Caps Rock the Blues, 3-2

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Jason Arnott Has Had an Immediate Impact
courtesy of ‘clydeorama’
The Capitals came from behind twice to defeat the St. Louis Blues 3-2 last night at the Verizon Center. General Manager George McPhee is looking awfully good this morning as newly acquired Jason Arnott scored the winning goal in the third period. Once nearly unbeatable at home, the Caps won back-to-back home games for just the first time since November. Sitting in second place in the Southeast Division and fifth overall in the Eastern Conference, the Caps are looking to move up in the standings with 17 games to go.

The Caps got off to another uneven start in the first period, playing aggresively but not wisely. Passes were not connecting, and there were too many turnovers and missed defensive assignments. The Blues had several excellent scoring chances with passes going through the slot or even through the crease, and one shot rang off the post. The Caps gave up numerous odd-man breaks, and finally a 3-on-2 turned into a 1-on-0 and Alex Steen beat Michal Neuvirth top shelf to make it 1-0.

Matt Bradley provided a spark when he squared off with Tyson Strachan near the end of the period. “Our fans deserve a better effort than we have been giving lately,” said Bradley of the Caps’ recent skid at home. “You just try to get the guys going.”

Hannan and McDonald
Hannan and McDonald
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Alex Ovechkin has figured in the last three Caps’ goals going back two games, and last night was no different as he registered assists on the Caps first two goals. Three minutes into the second period, Ovie had the puck below the red line with Nicklas Backstrom in front but drawing a crowd. Ovie spied Scott Hannan pinching down behind Backstrom in the right circle. With a pin-point pass from Ovechkin, Hannan settled the puck and beat Blues goalie Ty Conklin high on the glove side for his first goal in a Caps sweater.

The pace began to pick up and the shots poured in at both ends. But once again the odd-man break came back to bite the Capitals. Another 2-on-1 by the Blues resulted in another goal when BJ Crombeen beat Neuvy stick side and the Blues retook the lead, 2-1.

Semin Draws Penalty
Semin Draws a Penalty as Fans Wish Him Happy Birthday
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Less then two minutes later Backstrom got his chance, swatting a chest-high puck past Conklin to tie the score again at 2-2. Ovechkin and Mike Knuble were credited with assists on the fluky goal.

McPhee’s moves at the trade deadline Monday when Arnott, Dennis Wideman and Marco Sturm joined the team are paying immediate dividends. There is a palpable improvement in confidence on the bench. Wideman handles the puck with authority at both ends of the ice. Sturm had several excellent scoring opps and contributed on the PK. Arnott is a welcome presence in the middle and is rarely caught out of position. He preaches responsible hockey. “We have to play solid “D”,” said Arnott after the game. “Then the offense will come.”

The Caps were getting good shifts from all four lines last night. The line of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble has been the top line most of the past two seasons with great success. The newly formed second line of Laich-Arnott-Semin was impressive at both ends of the ice and will clearly be a scoring threat. “I especially like Arnott and Semin and Laich,” said Coach Bruce Boudreau. “They like playing with each other.”

New acquisition Sturm played along side Marcus Johannson and Jason Chimera on the third line. All three are strong skaters and could emerge as a speedy line that will keep other teams off balance. Fan-favorites Matt Henricks and Matt Bradley form the fourth “checking” line with Boyd Gordon. These guys bring a ton of energy every night and can be always counted on to provide a spark. Boudreau has a penchant for tinkering with line combinations, but a little consistency going into the play-offs could be a good thing.

Wideman Clears Puck
Wideman Clears the Puck in Front of Michal Neuvirth
courtesy of ‘clydeorama’

Among the blue-liners, Dennis Wideman led all Caps in ice time last night and handled the puck with authority in every situation. John Carlson and Karl Alzner still look like rookies with Carlson making uncharacteristic turnovers. And while Scott Hannan had a good game, Jeff Shultz looks plain awkward out there without Mike Green these days. Get well soon, Mike.

Arnott’s game-winner came in the third period on a two on one break with Alexander Semin. Semin came down the right side of the ice and deftly passed to Arnott who was ready for a one-timer past Conklin. “We are creating a little chemistry, getting to know each other,” said Arnott with some understatement. “We do a lot of talking on the bench.”

The Caps head to the Sunshine State this weekend to face the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa now leads the Southeast Division by 1 standings point over Washington.

Will Packard

Will moved to DC 33 years ago to go to college and never left. By day he is the director of finance at an interactive marketing agency near Dupont Circle. When not hanging out at Kettler Iceplex or Verizon Center, he can often be found out rowing on the Potomac River or searching for the perfect burrito.