The Washington Capitals achieved a pretty good start to the 2008-09 season. The team amassed a record of 10-4-2 in their first 16 games, and had won their fifth game in a row on November 14. They beat the New Jersey Devils 3-1 at home and were first in the Southeast Division. Following the game, a long road trip loomed.
They would first travel to New Jersey to play the same Devils the following day (November 15) in New Jersey. Following that Devils game the Capitals would embark on a long trip to the West Coast where they would play the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. After the three games on the West Coast, they would travel to Minnesota to play the Wild before returning home just before Thanksgiving.
The Caps were already shorthanded prior to their home game on November 14, as center Sergei Fedorov and defenseman Shaone Morrisonn were both sidelined due to injury. There were also rumors that center Michael Nylander would be traded, so he was held out of the game as a precaution. The Caps would also lose Alexander Semin after the second period with an upper body injury. So now the Caps were scheduled to start the long road trip the following day with two players definitely out and one more player that was questionable.
November 15, 2008 – Capitals vs New Jersey Devils
It was fitting that this road trip would begin at the home of the Devils; i.e. Prudential Center, in Newark, New Jersey. Alexander Semin, injured in the previous game, tried to take the warmup but left after five minutes and was declared out for the game. The Caps were down one more player, to join Fedorov and Morrisonn.
The Devils scored nearly a minute into the contest but the Caps responded with two goals. Tomas Fleischmann scored on a power play and Alex Ovechkin scored to put the Caps ahead near the end of the first period. The Devils struck back during the second period, scoring two goals early in the period to take the lead. The Caps tied it up near the end of the period when Viktor Kozlov scored.
The slugfest continued as both teams traded goals during the first half of the last period. Brian Gionta scored after the midpoint of the period to put the Devils ahead 5-4. Then Alex Ovechkin scored the game tying goal in the last second of regulation. Replays were examined and confirmed he had, indeed scored.
The game proceeded to Overtime and then to a shootout. Zach Parise, the best player on the Devils team at that time, scored the shootout winner. The final score was 6-5.
November 19, 2008 – Capitals vs Anaheim Ducks
None of the Caps’ injured players: Alexander Semin (back/shoulder strain), Sergei Fedorov (ankle), and Shaone Morrisonn (groin) were well enough to play for the Caps against the Anaheim Ducks.
The Caps got off to a good start, regardless, as the Ducks made an early parade to the penalty box. The Caps were able to score two power play goals before the game was even four minutes old. They lead 3-0 about 7 ½ minutes after the start of the first period. However, the Caps then gave up two goals before the first period was complete.
Mike Green received a high hard hit, courtesy of Ducks’ defenseman Chris Pronger, late in the first period. Green had lost his balance as Pronger checked him behind the goal and appeared to hit his right shoulder and head on the end boards. Green did not return for the remainder of the game.
The Caps added two more goals to their lead during second period, as they lead 5-2. They added one more goal midway through the third period but then gave up two goals to Anaheim before the game was over.
The Caps won the game 6-4, but due to Green’s injury, it felt like a pyrrhic victory for the team. Green was spotted after the game, wearing a sling. As a whole, the game was a penalty fest, featuring numerous minor penalties and one fight between Donald Brashear of the Caps and George Parros of Anaheim.
This particular game was the seventh game in a row where the Caps had earned at least one standings point.
November 20, 2008 – Caps vs Los Angeles Kings
After beating the Ducks, the Caps would play the Los Angeles Kings the very next day. This game would be only the third time that Alex Ovechkin had ever faced the Kings in his career.
The Kings had lost their previous two games and had a 7-8-2 record. The Kings were not a high scoring team, having been shut out 4 times in 17 games and had only scored 17 goals in the last nine games.
On the injury front, defenseman Shaone Morrisonn would finally be back in the lineup after missing six games due to a pulled groin muscle. Fedorov and Semin were still be out for the game. Green, injured last game, would also not play. Green had an MRI on his shoulder which turned out to be negative.
Unfortunately, it was the only good news the Caps got that day. Drew Doughty of the Kings got a goal nearly 12 minutes into the first period. This was a period where the Kings had outshot the Caps 12 shots to just 3 for the Caps. Head Coach, Bruce Boudreau said the team’s play during first period was, “Unacceptable.” Nicklas Backstrom was able to score on a power play goal in a 5 on 3 situation less than five minutes into the second period to tie up the game. However, the Kings pulled ahead late in the second period. They added another goal, on a power play, midway through third period. While the Caps scored one more goal, the Kings scored two late empty net goals and won the game 5-2.
