Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Day in Sports: October 5, 2005


It was opening night in the NHL last night after a 16-month layoff, and the game looked completely different. There are no more two-line passes, the offensive zones are bigger, the goalie can’t play every puck within 30 feet of him, all the cheap hooking and holding gets called and the game just moves a lot faster. Plus, the anticipation of a potential shootout always looms.

And believe it or not, the Washington Capitals have won a game. 1-0. First place. It has been so hard for me to curb my enthusiasm on this one, because I know they aren’t supposed to be any good and there’s no reason to think they will be, but damnit that was exciting!

Michael Wilbon at The Washington Post agrees, and gave the Caps some “dap,” as he would say, for winning their opener.

If you missed it, you may have missed history. Alex Ovechkin scored his first two NHL goals! He looks amazing. It’s only a matter of time before teams start putting two guys on him at all times. It’ll be interesting to see how the Caps react to that.

The rule changes make the game far more back and forth, and it’s WAY faster than it was before. It’s extremely exciting to watch, which surprised me, because I was bored to tears by the NHL of the past few years. I guess kudos go to the owners and the players association for hammering out some rule changes that, I think, will save the sport in the long run. Now they just need to make the penalties for fighting a lot stiffer (automatic two-game suspension, a la high school rules?).

Also last night, D.C. United extended their winning streak to four games, and with two games remaining are now only two points behind New England for the East’s top spot.

Re - C - A - P - S reCAPS reCAPS reCAPS!

NHL: YOUR NATION’S CAPITALS! 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2

For the Caps, the top draft pick in 2004, Alex Ovechkin, was making his debut after having to wait a full extra year from when that was supposed to happen.

Just seconds into the game, Ovechkin threw a check on a Columbus player behind the Capitals net that was so hard it knocked the metal support beam out from between two panes of glass. Then, in the second period, he showed what made him widely regarded as the best prospect in a decade before Sidney Crosbey came along and was considered the best prospect in two decades.

In the second period, 20-year-old Ovechkin scored a pair of goals, both very pretty, both on passes from Jeff Halpern and both to tie the score shortly after Columbus took leads.

The first goal came with 12:29 remaining in the second period, just 28 seconds after Dan Fritsche scored to put the Blue Jackets up 1-0. Jeff Halpern flicked a pass back to a wide open Ovechkin, who rifled a shot past goalie Pascal Leclaire to tie the game up.

But just over three minutes later, Fritsche buried another one to put the Blue Jackets back on top. Ohhh but Ovechkin was not done, either. 89 seconds later, the Caps were swarming in front of Leclaire on the power play, and the puck came to Halpern at point blank range. While the Columbus defenders (and goaltender) played the close-in shot, Halpern saw Ovechkin sliding onto the doorstep with the entire net open in front of him. Halpern shot him a quick pass, and before anyone could move the puck was in the net.

Halpern, though, was not done either. Exactly five minutes after that goal, guess what, the Caps were on the man advantage again. This time “Helper” Halpern set up Dainius Zubrus for the goal that would prove to be the game-winner. (I just made up the “Helper” nickname. I’m so smart.)

The third period went without a score, and the Caps held on to win, 3-2. There’s one -- about 10 percent of the wins that anyone thought they’d manage all year. (Yes, some analysts thought it was possible for the Caps to break their own record for the worst season in NHL history, 8-67-5, which they managed in their inaugural season, 1974-1975.)

Goalie Olie Kolzig looked good for the Caps, stopping 35 of 37 shots and making some terrific saves.

The Cappies play again tomorrow (Friday) night at 7 p.m. against Atlanta at the MCI Center. They will be taking on former star Peter Bondra, who they tried to get back in the off-season but who spurned the Caps for the Thrashers. Atlanta is one of the teams that is supposed to have benefited the most from the slew of available free agents, gaining stars like Bondra, Marian Hossa and Bobby Holik.

The Thrashers were shut out by the Panthers last night.

MLS: D.C. United 3, Real Salt Lake 1

Freddy Adu scored the game-winning goal and United notched its fourth straight victory in Salt Lake City last night, pulling to within just two points of first-place New England with two games to play.

Adu scored in the 50th minute to put D.C. up 2-0, then assisted on Christian Gomez’s goal two minutes later to make it 3-0.

Bobby Boswell scored the first goal of the game in the 30th minute.

D.C. is now 16-9-5.

With two games remaining before the playoffs, D.C. is on a roll. They could still take first place in the East, but the New England Revolution would have to lose one of its last two games, in which they play fourth-place Kansas City and third-place Chicago.

The United has an easier schedule, facing the bottom two teams in the East, the MetroStars and the Columbus Crew.

If New England loses one game, D.C. will take first by winning both of theirs. If New England loses both, D.C. only needs to split its last two games.

United plays next on Saturday night at 7:30, when they will take on the MetroStars at RFK Stadium. Last Saturday, D.C. beat the MetroStars, 4-1, in New Jersey.

No comments: