Game 37 Review: Laich Leads Caps Past Leafs 4-1

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, December 29, 2008 | , , , , | 0 comments »

As December crawls to a close, the Washington Capitals (23-11-3-49) find themselves inching closer to the top of the NHL's Eastern Conference lead. The Caps have been one of the hottest teams in the league, winning 10 of their last 12 games.

With their 4-1 win last night over the Toronto Maple Leafs (14-6-6-34 fourth in Northeast), Washington extended their Southeast Division lead to ten points over Carolina, and find themselves alone in second place in the conference, nine points behind the Boston Bruins.

Before a capacity crowd that came to see Caps' great Mike Gartner's number 11 retired, and many other former Caps to honor the Hall of Famer, today's Capitals received two goals each from Brooks Laich and Alex Ovechkin, and goalie Jose Theodore was steady in goal, turning away 23 shots for his third straight victory.

Toronto struck first, as Niklas Hagstrom snapped a shot from the high slot past a partially screened Theodore late in the first period. Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala made several difficult saves in the period, and defenseman Mike Green also hit a screaming slap shot from the point off the far pipe. The lead would hold, in a fairly chippy game, until midway though the second.

On the power play, Laich took a feed in the right wing corner from Niklas Backstrom (two assists), walked in, and stuffed it between Toskala's pads to even the game. Then, with ten seconds remaining in the second period, Ovie made his mark.

Just moments after clinking one off the post, Ovechkin gathered a pass from Milan Jurcina and drilled the puck though Toskala, the puck dribbling across the goal line. Jurcina made an excellent play on the take-away, and pushed it ahead to Ovechkin who was still forechecking.

The red-clad crowd, still buzzing from the pre-game ceremonies, roared its approval.

Laich scored the insurance goal at 15:43 of the third period. Eric Fehr did some good work pinning the defense down in the left wing corner, and the puck popped out to Laich, who was streaking in behind the play. He went though the crease and got a soft shot on goal, but Toskala could not control the bounce, and on the second whack, Laich beat him.

Laich now has four goals in his last six games, and 10 for the season.

Ovechkin added an empty net goal for his 25th of the season.

The Capitals travel to Buffalo to face the Sabres Tuesday night at 7:00 PM. The Caps have split two games with the Sabres this season, a 5-0 shellacking in Buffalo and a 3-2 victory last Friday night at the Verizon Center.

Photos (c) C. Nichols 2008.

WAS: Laich (9) from Backstrom and Green (2-12:54-PP); Ovechkin (24) from Jurcina (2-19:50); Laich (10) unassisted (3-15:43); Ovechkin (25) from Backstrom and Green (3-19:26-EN)

TOR: Hagman (11) from Grabovski and Frogren (1-14:23)

1. B. Laich - WAS (Goals: 2, Assists: 0)
2. A. Ovechkin - WAS (Goals: 2, Assists: 0)
3. J. Theodore - WAS (Saves: 23, Save Pct: .958)

Before the game, the Caps returned D Tyler Sloan to Hershey (AHL) and activated Mike Green and Jeff Schultz from the injured list. After the game, the team recalled forward Chris Bourque from Hershey.

Washington is 15-1-1 at Verizon Center this year, and 21-1-1 in its last 23 regular season games.

Forward Matt Bradley fell hard into the side boards after missing a check. He left the game with assistance and appeared woozy. The team said he is "ok", but has not elaborated.