Increasingly on the mens professional tennis tour, age is truly just a number. Mardy Fish and Tommy Haas are winning proof. The 30-somethings rolled up convincing quarterfinal victories, setting up a head-to-head semifinal meeting between friends and hitting partners back in Southern California. Fellow graybeard James Blakes hopes of another inspired run in Washington, dashed by a dashing shot maker while the makings of an All-American womens vanished in the night.The top-seeded Fish stayed afloat with an efficient 6-3, 6-4 win over Xavier Malisse while No. 4 Haas continued his run of straight set wins in DC, downing fellow German Tobias Kamke 6-1, 6-2.The other semifinal pits a pair of whippersnappers including power-serving American Sam Querrey. The No. 8 seed continued his recent torrid play with a straight-sets win. Second-seeded Alexander Dolgopolov ended Blakes run, 7-6 (3), 6-4.On the womens side, No. 3 seed and rising star Sloane Stephens suffered through a losing battle with her composure - and upset-minded Magdalena Rybarikova, who will face Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in Saturdays final. The top seeded Russian overcame the afternoon heat and a one-set deficit against No. 4 Vania King.Serving served as the centerpiece of Fishs triumph, as the 30-year smacked 10 aces while fending off any change of momentum with timely winners. After breaking Malisse once in each set, Fishs attention quickly turned toward facing one of his practice partners. Certainly not the next tour stop to the North. There is somewhere else he would rather be.Were good friends. We actually live really close to each in Los Angeles and hang out a lot there, practice together a lot there, said Fish, who has lost three of four career matches to Haas with the last meeting coming in 2007. Itll be fun. Itll be one of those matches that is the reason why were out here. Winner goes to the final and the loser goes to Toronto.Haas, the last player to make Roger Federer a loser this year, never faced a break point on his serve against Kamke. Fish, rounding back into game shape after an extended absence for health matters, knows his increasingly confident pal is playing well. Seeing as this particular chum once stood No. 2 in the world and possesses a wicked backhand, dont expect any kid glove treatment when Fish sees Haas lined up across the net.Sometimes its hard to play close friends, said Fish who enters his first career Washington semifinal and is now two wins from his first tour title this year. You know, you root for them to win, but you have to put it into perspective, and say that this is the guy that is trying to take my lunch away tomorrow, and Im going to try and beat him any way I can. The 34-year-old Haas run to the semifinals followed a finals appearance in his previous tournament before Washington and a title win in Halle against Federer, the most prominent tour member of the three-decades old club that also includes Malisse, Anderson and Blake.I think it speaks to the physicality of the game nowadays, said Fish when asked of the ongoing trend of players not simply sticking around longer compared to historical norms, but also turning in winning results. It takes guys longer to develop. Its a much more physical, much more mental. And there are a lot of 30 and older guys that are playing well.This week there are also two younger guys playing well, including the 24-year-old Querrey. Coming off a championship last week in Los Angeles, Querrey has won 44 of 48 first serve points over his last two matches.Then there is the laid-back, ponytail wearing and drop shot making Dolgopolov, who beat Querrey in their only previous meeting. He also erased an early 3-0 deficit against Blake with an array of crafty winners. I knew if I concentrated and just work it, it will get better, the Ukrainian said about falling quickly behind. My game is pretty risky, so you can miss a lot of shots, but you can also make some shots, just a lot of winners. I was just trying to get myself into rhythm.Rybarikova, ranked 102 and the only unseeded player in the semifinals, dictated play against Stephens, the second seed she defeated this week. Already a two-time winner on tour, the Slovak goes for the upset hat trick against Pavlyuchenkova, who received medical attention throughout her match against King yet still powered her way into the finals for the first time this year.NotesThe mens semifinals between Fish-Haas starts no earlier than 3:00 p.m. followed by Querrey-Dolgopolov and the womens championship.
It seems so simple. The Capitals have one of the best goal-scorers of all-time in Alex Ovechkin and on the power play, he’s almost always in the same spot. He sets up in the “office,” the faceoff circle on the left side of the ice, and waits for one-timers. Everyone knows the Caps are trying to get him the puck, everyone knows the shot is coming.
But nobody can stop it.
“It’s still pretty unique,” Matt Niskanen said after the game. “Basic logic tells you it’d be easy to stop, but it’s not.”
Even Ovechkin has no explanation. “It’s all about luck,” he said.
New York Rangers head coach David Quinn had another word for it.
Quinn’s Rangers were the latest victims of a power play that has been among the league’s best units for several years. Since 2005, no team in the NHL has a better power play percentage than the Capitals’ 20.8-percent. They once again look lethal this season with the unit currently clicking at an incredible 39.1-percent.
Ovechkin tallied two power play goals Wednesday, both from the office, to help power the Caps to a 4-3 win over New York. Both of Ovechkin’s goals looked pretty similar with John Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office for the one-timer.
Ovechkin obviously is what powers the team’s power play. With him on the ice, other teams need to account for him at all times.
But the real key to the Caps’ success with the extra man is not Ovechkin, but the other weapons around him.
