Alexander Semin has faced more than his fair share of struggles this season. He's been criticized for his soft play and many times appeared to be in his own little world on the ice. But tonight, he was THE reason why Washington beat Ottawa, 4-2 -- finishing a four-game sweep of the Eastern Conference leaders.
The Capitals, who have accounted for a third of the Sens' regulation losses this season, got on the scoreboard first, as Viktor Kozlov picked up the prettiest of his 22 assists on the year when he set up Mike Green for his 13th tally. Kozlov, who was used on the power play in the role vacated by Michael Nylander, made a back-door pass that would make the injured playmaker proud. Green was on the receiving end and made no mistake about one-timing the puck past Sens' goalie Ray Emery. The goal gave Green a two goal cushion atop the goal-scoring leaderboard among NHL defensemen.
But the Caps soon found themselves trailing as Ottawa scored two goals just over a minute apart to take a 2-1 lead. Then the Alexander Semin show began. Semin, who has been castigated for being out of position and over-stickhandling, scored arguably the prettiest goal netted by a Capital this season. First off, he was in perfect position as the third forechecker (the "safety" position in Boudreau's system) and picked off a cross-ice outlet pass. He deked around Wade Redden as if the defenseman was stuck in a block of concrete. Then he faked out Emery and roofed the puck, a mere 23 seconds after Redden put Ottawa ahead. Whatever momentum the Senators had generated was instantaneously gone.
Alex Ovechkin put the Caps ahead 3-2 with his 34th goal and is now just three behind Ilya Kovalchuk for the league lead in that category. It was a classic Ovechkin wristshot from the high slot that turned out to be the game winner, his 5th of the season and just one behind a tie for first in the league.
Then the Alexander Semin show resumed.
Chastised for being far too passive, Semin drove the net hard and poked a loose puck home for his second goal and third point of the game. It was only Semin's second multi-point game this season, but both were three point efforts that were registered over his past five games.
Another guy who has regularly been on critics' hitlists turned in a quietly exceptional performance.
Tomas Fleischmann played a key role in the each of the Caps' final two goals. On Ovechkin's go ahead marker, Fleischmann (working on the second power play unit) made a nice move and pass to set up a shot by Brooks Laich, the rebound of which Ovie corralled to score. The Semin goal that finished off the scoring was the result Fleischmann's hard work.
Fleischmann created a chance 1-on-3, stayed with the rebound to the corner, and fought off a defender to throw the puck out front off of Emery, where the puck sat for Semin to poke home. Also telling...Fleischmann had four takewaways -- no other Cap had more than one. Finally showing "flashes" that warrant his nickname, "Flash" played the best game of his young career.
While we're on the subject of nicknames, is there no bigger misnomer than Jeff Schultz being known as "Sarge?" Would a three-legged giraffe be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a Sergeant? I didn't think so.
But at this stage of his career, the 6'6" Schultz is being manhandled physically. In a game chock full of hard hitting, Schultz was shouldered head first into the boards (even causing him to drop his stick) by Ilja Zubov, a 6 foot, 197 pounder making his NHL debut -- a player not exactly known for the rough stuff. Zubov has promptly been reassigned to the AHL, but not before sending a "statement" to The Sarge. GIVE ME A BREAK!!! Send this guy to Hershey so he can fatten up on some chocolate and give Eminger a chance.
But the good certainly outweighs the embarrassing these days, and the Capitals continue to avoid losing consecutive games in regulation. They are absolutely in the thick of things in the Southeast Division, with games in hand on everyone, as they ready themselves to face the Edmonton Oilers tomorrow night.
A FEW NOTES FROM THE GAME:
<ul><li>Brent Johnson improved his career mark against Ottawa to 4-1-0. He survived a scary moment less than a minute into the game when he was knocked over by Chris Neil (no penalty was called on the play) and stayed down for a minute. But he shook off the cobwebs and proceeded to stop 26 of 28 Senators' shots. I would be surprised if he doesn't get the nod against Edmonton.</li>
<li>Johnson got plenty of help from his defenders as the Caps blocked 21 shots. Milan Jurcina led the way with four while Shaone Morrisonn and (surprise, surprise) Quintin Laing blocked three apiece.</li>
<li>Boyd Gordon got the start in place of Nylander on the second line centering Fleischmann and Semin. The two wingers had an excellent game, knowing they could focus on forechecking and being offensively creative with a defensively responsible center between them.</li>
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