What a hockey game last night between the Washington Capitals and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The National Hockey league is trying to sell the ‘new’ hockey to consumers and last night’s spirited affair was surely the type of hockey that the league had in mind. Fast-paced, energetic, and hard-fought, this game had it all.
The Air Canada Center was buzzing as they anxiously awaited their first 2006 glimpse at one of hockey’s youngest and most promising young phenomenons, Alex Ovechkin. The Leafs and the Caps meet four times this year, so this was one of only two opportunities that the Maple Leafs’ faithful would get a chance to see him on home ice this year. As usual, Ovechkin did not disappoint those who came to see what all of this hype was about. But this game actually wasn’t won for the Capitals by Ovie – this one was all Olie.
Olaf Kolzig that is – goaltender ‘extraordinaire’ for the Washington Capitals.
Kolzig stood on his head against Toronto. He stopped 35 of 37 shots and added to a little known ‘fact’ about just how good ‘Olie the Goalie’ really is. Saturday night was exactly the tenth time this year that the Caps have allowed 35 or more shots in a game that Kolzig has played – he has yet to lose a single one of those games.
You read correctly. The Capitals are 9-0-1 in games where Kolzig faces 35 or more shots.
What an amazing feat. It’s no wonder that the Capitals play a brand of hockey that sometimes leave the goaltender to steal games; it works for them. Is that really all that surprising though? Caps coach Glen Hanlon knows a thing or two about playing net in the NHL, and he seems to have an uncanny feel for when is the right time to ‘open things up’ for this quick, exciting young team. It’s what makes this young team, “hard to play against this year,” according to broadcaster and Canadian icon Bob Cole.
Both teams had one power play attempt in the first period, but neither could capitalize. Then the Caps power play caught fire in the second period as Washington scored three unanswered power play goals to take a 3-0 lead.
The first goal came from who else but Ovechkin. Alexander Semin made a great play to break between the Leafs’ defense, but goaltender Andrew Raycroft turned away Semin’s shot. Ovie was ‘johnny-on-the-spot’ though, grabbed the rebound and roofed it from just outside the crease. A real goal scorer’s goal and Canadian hockey fans gasped aloud as Ovechkin showed what ‘great hands’ he has to go along with that endearing rugged style of play.
CBC broadcaster and hockey legend Don Cherry spoke about Ovechkin at great length on Coaches Corner between the first and second period. He described him as ‘reckless’ and stated that he thought that, “he (Alex) is going to get it.” Cherry was alluding to the fact that Ovechkin plays with a real chip on his shoulder and that one day someone is going to try and knock that chip off of his shoulder.
“It’s too bad. I love the way he plays,” Cherry added. Canada’s hockey czar wasn’t trying to be snide, he was just pointing out that when you play the way that Ovie does, one day you might have to pay the reaper. Cherry was gushing over Ovie though – and Cherry doesn’t gush much. It was obvious that Alex had made a positive lasting impression.
Alex made the same impression on Cole who was calling play-by-play for the game, “He just seems to know where to go to get the puck all the time.”
Semin added a power play marker just a minute and a half after the Caps went up 1-0. Leaf captain Mats Sundin was called for holding right after the Caps first goal and could only look on from the penalty box as Semin fired a wrist shot over the left shoulder of the Leaf goaltender Raycroft. Semin grabbed a loose puck in the slot, made a quick drag move around the Leaf forward, and fired a wrist shot home.
Five minutes later, Sundin was penalized again; cross checking was the call. This time it was Dainius Zubrus’ chance to pot a beauty. Zubrus took a pass from Ovechkin in the corner, backed out from behind the net while still stick handling, and fired a shot past Raycroft. It was Zubrus’ second point on the evening (he assisted on Semin’s goal), it was his fourteenth goal of the season, and it gave the Caps a 3-0 lead to take into the second intermission.
Just before the end of the period though, Darcy Tucker showed why he’s one of the toughest players in hockey. Recognizing that his team needed a spark, the diminutive forward dropped his gloves and went toe-to-toe with Brian Sutherby. Tucker didn’t really win or lose the fight, but it was intended to wake up his sleeping Toronto team.
