Unusual Recipe – Playing in the altitude, against one of the best teams in the league, and playing without virtually half its blueline for virtually half of the game would not seem like an ideal situation in which to put a 6-1 beating on an opponent. But that’s precisely what the Washington Capitals did in Denver on Tuesday night in the opening game of a three-game road trip.
As they’ve done so often this season, the Caps jumped out to an early lead in the first. This time, they kept the hammer down all night against the Avs, the top team in the Northwest Division and a club that had won four of its last five coming into Tuesday’s tilt.
Washington scored two in the first and three in the second to take a commanding lead and cruise to win over the upstart Avalanche. The Caps were able to win despite losing defensemen Shaone Morrisonn and Mike Green to injuries sustained in separate hits from Colorado’s David Koci in the first and second period, respectively.
“We had to face a lot of adversity,” notes Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, “especially during the third period. We had three defensemen. And then when [defensemen] started taking penalties we had [Brendan Morrison] and [Brooks Laich] ready to go [on defense]. It was tough, but they simplified the game and didn’t try to run and gun with a 5-0 lead and got lucky and kept it the way it should have been.”
This One’s For Theo – Caps goaltender Jose Theodore was coming off a pair of uneven performances in his two previous starts, but he was strong between the pipes on this night. It took a third-period power-play goal to beat him, and that one pinballed around in front of him before it went in.
Tuesday’s game marked Theodore’s first game back in Denver since he joined the Caps at the start of the 2008-09 season. Theodore spent two-plus seasons with the Avalanche before the team opted not to re-sign him after the 2007-08 season.
“We wanted to win this one for Theo,” says Laich. “He was really excited today before the game. He had some time here and then they let him go. I thought he played great and our guys did a great job in front of him. We got scoring from guys that don’t often score, so I think it was a good win for our team tonight.”
“I’m really happy for him,” says Boudreau. “Because I know mentally he has struggled with the last two games. You knew he wanted to have a good game back in Denver where he played for a few years. So I am happy for him. We need it. We need that effort from our goaltender.”
With the victory, Theodore raised his career record at the Pepsi Center to 26-16-2. He now sports a 2.71 GAA and a .904 save pct. in his former home building.
Secondary Stuff – The Caps had gone 2-2 in their previous four games before Tuesday’s contest against Colorado. Washington had scored 10 goals in those four games, getting eight of those 10 from one of its “Young Guns:” Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom and Green.
They altered that pattern tonight.
Tomas Fleischmann scored twice. Mike Knuble, David Steckel and Matt Bradley all added single strikes, and Backstrom netted the final goal of the game on a Washington power play with less than three minutes remaining in the third period.
Short In the Back – Morrisonn took a hit from Koci in the first, suffering an injury that kept him on the bench for most of the rest of the evening.
Another Koci hit injured Green in the second, and John Erskine incurred 17 minutes worth of penalties while standing up for Green. That took the Caps down to three defensemen: Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz and Karl Alzner. Both Poti and Schultz took minor penalties in the third period that left the Caps with only two “actual” blueliners.
Boudreau was forced to press Laich into service on the backline, and he also had Brendan Morrison all set to take some shifts as a defenseman.
“At one point we were down to two on the ice,” says Laich. “I was on the bench and they also had Brendan Morrison back [there]. He was going to take a shift on D. It’s unfortunate a couple of our guys go down. But it was nice that we had the lead that we could do that. We had a bit of a cushion in case we were to make a mistake out there.”
Lacih played 8:31 in the third period, including 2:36 while Washington was shorthanded. Poti played 11:09 in the third, including 2:26 of shorthanded ice time. Alzner played 9:21 in the final frame, including three minutes while the Caps were down a man. Schultz skated 8:17 in the third.
Laich downplayed his contributions.
“I know what our d-men do,” he comments. “It just comes from being a student of the game. I’ve played power play, I’ve played [on the] penalty kill. I’ve been here five years. I’m an experienced guy. I know our systems.”
“He was pretty solid tonight,” says Boudreau. “He was putting on a D clinic.”
Getting No. 3 Is The Key – With tonight’s win, the Caps raised their record to 3-2-2 in games in which they’ve held a 2-0 lead. Washington lost its previous game 6-3 to the Leafs in Toronto on Saturday after taking a 2-0 lead.
