Familiar Formula – The Washington Capitals roared out to an 18-1-1 record in their first 20 home games of the 2008-09 season. They generally won those games in similar fashion; taking an early lead, grabbing a power play goal or two and putting their foot on the opposition’s throat to coast to the victory.
In tonight’s 2009-10 home opener, the Caps adhered to that formula for the game’s first 40 minutes. But they let their foot off the collective throat of the Toronto Maple Leafs, enabling the visitors to come back with three unanswered tallies in the final frame. A 6-1 lead turned into a 6-4 victory.
“First five periods [of the season] were pretty good,” said Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “I was once told that anytime you win, you shouldn’t complain because there’s so many times you lose. I told the guys that it was a great win and a great start but that we have to learn how to win 6-1 when we are in this position and not think we are going to win 9-1. I can preach about, which we do, but you’ve got to be committed to do that. But I think we have the group of leaders in the room to make that happen.
“You talk about ‘let’s learn how to win.’ Let’s learn how to win 6-1 instead of 9-1 and then they make it 6-4. It’s a great learning [experience]. We’ll take from it and it didn’t cost us anything. It might be a blessing in disguise.”
In their first 20 home games last season, Washington enjoyed a lopsided 26-9 advantage over the opposition. That figure stands at 3-0 in 2009-10, but the Caps will be looking to tighten up their third-period play – especially when playing with the lead – from here on out.
Trips or Better – Both Alexander Semin (two goals, one assist) and Alex Ovechkin (one goal, two assists) notched three or more points in a game for the second consecutive contest.
For Semin, it was the third time in his career and the first time since March 16-18, 2007 that he registered three or more points in consecutive games.
For Ovechkin, it was the fifth time in his career and the first time since Nov. 15-19, 2008 that he recorded three or more points in successive contests.
Neither Semin nor Ovechkin has picked up three or more points in as many as three straight games.
Laich On A Roll – After potting a pair of goals and picking up three points in Washington’s season opener on Thursday in Boston, Brooks Laich followed up with another tremendous game on Saturday. He had a goal and an assist, was a plus-1, and used his speed to score his goal (on a breakaway) and draw the Caps’ first power play of the game. Laich earned the hardhat for the night for his performance.
Dating back to the end of the 2008-09 regular season, Laich now has scored a goal in four straight games. He has six goals in his last four games and seven goals in his last six games. Laich has seven goals and 16 points in his last nine games.
Laich has admitted to being in a hurry in his early days in the NHL, but he credits former Caps center and future Hockey Hall of Famer Sergei Fedorov with helping him slow it down.
“A big influence on myself was Sergei Fedorov,” says Laich. “That guy never seemed to be in a hurry. If he was 15 minutes late for the plane, he would just show up and roll onto the plane. He was just very calm and poised and I watched him like a hawk day in and day out. I think that has really helped me.”
New Sweater – Forwards Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison are the newest Caps. The two veterans were signed within 10 days of one another in July, and both made their debuts in front of the home folks here tonight. It was a success for both men.
Knuble banged home a power play goal in the first, and Morrison scored his first goal as a Capital in the second period. The Caps signed Knuble for his net presence, and his tally came from his “office,” right at the top of the paint. Morrison’s attributes of speed and vision were both on display on Saturday as his goal came on a breakaway and he added an assist on linemate Laich’s third goal of the young season.
“The first thing is we won,” said Morrison. “I mean, that’s the biggest thing, but it’s nice to contribute there’s no question. To get it out of the way so it doesn’t kind of hang on you and linger and you’re not thinking about it. It’s over and done with and now I can just go play.”
More Mo – While “new Mo” (Brendan Morrison) had a two-point night, “old Mo” (Shaone Morrisonn) had a second straight strong outing. Morrisonn had four hits and five blocked shots on Saturday, and he now has seven hits and seven blocked shots on the young season. Morrisonn set the tone early, slamming Toronto’s Jason Blake into the boards behind the Washington goal on his first shift of the game.
With 352 NHL games played, the 26-year-old Morrisonn is the Caps’ second most experienced blueliner in terms of games in the league.
“It’s a little easier out there,” says Morrisonn, when asked about the difference those 350-some games make. “The game has slowed down a bit since my first year. It takes some time to mature as a defenseman and you learn the way in positioning and to have a good stick out there and stuff like that.”
Century City – With his three-point night against the Leafs on Saturday, Ovechkin now has exactly 100 more points (426) than NHL games played (326). Ovechkin has 222 goals and 204 assists for his NHL career.
Ovechkin also cracked the Caps’ all-time top 10 in scoring with Saturday’s three-point effort. He is now tied with Kevin Hatcher for 10th on the team’s all-time scoring ledger.
Hammer Time – Ovechkin, Milan Jurcina, Shaone Morrisonn and Mike Green paced the Caps with four hits each. The Capitals narrowly outhit the Leafs 24-22 on the night.
Streaking – The Caps won their home opener for the eighth consecutive season. Washington is 9-1-1 all-time in home openers at Verizon Center.
Ovechkin has eight goals in five career home openers, with at least a goal in each of those games.
I See Monster – The Caps potted three first-period tallies on beleaguered Toronto netminder Vesa Toskala, sending him from mask to baseball cap in the process. Toskala’s exit brought about the NHL debut of big (6-foot-3, 192 pounds) and ballyhooed Swedish goaltender Jonas Gustavsson.
The 24-year-old Gustavsson (nickname: “The Monster”) was signed as a free agent over the summer when the Leafs beat out a handful of other interested NHL clubs for his services. He stopped all 22 shots he faced in the preseason, and made his first NHL save on fellow Swede Nicklas Backstrom early in the second period of his NHL debut against the Caps on Saturday.
The Caps went on to nick the Monster for three second-period strikes. He allowed three goals on 19 shots in his maiden NHL voyage.
“We didn’t do a very good job in front of Vesa,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson afterwards, “and it gave me an opportunity to get Jonas a little bit of experience in a tough building and he made some really good saves.”
Looking For a C – The Leafs have three defensemen – Tomas Kaberle, Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek – as their alternate captains. Toronto has not had a captain since the recently retired Mats Sundin left town after the 2007-08 season. Toronto is expected to name a new captain in the coming weeks, and will almost certainly choose one of the three aforementioned blueliners.
By The Numbers – Morrison won five of six draws in the first … Green led the Caps with 24:18 in ice time while Ovechkin (22:12) paced the forwards in the same category.
Down on the Farm – Up north in south central Pennsylvania, the Hershey Bears raised the 2009 Calder Cup championship banner to the rafters of Giant Center prior to Saturday night’s season opener against the Norfolk Admirals.
Then the Bears went out and picked up where they left off last spring.
With 20-year-old rookie Braden Holtby in goal and making his professional debut, the Bears staked him to a quick 2-0 lead in the first. Andrew Gordon netted a pair of power play tallies in the first frame, getting help from Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux – the AHL’s top two scorers from 2008-09 – on both strikes.
Holtby lost his shutout bid in the third when Norfolk’s Blair Jones found the back of the net, but he stopped 23 of the 24 pucks he faced to earn a win in his pro debut. Gordon completed the hat trick on the power play (the Bears were 3-for-6 with the extra man on the night), and Giroux notched his third helper of the night.
Gordon, Holtby and Giroux were the game’s three stars, respectively. Bears coach Mark French picked up a win in his first game as the Bears’ head coach.
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