Unfortunately for the Capitals, it worked. Or maybe Sundin took the two penalties and two goals scored against the Leafs while he was in the box, personally. Regardless of the reason, the big Leaf captain came out looking for blood in the third, and it didn’t take him long to make an impact.
Just over three minutes into the last period, Sundin broke in on the net alone and was hauled down as he was taking a shot. The referee did not hesitate for even a second as he pointed straight to center ice to indicate that Sundin was being rewarded with a penalty shot. Sundin picked up the penalty shot at center ice with speed, broke in on Kolzig and fired a shot top shelf where they keep the peanut butter. Kolzig didn’t have a chance and Sundin had his team back to within striking distance at 3-1 with more than sixteen minutes to play.
But wait, Sundin wasn’t finished and Alex Ovechkin isn’t the only guy that can completely take over a hockey game. Leafs coach Paul Maurice sensed that Sundin was ‘feeling it’ and left him on the ice after scoring the goal. The Leaf coach was rewarded for the foresight just fourteen seconds later, as Sundin had netted his second and the Leafs were within one, down just 3-2.
Now it was Hanlon’s turn to ‘coach’. Hanlon called a timeout to settle the troops and try to keep the Leafs captain from pulling this game even. It worked.
The Caps got off their heels and stopped trying to defend their lead, something they haven’t done all that effectively in 2006. It was at that point that this game turned into a barn burner. The Caps went back on the offensive and the result was a third period that went back and forth and from end to end. Both teams opened it up and treated fans to the type of ‘new breed’ of hockey that the league wants to see.
Two other things bear mentioning that kept the two points alive for the Caps on Saturday night.
The first is Donald Brashear. Remember that little part about Tucker lighting a fire under his team at the end of the second to fire up his team? “Brash” did the same thing for the Caps about a minute after the Leafs second goal. Needing some sort of spark, Brashear dropped the gloves with Leaf heavyweight Wade Belak. Make no bones about it, this was a heavyweight tilt – even if Belak was already sporting a seven-stitch seam between his eyes from a high stick the night before. It was the type of fight that a real hockey fan loves to see – two big guys throwing bombs but not really trying to hurt anyone. As Howie Meeker used to say, “Just Super!”
The other factor in the Caps squeaking out of Toronto with the two points was the play of aforementioned goaltender Olie Kolzig in the third period. Do most hockey fans have any idea how good of a goalie this guy is? It’s no wonder he’s on the all star ballot.
The Leafs had several opportunities to draw even in the third but they just couldn’t beat Kolzig. Sundin himself had two glorious opportunities to score the equalizer but Olie was more than up to the task. In fact, Sundin had ten shots on goal on Saturday with six of them coming in the third period alone. Nobody else on the ice could stop Sundin, but fortunately for Washington, Kolzig had it covered.
It’s a recipe that is working for the Capitals and will likely go on working. The Capitals have the team make-up to play any team tough and with such superstar talent in Ovie and Olie, anything can happen in any game. Two points are a possibility each and every night and the team plays with growing confidence because of that work ethic.
Saturday it meant two points against a team that the Caps are vying with on the perimeter of the conference playoff standings. Both teams came into the game tied in points, but the Caps left with 39 points and were the season to end today, the Capitals would be the eighth and final playoff qualifier from the Eastern Conference.
Game Notes: The Leafs injury woes were compounded Saturday night when Mike Peca went down with a serious knee injury. Peca broke his tibial plateau when he collided knee-to-knee with Caps defenseman Jim Vandermeer. Vandermeer received a match penalty, a call that replays showed to be a bad call as there seemed to be no malice on Vandermeer’s part and he never extended his leg to trip up the Leaf forward. It was an unfortunate collision as Peca will be about for at least 3-4 months.
The Leafs’ bench is really getting short with Nik Antropov, Kyle Wellwood and Alexei Ponikarovsky all on the shelf already.
Kris Newbury is one player that the Leafs will look to in filling the injury void. Newbury came up from the Toronto Marlies and saw his first NHL action against the Capitals. He played well in limited action, but it’s quite probable that the action won’t remain ‘limited’ in the next few weeks as the Leafs try to fight through this rash of injuries to their top forwards.
Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Mark Solway