Lunch Bucket Laich – Shortly after authoring the game-winning goal in his typical hard-working fashion, Caps forward Brooks Laich sat in front of his locker stall sporting a construction hard hat on his head. Caps captain Chris Clark pulled the hat out of his stall and gave it to Laich after the game. Laich is the first of what the Caps hope will be many recipients of the bucket; it will be given out after each Washington victory to the player whose work ethic that night is most exemplary.
They gave it to the right guy on this night.
Game-winning goal aside (three of his last four regular season goals have been game-winners), Laich was a force all night, going to the net, mucking in the corners and logging 4:11 in shorthanded ice time on a night in which the Caps were a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill. Laich drew two penalties, and in one third period rush he safely skated the puck through three Blackhawks and managed to get it deep in the Chicago zone, where it remained for a bit. He also paced the Caps with three hits.
After the game, Clark said he would have given the bucket to Laich on Friday night in Atlanta as well, if only the Caps had been able to win the game.
After the next Washington win, it will be Laich’s decision as to who wears the hat next, and you’re not allowed to give it to yourself.
This isn’t the first time Laich has worn a hard hat after a win. Back in the spring of 2006, the Hershey Bears went on a playoff run that culminated in them winning the Calder Cup championship. Laich and several other current Caps were members of that team.
Bears forward Doug Doull came up with the concept of giving the hard hat to the guy who worked the hardest after each win, and the hat was passed around16 times until the Bears won the Cup. After every Bears win that spring, reporters would walk into the room and see the hard hat wearer while O.A.R.’s “That Was A Crazy Game of Poker” blared in the background.
There’s one difference this time around. The Bears helmet had 16 “star” stickers on it; each represented one of the 16 wins needed to claim the Cup. Each recipient peeled off a sticker before placing the hat on his head; the hat was barren of stickers when the Bears won the Cup in Milwaukee that June.
The Caps’ hard hat will bear stickers of the uniform number of each player, meaning it will be slathered with digits by April. Ideally, anyway.
Ditch Diggers – None of the Caps were wearing hard hats when they went out and dug themselves a multiple-goal hole for the second consecutive night. But they went out and put on their workboots, pulled up their socks and came back to win it.
The Hawks had eight shots on goal in the game’s first 11:41, and they led 2-0 at that point. But Washington rebounded to outshoot the Hawks 31-13 and outscore them 4-0 over the remaining 48:19 of the night.
The grind line of Donald Brashear, David Steckel and Matt Bradley was solid all night, and they manufactured the first goal, a Bradley tap-in on a feed from Steckel.
After the game, that line came in for some praise from Caps coach Bruce Boudreau.
“I think our game is forecheck, and that’s where we get the adrenaline from the crowd. The Steckel-Bradley-Brashear line was by far the best at it. They were physical, they got it deep and did their jobs. And they created energy for the other lines to come out. When they do that, when we’re turning the puck over in transition, we can be a pretty good team.”
First Win, Helper – A night after he suffered through a difficult 30-minute performance in Atlanta in his Capitals debut, Washington goaltender Jose Theodore got off to a troublesome start. He was beaten on the first shot he saw, a Kris Versteeg ice-hugger that went through Theodore’s five-hole as he went down into the butterfly. Just 26 seconds into the contest, the sellout crowd was stilled and the Caps were behind. It was the third five-hole goal of the five Theodore had surrendered to that point in the season.
Minutes later, Theodore made a brilliant stop on the power play to keep the game close. He wasn’t happy with either of the goals he allowed on this night, but he kept the game close and gave his team a chance to win. On most nights with this offensive attack, that will get it done.
“Well, I was not happy with myself,” he admitted after the game. “Then again as a goalie, I have been in a lot of situations with experience. I know there are 59 minutes left and if you don’t allow any more goals then it doesn’t matter how bad the goal is. You got a good chance of winning the game and that’s pretty much what happened tonight. I didn’t want to let the guys down and obviously I expect a lot from myself.”
At night’s end, Theodore had his first win as a Capital and his first assist; he picked up the secondary helper on Alex Ovechkin’s second goal of the night. Theodore now has a dozen career assists in the NHL to go along with the goal he scored in the 2001-02 season.
Good in the Back – A night after a two-goal game in a losing effort, Caps defenseman Mike Green skated 25:50 to lead the Caps. He was plus-2 with four shots on goal for the night, but made a couple key plays in his own end of the ice in the second period.
With the Hawks on the power play early in the period and the Caps still trailing by a goal, Green neatly broke up a 2-on-1 chance. He later make a strong play in front of his own net on Chicago’s Andrew Ladd.
Multiple Multiples – For the second straight night, the Caps had a two-goal game from one of their stars. Green potted a pair in Atlanta on Friday, and Ovechkin netted a deuce in Saturday night’s home opener.
Ovechkin’s first goal was his first against Chicago goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. He has now scored a total of 165 career goals against 54 different netminders. The Caps are 24-8 in the 32 games in which Ovechkin has netted multiple markers.
Down on the Farm – The Hershey Bears ran their record to 3-0 with a 4-3 shootout win over the Admirals in Norfolk on Saturday night. All three Hershey wins have come on the road; each of the last two have come at the Admirals’ expense.
Bears goaltender Simeon Varlamov earned his first victory as a North American pro, stopping 22 of 25 shots in regulation and three of the four shootout attempts he faced. Alexandre Giroux, Bouchard and Aucoin scored in the shootout for the Bears. Chris Bourque was the game’s first star and Perreault was the third.
Hershey concludes its four-game season-opening road trip on Friday night in Philadelphia before hosting Syracuse in its home opener on Saturday at Giant Center.