Bad news for the rest of the Southeast division regarding Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals: They’re heating up.
Ovie and the newly constituted Caps top line of he, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Semin teamed with Mike Green to score all five Washington goals and pick up 13 combined points as the Capitals rolled over their only other competition for the division crown, the Carolina Hurricanes, 5-1.
Ovechkin, who had a goal and two assists, scored a vintage Ovie goal, breaking in on a 2-on-1 with Semin and performing a maneuver more commonly seen in the shootout at full speed to stake the Caps to a 1-0 lead they would not surrender. Semin and Green also scored in the first period to open up a 3-1 lead.
The game also saw Brent Johnson, who has been very good in the stead of should-have-been starter Jose Theodore, get absolutely pummeled by ‘Canes players while covering a puck and waiting in vain for a whistle to come. He left the game having given up a goal on 14 shots. Theodore performed admirably in his relief, stopping 13 shots over the last 40 minutes of the game.
Semin scored his second goal of the game in the second and Backstrom added his insult-to-injury strike in the third. When the game was over, Ovechkin and Green both had a goal and two assists, Backstrom had one of each, and Semin had two goals and three assists. Semin now leads the league in points (27) and goals (13). Those numbers will only increase now that Ovie, who has a ho-hum 13 points in 13 games but is 2-5-7 in his last four, has apparently found his touch again.
What this all adds up to, of course, is bad news for the ‘Canes, who at least made the Southeast interesting for the first month and a half or so of the season. With what’s seems like an unstoppable offensive troika of Ovechkin, Semin and whichever center gets dropped between them, plus Green providing offensive pop from the point, the Caps might now have the arsenal to win even the bloodiest of gunfights should their goaltending not hold up. Not that they’ll need that much help against teams like Atlanta (-.74 goal differential per game), Tampa (-.67), Florida (-.47) and Carolina (-.31), because Washington, despite the so-so offense from everyone BUT Semin is +.4. What will that climb to with Ovechkin actually playing well? It’s hard to peg down a number, obviously, but you know it could — and probably will — get ugly in a hurry.
So yeah, the race for the Southeast crown appears all but over save for a cataclysmic injury to one or two of Washington’s big guns. The Caps already lead the division by two points with a game in hand and have yet to lose in regulation at the Verizon Center. Unlike those punks at the network news outlets, I’m calling the race well before it’s official: the Washington Capitals are your 2008-09 Southeast Division Champions.
The days of Ovechkin going 0-0-0 or 0-1-1 for two weeks straight already seem like distant memory, and that’s not a good thing for anyone but his team. They could be putting up NBA Jam Tournament Edition scores on the Southeast by January.
Buffalo 4, St. Louis 3
Ryan Miller made 30 saves and Adam Mair of all people had a multi-point night, as did HenriK Tallinder, Jochen Hecht and Tim Connolly. You’re not going to believe this though: Connolly left the game with an injury! Shocking. Patrik Berglund, David Perron and Lee Stempniak powered the Blues offense, providing all three goals and all but one St. Louis assist. Congratulations go out to Andrew Peters as well, because he got in two fights in just 1:26 of ice time in the first period and sat out the rest of the game.
New York Rangers 5, New Jersey 2
This was just a headstomping. It’s not every day someone puts up a five-spot on the Devs, but the way the Rangers did it was extra-hurtful. Two goals from Nik Zherdev, a goal and an assist from Chris Drury, and two assists each from Dan Girardi and Danny Fritsche highlighted the 42-shot barrage the Blueshirts poured on poor Scott Clemmensen and Kevin Weekes. Henrik Lundqvist, meanwhile, made 30 saves, including several big ones when the game was still close. That kid is pretty good.
Phoenix 5, Columbus 2
Shane Doan had two goals and an assist and played an all-around great game and Martin Hanzal finally scored his first goal of the season, shorthanded. Rick Nash picked up his sixth goal of the year in the losing cause, but still trails team leader Derrick Brassard, who added his seventh.
Florida 4, Tampa Bay 0
Man when you both give up four to and get shut out by FLORIDA, you really have nothing whatsoever going for yourself. Greg Campbell scored twice for the Cats, picking up 40 percent of his total season output from last year. Nathan Horton and Bryan McCabe also scored for the Panthers, who still suck. Mike Smith gave up four goals on 31 shots and Craig Anderson made 24 saves in recording the shutout.
Boston 2, Chicago 1 (SO)
What a goaltending battle in Chicago, who delayed the start of the game a full 38 minutes while the team retired No. 3 for Keith Magnuson. Tim Thomas made 32 saves (including stopping a penalty shot in overtime) at one end, while at the other, Nikolai Khabibulin stole the ‘Hawks a point by robbing several Bruins at different points in the game and making 38 stops and eight in the extra period. His most notable save came in the dying moments of overtime when Marc Savard crushed a one-timer from the bottom of the circles on the power play only to have Khabi glove it. It was disgusting.
Colorado 2, Vancouver 1 (SO)
Speaking of goaltending battles, Roberto Luongo and Petr Budaj combined to make 64 saves. The only goal Budaj gave up was on a Taylor Pyatt penalty shot, and the only one Luongo, who saw his shutout streak snapped at 242:36, was on an Avs power play. Marek Svatos scored the shootout winner to save two points for the Avs, but the loser point belongs, as it so often does, to Luongo.