In somewhat unexpected fashion, hockey sure seemed to blow up around town yesterday. Late Thursday morning Dan Steinberg began generating a great volume of great dispatches from Pittsburgh. You should read every single one of them. His Post colleague Tarik via Twitter reported never before encountering so massive a media following for a regular season hockey game. Corey Masisak was on site in the Igloo helping out Comcast. Our comrade Dmitry Chesnokov made the trip up as well. On line there was a beautiful buzz about the big game.
In town, the big hockey game was big for hockey fans but also Washington’s sports fans. At Bailey’s in Ballston scores of puckheads crammed together to game-watch party with JP and Puck Daddy. It was Hockey Night at the Hard Times Cafe in Clarendon. At Bobby Van’s steakhouse off of McPherson Square in Northwest the happy hour bar talk among many businessmen and women was of the Chris Clark trade and Jason Chimera’s getting settled into his new lineup. At ESPNZone a few blocks away the big game filled the giant screen, and boisterous celebrations accompanied every Capitals’ goal.
And as for the game itself, not bad, eh? OFB’s youngest Pens’ haters chronicled last night’s game:
- Physical hockey: For the first time in seemingly a long time, the Capitals played a hard fought contact game. Starting in the second period when Brooks Orpik took a little run at Ovi, the heavy hitting commenced and lasted much of the rest of the game.
- What a fantastic turnaround from Tuesday’s game against Detroit, when the DC hosts were outshot 15-3 in the first period. Last night it was 15-13 in Washington’s favor in the opening frame. The Caps played a full 60-minute game against Pittsburgh and have now scored at least four goals in a game in 12 of their last 17 and eight of their last nine. They have also won eight of their past nine.
- Rolling four lines: Boudreau wanted to keep his best players fresh on Thursday night, and it actually paid off not only for Ovechkin and Backstrom but for almost everyone else. A player from each of the top three lines got an even-strength goal last night, and David Steckel got an assist on Ovi’s empty-netter.
- All four centers were above 50 percent in the dot, and surprisingly it was Steckel that had the worst draw rate (53 per cent). Backstrom (59 per cent), Fleischmann (69 per cent), and Morrison (100 percent — 8-0) were phenomenal in the circle and helped give the Caps puck possession for much of the game.
- Perfection (just barely) on the PK: 4-0. That’s achieved partly by keeping the volume of penalties low. Crosby and Malkin were stationed along the half-wall for much of the time, and defenders at times allowed them to cheat inside the scoring area with the puck. Kris Letang’s goal was scored one second after John Carlson’s minor expired. A carryover trend from last spring’s playoff series — an imbalance of whistles against D.C. — was slightly less noticeable Thursday night.
- The Caps’ two young defensemen struggled at times, but in the first game they have both played in together in a Washington sweater, and considering the offensive arsenal they were facing, the results were strong overall. John Carlson delivered a few quality hits and displayed his trademark poise. Alzner was not too noticeable — his trademark. Tom Poti again was the Caps’ best defenseman. He played a smart, sound game in his zone, kept the Penguins pinned in the corners and along the boards, and effectively killed penalties.
- JT: Aside from the embarrassing and possibly demoralizing opening goal, no. 60 again was a force between the pipes. He was not named a star of the game, but he was one. He saw more than 40 shots again, and only three of them turned on the red light.
- The streaking-in-on-a-breakaway Tomas Fleischmann is fast becoming a beautiful sight for HockeyWashington. You bet Alex Semin’s spring pass merits mention — one of the best pass you’ll see all season.
- Keeping cool: the Caps largely kept themselves out of the penalty box despite the Penguins trying to goad them into taking stupid penalties. It shows that while Washington was fired up for the game, they were able to play mature, disciplined and composed hockey.
- The Caps laid an old fashioned beatdown on their old friend Brent Johnson. It seemed clear that the Caps felt confident shooting on BJ, seeming to know his tendencies as they beat him every which way: glove side, blocker side, on the sides of the net and upper deck.
- What more can one say about John Carlson? The kid not only scored the gold medal winning goal in the World Juniors, and represented Hershey in the AHL All Star game this week, he’s now a whopping +6 in the big leagues.
- That post-injury rust sure seems to have worn off Mike Knuble. He has four goals, one assist and is +1 in his last four games. Healthy and in synch with his linemates on the Capitals’ first line, Knuble will help this team earn its first-ever distinction for scoring more goals than any other team in the league.
- Thursday’s triumph was not complete vindication for last spring, but if you believe as I do that the road to the Stanley Cup finals at some point goes through Pittsburgh it’s never insignificant to win in the Igloo, with much of the hockey world watching. For now Washington has bragging rights, until the two teams meet again. If all the games are like Thursday’s, regardless of who wins, we could be in for a heck of another postseason series between these clubs.
The best news of the night actually arrived approximately two hours before faceoff. Christian Frankovic, spanking brand new son of one of our favorite Caps’ bloggers Ed, arrived in the world then. He’s unbeaten against Pittsburgh.