Sunday, March 9, 2008

Marc-Andre Fleury Makes Ammends and the Capitals Make Mistakes

After being pulled in the first intermission of his previous start against Florida, where he allowed 3 goals on 19 first period shots, Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was right back between the pipes against the Washington Capitals and Alexander Ovechkin. The game was everything one would expect from a tilt that featured many of the greatest young stars this game has to offer, including Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin.

Ovechkin came out flying and took a huge run at Evgeni Malkin but ultimately got the worst of the hit as Malkin ducked at the last second, sending Alexander flying over top and into the boards bringing both players down to the ice. It was a slightly manic 1st period that frantically alternated between an incredibly physical and chippy game and a fast, counter-attack filled contest. In typical Pittsburgh style, they were grossly outshot in the 1st period 11 to 4 but Fleury held his ground and kept the game even at 0.

The second period didn't bring any rest for Fleury as yet again the Penguins were outshot this time by a whopping 22-9. Washington would be the first team to get on the board when Brooks Laich deflected Alexander Semin's shot on the powerplay. Ovechkin would get an assist giving him 92 points on the season. One minute and 19 seconds later, Evgeni Malkin, not to be outdone by his Russian competitor, blasted down the wing and made a beautiful cross ice pass to Petr Sykora who buried his 22nd of the season. Despite the overwhelming amount of shots and scoring chances, it would take 10 minutes before another goal was scored and it would be Sidney Crosby from Malkin and Sergei Gonchar just as a powerplay expired. Crosby was able to collect a rebound at the side of the net, perform a quick toe drag to open up the five-hole and throw the puck between Cristobal Huet's legs to put the Pens up 2-1. One minute and 38 seconds later Alexander Semin would get on the board with a play that looked somewhat similar to Crosby's where he grabbed the puck at the side of the net, dusted it off and slid it through the shortside as Fleury, expecting a pass to the slot, leaned off the post. Ovechkin collected his second assist of the night and the Russian trifecta of Sergei Fedorov, Alexander Semin and Alexander Ovechkin would send the game into the third period tied at 2.

Pittsburgh finally came alive in the third period and would ultimately out shoot the Capitals 13 to 5 but with less than a minute left, the game was still tied. Washington appeared to turtle a bit as they were hoping to hold off the Penguins and get into overtime, securing an enormously important point especially after blowing a huge game only 24 hours earlier. Huet was great in net and seemed to have things under control before a puck was thrown to the front with 28 seconds left. The puck slid across the crease and Huet pushed it to the side where rookie-of-the-year candidate Nicklas Backstrom was standing. There was heavy traffic in the slot but Backstrom had time to quickly slid the puck behind the net, which is what he attempted to do. Instead, he fired it past Huet on the gloveside and into his own goal. Ovechkin immediately fell to his knees and put his forehead on the ice as the Caps seemed destined to lose yet another tilt in an incredibly painful fashion. The Caps would pull Huet shortly thereafter but Malkin would quickly put the game out of reach. A Washington defenseman was coming up the wing and Malkni blocked a pass attempt by sliding on his hip along the ice before immediately jumping up to his feet to form a 2-on-1 with Jordan Staal. Malkin unselfishly snapped the puck over to Staal who would score his 10th goal of the season in the empty net and send the Penguins to a 4-2 victory.

When it was all said and done, the Penguins had allowed 38 shots on goal, 10 of which from Ovechkin, while generating 25 themselves but Fleury was the difference yet again. Ryan Whitney had another typical disaster of a game as he seemed to singlehandedly provide the Caps with at least a quarter of their scoring chances. Of course, this is an exaggeration but there were at least 6 or 7 turnovers in Pittsburgh's zone who's fault falls directly on him. Somehow he ended up a +1 in the game, but that's mostly because Fleury bailed him out multiple times. He continues to be the player most likely to cost the Pittsburgh Penguins a game and, I'm willing to bet, a playoff series.

The Caps suffered their second disaster in as many days. They had their game in hand on Saturday against the Bruins but chose to continue to run four lines with 5 minutes left in a 1-0 game. The Caps were absolutely controlling the play until Donald Brashear made a crucial and typically idiotic mistake. He accidentally high sticked a Bruin and drew blood, which happens to everyone but the mistake came afterwards when a player skated up to him to say something and Brashear threw a big left hand haymaker knocking the opponent down. Ultimately, the Bruins came out of the situation with a 6 minute powerplay and a 2 minute two-man advantage. Just under 2 minutes later, Zdeno Chara would send a rocket of a slapshot past Huet to tie the game. Of course, the problem was that John Erskine took a hooking penalty just before that extending the two-man advantage. When Chara scored, Brashear's first penalty came off the board but the Caps were still two-men down. With nearly 3 minutes left, and still one man down, Tom Poti took another penalty for slashing which would lead to Marco Sturm putting Boston up 2-1 only 40 seconds later. The Capitals went from controlling the play, to down 1 goal in 2 minutes and 45 seconds. The Caps, in shock, were unable to generate any opportunities in the last minute of the game and would lose a game that was in-hand only minutes before. Donald Brasher only played 8 minutes and 9 seconds but ultimately managed to cost his team the game which begs the question, why is Donald allowed to play especially at the end of a game when you're only up by 1? That win should have moved the Caps into a tie with Buffalo for 9th, but instead leaves them 7 points back of the streaking Carolina Hurricanes with a playoff berth seriously in question.

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