Taking Control – Around four minutes into the second period of Thursday night’s 4-3 Washington win over the Atlanta Thrashers, Atlanta defenseman Niclas Havelid fired a perfect tape-to-tape pass from his own goal line to Thrashers forward Rich Peverley at the Washington blueline. It was the kind of pass that Phil Housley routinely put on Teemu Selanne’s stick nearly two decades ago when both were with the Winnipeg Jets.
Peverley skated in and beat rookie Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth to even the score at 2-2.
“Ah, it was a great pass,” said Peverley. “He found me, he saw me sneaking through, and it was right on my tape, it was perfect.”
Peverley’s goal also signaled a change in the game. From that point on, Washington drew six power plays to Atlanta’s two and the Capitals also outshot the Thrashers 25-12 the rest of the way.
“I thought we played really good with the lead in the third period,” said Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “We didn’t give them anything until that power play at the end, and I told them that.”
First Things First – When Alexander Semin notched a power play goal at 4:27 of the first period on Thursday against the Thrashers, it marked the 14th straight game in which Washington has scored a first period goal.
That streak is the Capitals’ longest since they scored first period goals in 14 straight games in February-March of 1990. Washington’s franchise record for most consective games with a first-period goal is 18, set in 1988-89.
Early Power, Diminishing Returns – Most of Washington’s power play opportunities in the last 13 games have come early in the contests, and as a result, most of the Caps’ power play goals during that span have also been early strikes.
The Capitals are 12-for-23 (52.2%) on the power play in the first period of their last 13 games. They are 3-for-18 (16.7%) on the power play in the second period of those same 13 games. Finally, Washington is 2-for-10 (20%) with the extra man in the third period of its last 13 games.
It’s also worth noting that four of the Caps’ 10 third period power plays in the last 13 games have come in the last two games.
Two things are at play here, and neither of them are good indicators for the home boys. Washington is drawing fewer and fewer penalties as the game wears on, an indication that the Capitals may be guilty of taking their foot off the gas a bit after the first 20 minutes.
The Caps are showing a killer instinct early in the game on the power play, converting more than half of their first period opportunities. But they seem to be content to rest on their extra-man laurels after that, rather than going for the jugular and putting teams away.
With 20 regular season games remaining, Washington needs to hone its killer instinct and start putting teams away. Skating hard for 60 minutes and routinely drawing five or six (or more) power plays a game and being relentless rather than cute on the power play in the latter stages of games would be a good start in that direction.
Worst Lead in Hockey – For the second game in succession, the Capitals grabbed an early 2-0 lead, and for the second straight game, they found the score tied at 2-2. Unlike Tuesday’s contest against the Flyers when the Caps fell 4-2, this time the Caps pulled up their socks and held firm the rest of the way.
Double Digits – Eric Fehr netted his 10th goal of the season tonight, doing so in his 41st game. That would put him squarely on a 20-goal pace over a full 82-game season.
Fehr becomes the eighth Capital to reach double-digit goals this season. Washington is 9-0-1 in games in which Fehr has scored a goal in 2008-09.
Fehr’s goal on Thursday against the Thrashers proved to be the game-winner. It is his second game-winner of the season and the third of his NHL career. He has seven goals and 12 points in his last 13 games and has seven goals in his last dozen contests.
The Kids Are All Right – Neuvirth won his second decision in as many starts, joining Simeon Varlamov as the second 20-year-old Caps goaltender to go 2-0 in his first two NHL starts this season.
Neuvirth is 2-0 with a 2.01 GAA and a .932 save pct. in his two starts. Varlamov is 2-0 with a 1.50 GAA and a .953 save pct. The two rookie goaltenders combined are 4-0 with a 1.76 GAA and a .942 save pct.
Sweet 16 –Mike Green scored a power play goal in the second period of tonight’s game, his 16th power play tally of the season. With that goal, Green matched the all-time Washington franchise record for most power play goals in a single season by a defenseman. Scott Stevens established the mark when he scored 16 power play goals for Washington in 1984-85.
Green also took over sole possession of the NHL lead in power play goals tonight. He moved one ahead of Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek.
Up To Eight – With his assist on Green’s goal, Caps center Nicklas Backstrom extended his scoring streak to eight straight games (three goals, eight assists). It is the longest current streak in the league and it is one game shy of Backstrom’s personal best of nine, set earlier in the season.
Southeast Slayer –Alexander Semin has always been a Southeast Slayer. With three points tonight, Semin now has 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) in 18 career games against Atlanta.
In 82 career games against Southeast Division opponents, Semin has 45 goals and 41 assists for 86 points. Compare that to 153 games against the rest of the league in which he has totaled 52 goals and 55 assists for 107 points.
Semin’s power play goal tonight was just his third extra-man tally of the season. He finished the 2007-08 campaign with 10 power play strikes, but did not record his fourth until Feb. 23.
Shooting Stars – Tonight’s game marked the 11th consecutive game between the Caps and the Thrashers in which Washington outshot Atlanta. That is tied for the longest such current streak between Eastern Conference opponents. Washington has also outshot the Florida Panthers in each of the last 11 meetings between the two teams.
February Fire – Tonight’s game featured the top two goal scorers in the NHL in the month of February. Ovechkin came into tonight’s game with 11 February goals and Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk had 10.
Kovalchuk evened the February score with a power play goal in the first period.
Short Stuff – Todd White’s shorthanded goal in the third period of Thursday’s game was Atlanta’s seventh shorthanded strike in as many games.
Something Had To Give – Ilya Kovalchuk is the hottest player in the NHL, with 10 goals and 14 points in his last eight games entering tonight’s contest. But Kovalchuk had been running cold against the Caps of late.
Despite excellent career numbers (20 goals and 47 points in 39 games coming into tonight) against Washington, the Atlanta captain had been held without a goal in his last six outings against the Caps. Kovalchuk had 19 shots on goal and was a minus-7 in those last half dozen games against the Caps.
Tonight, he had a goal and an assist against Washington. He was also plus-1 with four shots on goal with a whopping 27:59 in ice time.
With 49 points against Washington since he came into the league in 2001-02, Kovalchuk now has more points against the Capitals than any other player over that same period of time. Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lecavalier has 48 points against Washington since the start of the 2001-02 season.
Highway 61 – Prior to tonight’s game with Washington, Thrashers head coach John Anderson had been at the helm for Atlanta in exactly 61 games. That’s the same number that Bruce Boudreau – Anderson’s best friend – coached for Washington last season.
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