After the euphoria of beating the Pittsburgh Penguins on their home ice on Thursday, the Caps faced another formidable opponent tonight as the surging Phoenix Coyotes paid a rare visit to the Phone Booth. While the Capitals boast an exceptional record of home wins, the desert dogs are one team who've had good luck on Verizon ice, having won three straight in The District and not losing to Washington since a 3-2 overtime Caps win on Jan. 28, 2000.
Tonight's contest gave Alex Ovechkin a chance to play (albeit "against") his Team Russia comrade, Phoenix goal tender Ilya Bryzgalov. And the boys saw another familiar face in an opposing sweater in former Hershey Bear, Sami Lepisto, who garnered the game's first penalty in the opening period. Mike Green was back in the lineup this evening, as was John Erskine, both coming off the injury list. The Capitals lit the lamp first on a power play goal by Brooks Laich with help from Alex Semin and Eric Fehr. Laich's marker gave him his fourteenth of the season!
The Coyotes got on the board to tie it with a goal from Lauri Korpikoski against a defenseless Michal Neuvirth, speaking of defenseless - there was a bit of a meltdown on the part of the Caps' defense leading to that tally. Neuvy made an outstanding play seconds later on what would have been a breakaway short-handed goal from Phoenix's Vernon Fiddler (now that doesn't sound like your typical hockey name to HM) and boy, was he mad when he got stonewalled!
The second period started out a bit sloppy on the part of both teams. Besides a solid penalty kill by the Coyotes in the first minute, both teams made several errant passes and a few "oopsies' early on. There was no doubt that this Phoenix team came to play however, as the hitting ramped up a notch and they seemed to get a bit feistier after the opening period. Shaone Morrisonn went to the box for holding a Coyotes' stick (that's one way to stop 'em, unfortunately it's not legal) and the boys went to work on a successful penalty kill.
Scottie Upshall took his turn in the box shortly thereafter for a hook and the boys in red took a 2-1 lead with a wacky-angled behind the net goal from Eric Fehr with assists from Semin and Ovi. At 17:06, the Caps added a little padding to that goal total with Alex Semin's third point of the evening as he went top-shelf on Bryzgalov. But we all know that as brilliant as Semin can be offensively, he also has a maddening tendency to take penalties at the most inopportune time (not that any time is a good time, mind you). Such was the case in the waning minutes of the second period as he deflected a puck over the glass when pal Eric Fehr was already in the sin bin for tripping putting the boys at a 5-3 disadvantage for a spell.
Another Hockey Mom high five though to the penalty killers who kept the Yotes off the board starting the third period! Phoenix cut the lead to within one with another goal from Lauri Korpikoski midway through the period. Then Coyotes' vet Ed Jovanovski (also affectionately known as "Jovocop") punched Brooks Laich in the face at the whistle and the Caps went on another power play (but did not score). Now HM thought that should have garnered a tougher penalty, but that's why I'm not wearing stripes (plus stripes don't exactly flatter a female figure)!
With under three minutes left to play, Nick Backstrom was called for cross-checking. Michal Neuvirth made an outstanding glove save on desert dog captain (and apparently a huge fan of the new "hockey" flick, The Tooth Fairy) Shane Doan as he went for the power play goal. Tempers boiled over in the final minute as scrums broke out after every whistle, earning the squeaky clean Jeff Schultz and Shane Doan roughing calls for their respective teams.
But Ovi netted an empty netter for the second time in a week - putting a fork in this one with a final of 4-2. A terrific performance by the special teams and Neuvirth, who shook off the pre-game nerves and the memories of his play against Florida and Tampa Bay and saved 28 shots for the win. A super Hockey Mom stick tap to Alex Semin (we can forget that silly puck over the glass thing) for his goal and three assists. When asked in the post-game press conference whether he thought Alex Ovechkin's new role as captain has had any effect on Sasha's level of play, Coach Boudreau said that he didn't know if there was a direct correlation but added that Semin "is on his game right now."
So another win against a tough team - they'll have to keep up the effort when they meet the New York Islanders on Tuesday. We all remember how scrappy those worker bees from the Island can be! HM is signing off - early to the rink tomorrow and it looks like I'll be spending the better part of the day there (and that is new how?)....