Caps Review/Preview 3.29

By Scott Lowe

To a man the Washington Capitals brushed aside their lackluster 5-3 loss to the Calgary Flames on Sunday, a game that Flames's superstar Jarome Iginla called a "game seven" before adding, "They're all game sevens now." Still, the performances of Jose Theodore - three goals allowed on nine shots - and defenseman Joe Corvo had to raise a few concerns.

As usual, the good news for the Caps was their never-say-die approach. After trailing 5-1, Washington rallied for two goals and was one Mikka Kiprusoff acrobatic save on Eric Belanger away from making it 5-4 in the final four minutes. The Caps outshot Calgary 33-12 after Theodore was pulled 10 minutes into the game.

A quick recap of Thedore's performance shows two soft, but odd, goals allowed, and a third goal in which Corvo got caught flat-footed. The first goal was a case of Theodore simply not hugging the post, and the second was one in which he was scrambling under pressure to cover the net only to have the puck glance off his glove and chest and into the net. Both should not have happened, but the second was a result of terrible defensive coverage in front forcing Theodore into fish-flopping mode.

"He looked like he was fighting the puck on every shot," said head coach Bruce Boudreau. "I just don't think he had it tonight. He'll be back in there Tuesday. There have been a lot of first periods lately that he's played great and kept us in the game."

Chalk the team's and Theodore's effort up to the law of averages, said Mike Knuble: "This was just one of those games that you are probably due for."

Added Alex Ovechkin: "We didn't start the game well. We knew that they would come at us hard. Still, we didn't give up. In the second and third periods we had more chances."

Ovechkin got the Caps on the board with his then-league-leading 46th goal (Sidney Crosby netted two vs. Toronto later to pass him) and tied his career high in assists (54), set twice previously, later when his power-play rocket rebounded off the back boards and onto the stick of Hershey call-up Matthieu Perrault, who deftly one-handed it into the net for his third tally of the season in 19 contests. Ovechkin now has recorded 100 points in four of his first five seasons.

Perreault was a breath of fresh air, as he has been almost every time he's been called upon this year. The tiny speedster brought energy to a sluggish offense despite being surprised about his recall from the AHL-leading Bears. "I was suprised for sure. I figured that they had a lot of forwards up here, but it's always good to play at this level."

Perreault was called up because Brooks Laich, who was hit in the face with a John Carlson shot earlier in the week at practice, was unable to play along with Boyd Gordon, who continues to rehab his sore back in Hershey, and Brendan Morrison, who has what Boudreau called a "lower-body tweak." Perrault and seldom-used kamikaze fourth-liner Quintin Laing, who recorded an assist on David Steckel's goal, were definite bright spots for the Caps.

Centering the third line between Jason Chimera and Eric Fehr, Perrault is a scrappy player who is an aggressive forechecker and always seems to be around the puck. Unable to return to the Caps' lineup after an 18-game stint earlier in the season, he is projected by some scouts as a third-line NHL player, probably because his smallish body would take a beating as a full-time fourth-liner over an 82-game haul. "You never know what's going to happen over the summer, so you want to make a good showing any time you have the chance," he said.

Getting back to Laich, he skated full speed by himself today for the first time since his freak injury last week and said that he felt "very, very good. It was very encouraging. I'll take the pregame skate with the guys tomorrow and see how I feel. I wanted to have a really good day without feeling anything before I got back on the ice with the guys. I didn't feel ready after I skated yesterday, but I'm excited to get back out there tomorrow."

Laich says he will wear a full cage for at least the first few games back while his face, which has been stitched up and sports a black eye, continues to heal.

Jeff Schultz, with the NHL's second-best plus-minus number behind Ovechkin, continued his breakthrough season, recording his 20th point of the year with an assist. That gives Washington three defensemen with at least 20 points, the first time the club has had three blueliners eclipse that mark since the 1999-2000 campaign.

The other scrap of good news for the Caps came later in the day when New Jersey fell to the Flyers, 5-1, allowing Washington to clinch it's first Eastern Conference regular-season title ever. Washington still holds a five-point lead over San Jose in the race for the President's Trophy and home ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

One sour note at the Verizon Center were the boo birds who surfaced after the Caps fell behind 4-0 at the end of one period. Granted, it may have been a few hundred of the nearly 19,000 on hand who booed, but it was noticeable and didn't make Boudreau happy.

"Give the guys a break," he said. "I mean I could see it if we were doing this on a regular basis, but it's enough pressure that they know they are going to hear it from their coach. The fans have been tremendous all year long, but the players have reciprocated. It's their right I guess, but I think the good ones were behind us all the way."

Washington's depth continues to be tested. Other walking wounded who are day-to-day include forward Scott Walker (knee) and defenseman Shaone Morrisonn (four pulled wisdom teeth).

The Caps face off against Ottawa Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at Verizon Center with the Senators holding a 2-1 lead in the season series, including a 6-5 victory to end Washington's near-historic win streak Feb. 11 in Ottawa. So far this season the Sens have held the Caps' NHL-leading power play without a goal in eight chances. Washington has beaten Ottawa seven straight times in D.C., scoring 37 goals - including nine by Ovechkin - during that streak.