Failure to Finish – The Caps learned before Thursday’s 2-1 loss to Toronto that they would be without the services of star left wing Alex Ovechkin. They later learned that they would also be without defenseman Tom Poti, who took one brief seven-second twirl before calling it a night.
Caps coach Bruce Boudreau was forced to re-jigger his forward lines and defensive pairs just prior to game time, and some of the combos were ones that we haven’t seen that much previously this season. Although Washington generated many scoring chances against Leafs goaltender Martin Gerber, they also looked a bit out of synch or unfamiliar with each other at times. On several occasions Caps players were seen bumping into one another or clustered in the same area of the ice.
“It probably was [like that],” said Caps coach Bruce Boudreau because [right wing] Eric [Fehr] was playing the left side and [Matt Bradley] played the left side a couple of times. When you’re playing with 11 forwards all the lines – if you’re trying to get forwards on and use four lines – there are a lot of line combinations.”
The various combinations created plenty of chances. Alexander Semin, Tomas Fleischmann and Viktor Kozlov in particular seemed to create a good number of scoring opportunities. But until Semin finally solved Toronto netminder Martin Gerber in the game’s final minute, there was an acute lack of finish on Washington’s part.
“We didn’t finish and yet he [Martin Gerber] made some great saves,” said Boudreau. “We had enough chances to win two or three games, I think. We’re in that situation right now where guys are holding their sticks really tight and not doing things that are natural for them and consequently we’re not scoring.”
“I think we had some injuries and had a couple guys out of the lineup,” said Caps center Sergei Fedorov, “but I think we had so many chances, simple as that. If we score at least three or four it would be a different story. I thought we didn’t play badly, I thought we played enough to score. We created a lot of scoring opportunities almost every period. The other team found a way to get the rebounds and bounces back. We scored one late in the game but it was too late for us.”
Missing Workhorses – Ovechkin averages 22:54 per game in ice time and is the only Caps forward who averages more than 20 minutes a night. Poti averages 21:31 per contest, and is one of only two Caps blueliners who averages better than 20 minutes a game. With both players out and only 17 skaters dressed instead of the usual 18, the Caps were forced the Caps to reapportion ice time.
“[Those are] two of our most important players,” said Boudreau. “Obviously, Alex [Ovechkin] he’s a big difference maker. You can see on the power play already that the attention people play to Alex [Ovechkin] opens up other things and they weren’t paying that attention that they normally do. Missing Tom Poti doesn’t allow us to have Sergei [Fedorov] at center where he compliments that second line so much better.”
Semin had another tremendous game, and he skated 24:23 on the night, the most ice he has seen in nearly two years. Semin skated 25:28 in a 6-2 loss to the Islanders on March 3, 2007.
Mike Green played 31:03 on the night, leading all skaters on both sides. It was the fifth time this season that Green has cracked the 30-minute barrier, and the third time he has done so in a game that ended in regulation time.
Playing on the blueline, Fedorov logged 22:45 on the night. It was the most he has skated in a game since he toiled for 25:30 on Oct. 23, 2008 in Phoenix, another game in which he was deployed as a defenseman.
Fleischmann logged 19:28, the most he has ever skated in his 175-game NHL career.
Semin Streaking – Semin’s late third-period goal extended his goal streak to five consecutive contests. That matches his career best streak, previously done twice (most recently from Feb. 15-24, 2008). Semin now has six goals and 12 points in his last seven games.
Nothing After 40 – Tonight’s game was the 66th played this season by the Capitals, and it was the first time all season that a Washington game was a scoreless tie through the first 40 minutes of the contest.
Matching the Mark –Nicklas Backstrom collected an assist on Alexander Semin’s third period goal. In the process, Backstrom registered his 69th point (17 goals, 52 assists). He has now matched the point total he put up as an NHL freshman in 2007-08.
Matching the Mark II – Tonight’s game was Washington’s 23rd sellout of the season, matching the franchise record previously set two other times. Nineteen of the Caps’ last 21 home dates have resulted in sellouts.
Triumphant Return/Debut – It’s been a tough year for Gerber. He started the season with Ottawa, splitting time with Alex Auld. By the midpoint of the season, Gerber had been supplanted by Auld, and later he was sent to the minors in favor of Senators rookie Brian Elliott.
Gerber cleared waivers on the way down, but Toronto claimed him off re-entry waivers yesterday because Leafs No. 1 netminder Vesa Toskala has been lost to season-ending surgery.
Thursday night’s game against Washington was Gerber’s first NHL game since Jan. 8, and it turned out to be his first win since Dec. 30. He stopped 37 of the 38 shots he faced, narrowly missed a shutout and won in his Toronto debut.
“He plays that Quebec, butterfly style,” observed Wilson. “Big upper body. He was a little lucky, but the defense did a great job of clearing rebounds and I’m just sad that he didn’t get the shutout. We missed two empty nets that could’ve let the air out of the balloon.”
“I was a bit nervous,” admitted Gerber. “A little emotional to come back and play a game here. I tried to keep it simple. The guys did a great job to bounce bodies away from the net and let me see the puck and help me.
“As the game went on, they (the Capitals) had a couple of good ones. We were lucky too there a couple of times. On the other side, we were able to score and it definitely gave us a big boost and helped us keep going for 60 minutes which was the difference.”
Stepping Up – Rookie Leafs center John Mitchell picked up an assist and had a goal disallowed in the first period. He was one of the best skaters on the ice. A fifth-round (158th overall) choice by Toronto in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Mitchell has started to emerge offensively of late.
Including tonight’s performance, he has three goals and five points and is plus-4 in his last five games. With former top six Toronto forwards Nik Antropov and Dominic Moore having moved on to other teams, Mitchell has skated better than 20 minutes in each of the Leafs’ last two games, the first times he has exceeded that threshold in his career.
“He’s ready for this challenge,” said Toronto head coach Ron Wilson. “He’s skating really well. He’s playing with (Leafs forward) Jason Blake and Jason makes a lot of things happen.”
Streak Stopped – Tonight’s tilt marked the first time in the last eight games that the Leafs did not have to play more than 60 minutes to get a final result. In playing seven straight overtime contests, Toronto tied an NHL mark previously established by the Edmonton Oilers.
1 - 0 TOR
2 - 0 TOR
2 - 1 TOR
Mike Van Ryn
Delaying Game-Puck over glass