First Shift – Caps center Kyle Wilson got on the scoresheet on his first NHL shift, earning an assist on Tomas Fleischmann’s 12th goal of the season at 1:56 of the first frame. Wilson was denied on a breakaway later in the first, and then he set up Fleischmann beautifully for the latter’s second goal of the game in the second period.
“You’ve got to get a little bit lucky sometimes,” says Wilson. “And the puck bounced the right way at the start there. Hopefully I can keep getting bounces like that.”
Multiple Men – In Washington’s 34 games this season, nine Capitals skaters have combined for a total of 25 two-goal games, including Fleischmann’s pair against Colorado.
Fleischmann has half a dozen career two-goal games, including four in 23 games played this season.
Back On The Beam – Playing in his third game after returning from a broken finger, Caps winger Mike Knuble netted his sixth goal of the season in the first period. The goal was Knuble’s first since he scored a pair against Florida on Nov. 7. It was his second road goal of the season and his first since Oct. 29 at Atlanta.
Happy Birthday – To Wilson, who became the first Capital to make his NHL debut on his birthday since Mike Green did so on his 20th birthday in 2005.
Wilson was plus-2 with two assists in 11:15 of work in his first NHL game. He also earned the hardhat for his efforts against the Avs.
Leaning Left – With righty-shooting forwards Milan Hejduk, Marek Svatos and David Jones all on the sidelines with injuries, the Avs had just two right-handed shots in the lineup on Tuesday: forward Chris Stewart and defenseman Adam Foote.
Honored Av – Colorado held a brief pre-game ceremony to honor former Avalanche winger Mike Keane, who was an integral cog on two Stanley Cup championship teams in Denver and another when he was a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
Keane, who is still an active player with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, began his pro career during the Calder Cup playoffs with Sherbrooke of the AHL in 1987. He has played 1,161 NHL games for Montreal, Colorado, the New York Rangers, Dallas, St. Louis and Vancouver. Keane has been playing in the AHL since the lockout.
Including playoff games, Keane has played in a remarkable 1,849 games as a pro.
Goon Squad – Colorado’s David Koci earned a game misconduct and a five-minute major for boarding late in the second period when he pasted Caps defenseman Mike Green headfirst into the seamless glass behind the Washington net. Koci got an additional five minutes for fighting Caps blueliner John Erskine, who quickly jumped to Green’s aid.
For the 6-foot-6, 238-pound Koci, Tuesday’s game was his 97th in an NHL “career” that began with Chicago in 2006-07. The 28-year-old Koci has also worn the St. Louis and Tampa Bay sweaters since then.
Heading into tonight’s game, Koci was averaging all of 3:04 in ice time per game, the lowest figure of his four seasons in the league. He was on the ice for 4:52 on Tuesday.
In his 97 games in the league, Koci has totaled two goals, one assist, 22 shots on goal and 361 minutes in penalties.
“Please. The guy’s got one goal in six years,” declares Boudreau. “He couldn’t play in the American League. If you’re looking to get things out of the game … I’ve faced David Koci an awful lot. He might be a nice guy; I have no idea. I’m glad he’s making a living, but let’s be honest. If this was any game, he gets on the ice in the first three minutes, he gets into his fight with the guy and then he sits at the end of the bench. And that’s it. So what good is he?
“[From] 15 feet he saw Green’s No. 52 and that didn’t stop him one iota from hitting him in the back and going for the head. So I hope they throw the book at him. To me it’s a bush-league hit.”
With rugged Cody McLeod on the roster, the Avs have the good fortune of having one of only four players in the entire league who totaled 10 or more fights and 10 or more goals last season. Having Koci on the roster is redundant, superfluous and needless.
By The Numbers – Even in the high altitude and without any Washington power play time, Alex Ovechkin averaged 1:02 per shift in the first period tonight. Mike green was at 58 seconds per shift … Green led all skaters on both sides with 9:48 of first-period ice time. John Erskine was second at 8:36 … The Caps were outhit 11-4 in the first period and were outhit again by the same margin in the second … Only one member of the Avs (Justin Mercier) was an even player. John-Michael Liles was at the top of the dubious end of the list at minus-3 … The Caps are now 2-0 against Northwest Division opponents and 4-1-1 against Western Conference foes.
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