November 22, 2008 — Capitals vs San Jose Sharks
After losing to the Kings, the Capitals traveled to San Jose to play the Sharks who had a record of 16-3-1 and were in first place in the entire NHL. Going into the game, the Caps had lost 10 straight games to the Sharks and had not beaten them in San Jose since 1993.
For perspective, the last time the Caps had beaten the Sharks, Ovechkin was eight years old. The Sharks were a formidable opponent to play in the best of circumstances, but even more formidable during a time when the Caps were dealing with so many injuries to key players in Semin, Green, and Fedorov.
The Sharks were dealing with an injury of their own – their #1 goalie, Evgeny Nabokov had been dealing with a groin injury and had missed several games. Nabokov would be serving as backup on this night.
For that game, Fedorov was able to return, after missing 8 days with a sprained ankle. However, he skated only six shifts for a total of just 4:54 time on ice and did not skate any shifts during second or third periods.
The Caps fell behind 3-0 during first period so were now in a deep hole. Tom Poti scored a goal during second period to decrease the deficit to 3-1. But the Sharks scored two more goals during the period and increased the score to 5-1. The third period was similar to the second period. The Caps scored a power play goal, but the Sharks added two more goals. The final score ended at 7-2.
Head Coach Bruce Boudreau was not happy with the team’s performance. The team had just 21 shots on goal, tied for their season low. Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn had an “own” goal by accidentally steering the Sharks’ second goal into the net. Ovechkin had a horrible turnover and was forced to take a penalty on the ensuing break away. SAP center had once again proven to be a house of horrors for the Capitals.
November 24, 2008 – Capitals vs Minnesota Wild
Prior to the game, the Wild had averaged just 2.33 goals per game but still had 11 wins for the season. They had also scored four goals just one time in the past 16 games. In other words, the Wild were offensively challenged but had good defense and special teams.
Injured players Semin, Fedorov, and Green would not play against the Wild. But the injury situation got even worse throughout the game. Before the first period was over, defenseman Jeff Schultz left the game early in first period due to a broken finger. Forward Boyd Gordon also left during first period with back spasms. To add insult to injury, the Caps fell behind 1-0 before the end of the period thanks to a goal by Cal Clutterbuck.
The Caps lost another defenseman to injury during second period when John Erskine left the game. The Caps also fell behind 2-0 that period. The third period started off poorly for Caps as they gave up two more goals and were down 4-0. During that period, forward, Brooks Laich, played as a defenseman instead of a forward due to all the injuries. The Caps tried to make a comeback but fell short as the Caps lost 4-3. During that period, two different Caps, Ovechkin and Tom Poti, were penalized for closing a hand on the puck, the third such call of the game, and the Wild made them pay. This tied for the most goals the Wild had scored in 16 games.
Scorecard at End of Road Trip
Record for road trip: 1-3-1 in five games
Injured players prior to road trip: Shaone Morrisonn, Sergei Fedorov, Alexander Semin
Injured players at end of road trip: Alexander Semin, Sergei Fedorov (returned briefly then out again), Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, John Erskine, Boyd Gordon
Following the brutal road trip, the Caps returned home where they had posted a 7-0-1 record. There came the inevitable announcements on the injuries and how long the players would be out.
Jeff Schultz, who had broken his finger and had surgery to repair the damage, and was placed on Long Term Injured Reserve and would be out for 4-6 weeks.
Chris Clark, who had left the Wild game early, turned out to have a stress fracture of his arm and would also go on Long Term Injured Reserve. This injury had not been known prior to the trip.
The remaining injured players, Semin, Fedorov, Green, and Erskine were still “day to day”.
With all the injuries and movement of players to LTIR, the Caps recalled the following players from the Hershey Bears’ affiliate: defenseman Karl Alzner (their 1st round pick from 2006), forward Chris Bourque (a 2nd round pick from 2004), defenseman Sami Lepisto (3rd rounder from 2004), and forward Graham Mink.
The Caps were able to beat the Atlanta Thrashers 5-3 on November 26. Granted, the Thrashers were a weak team who had played the night before, but the Caps still managed to beat them, even with all their minor league callups and missing regulars. They ended up with still another casualty in defenseman Tom Poti who injured his groin. This resulted in calling up still another player from Hershey, their captain, Bryan Helmer.
General Manager George McPhee remarked that is was the most injuries to front line players he could remember since his tenure as General Manager had begun. They were able to win their next game on November 26 that was against the Montreal Canadiens at home, too.
By Diane Doyle