed. Ovechkin fired two dozen shots on the night, one more than the entire Jackets team managed to put on goal.
Streaks Stopped – Three significant Washington streaks were snuffed on this night. Caps goalie Jose Theodore had his personal winning streak stopped at six, one shy of matching his career best. The Caps’ overall winning streak of seven straight victories also came to an end, as the team failed in its bid to win eight in a row for the first time in nearly two decades (March, 1989). Finally, Washington’s attempt to match its franchise record of 10 straight home ice wins also fell short. The Caps had won nine in a row at home; they had a 10-game streak at MCI Center from Jan. 4 to Feb. 23, 2000.
A Man Down – Caps center Boyd Gordon suffered an undisclosed injury during warm-up and was not available for Friday’s game. We were told that he was being “worked on” and that there was a chance he would play later in the evening, but he did not.
“Skating around before the game, his back just seized up," said Boudreau. "I don’t know the prognosis yet. He had this earlier on in the season when he missed a couple of games, so I assume he’s going to be out tomorrow, but I don’t know yet.”
The Caps missed Gordon's presence on the penalty killing unit and in the face-off circle on this night.
Happy Birthday – To Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, who celebrates his 54th birthday today. Had his charges delivered a win on Friday night, Boudreau would have clinched a spot as the assistant coach for the Eastern Conference All-Star Game in Montreal on Jan. 25.
As it stands, Saturday night’s game in Montreal between the Caps and the Canadiens will determine the All-Star assistant. If the Caps defeat the Habs in regulation or overtime, Boudreau will serve as the Eastern Conference assistant coach. If Montreal wins, Habs coach Guy Carbonneau will get the nod.