“In order to completely take [Ovechkin] away other guys are just too open and they’re good enough to score,” Niskanen said. “Are you gonna leave [T.J. Oshie] open in the slot from the hash marks to cover [Ovechkin]? Our power play is set up well with what hands guys are and their skill sets so we have a lot of different options. Guys are good at reading what’s open. It’s pretty lethal.”
“Nobody knows who's going to take a shot when we play like that,” Ovechkin said. “And it's fun to play like that, to be honest with you. When [Nicklas Backstrom] and when [Evgeny Kuznetsov] feeling the puck well, they can find you in the right time and the right place -- same as [Carlson]."
With so many weapons on the power play, teams are forced to choose between playing Ovechkin tight and leaving other players like Kuznetsov and Oshie wide open, or trying to play a traditional penalty kill and risk giving Ovechkin too much room for the one-timer.
The Rangers chose the latter on Wednesday and they suffered the consequences.
“I don't think many teams have played him like they did tonight,” Carlson said. “They gave him a lot more space.”
And Carlson certainly took advantage as well.
Washington’s power play seems to have found a new gear now with the emergence of Carlson. He took his game to a new level last season and he seems to have picked up right where he left off. On Wednesday, as part of a three-point night for him, Carlson provided two brilliant setups for Ovechkin on the power play.
“He dominates the game, I think,” Niskanen said of Carlson. “Moves the puck well, skates well for a big man, can defend. He’s got that offensive feel for the game and offensive touch. Big shot. He’s a good player.”
For many years, it looked like the only thing missing from the Caps’ power play was Mike Green. Carlson has always been good, but no one was able to setup Ovechkin quite as well as Green was in the height of the “young guns” era of the Caps. Now that Carlson seems to be coming into his own as a superstar blueliner who can both score and feed Ovechkin with the best of them, that makes an already dominant Caps’ power play even more lethal.
That was certainly on display Wednesday as the Caps fired eight shots on goal with the extra man. Ovechkin’s two goals tie him for ninth on the NHL’s all-time power play goals list with Dino Ciccarelli at 232.
Even with Ovechkin now 33 years old and after several years of dominance with the extra man, the Caps’ power play may be better than ever.
“They don’t get rattled,” Quinn said. “There’s a confidence to them and a swagger to them, which they should have. They’ve been playing together a long time and they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions, so they should play with a swagger.”
MORE CAPITALS NEWS:
- Consider These: 5 reasons why Caps beat Rangers
- Big Game Feel: Caps are getting everyone's best shot
- Targeted: Caps need to adjust to life at the top
The Caps gave up a 2-1 and 3-2 lead, but ultimately came away victorious on Wednesday in a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers thanks to an overtime goal from Matt Niskanen.
Here are five reasons why the Caps won.
1. Djoos saves a goal
With the Caps already trailing 1-0 in the first period, they were about an inch away from going down by two. Luckily, Christian Djoos was there to make the save.
Yes, Djoos, not Braden Holtby.
A diving Jesper Fast got to a loose puck before any of the Caps defenders and beat Holtby with the shot. Djoos, however, was there to sweep the puck off the goal line and out, saving a goal.
That play turned out to be a two-goal swing as less than two minutes later, the Caps scored to tie the game at 1.
2. Carlson off the faceoff
The Caps emphasized the importance of the faceoff this week and worked on it specifically in practice on Tuesday. That practice turned out to be very prescient as Washington’s first goal of the night came right off the faceoff.
Nicklas Backstrom beat Ryan Spooner on the draw cleanly in the offensive zone, feeding the puck back to John Carlson. With the players all bunched up off the draw, Carlson benefitted from Brady Skjei standing right in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Carlson teed up the slap shot and beat Lundqvist who never saw the puck.
Of the five combined goals scored in the game, three were directly set up off a faceoff.
3. Hand-eye coordination
With the Caps on the power play, Fast tipped a pass meant for Carlson that looked like it was headed out of the offensive zone. Carlson reacted to the puck then stretched the stick and somehow managed to control the bouncing puck and keep it in the zone.
Fast charged Carlson at the blue line so he chipped the puck to Ovechkin in the office. Ovechkin managed to hit the puck just as it hit the ice and somehow beat Lundqvist with the shot.
Ovechkin was by the boards at the very edge of the circle. It was an amazing shot and it was set up by the great hustle play from Carlson. Both showed tremendous hand-eye coordination to control that puck.
4. Braden Holtby
Lundqvist entered this game with a 1.99 GAA and .939 save percentage, but he was outplayed by his counterpart from Washington.
Holtby had himself a night. He was particularly strong down low with the pads as he made a number of key pad saves throughout the game, particularly in the second period when he recorded 17 saves including a shorthanded breakaway save on Kevin Hayes as time expired.
Of the three goals Holtby allowed, the first he made a great save on Chris Kreider who looked like he had an empty net to shoot at. Mike Zibanejad would score on the rebound. The second goal came as a shot deflected off Devante Smith-Pelly and went right to Jimmy Vesey for an easy tap-in. The third was a deflection goal from Kreider to redirect a shot that was going wide.
Can’t blame Holtby for those.
5. Working from the office
The Caps had three power play opportunities on the night. They scored on two of them and those two goals looked pretty darn similar.
There was the one described above in which a hustle play by Carlson at the point kept the puck alive and he fed to Ovechkin in the office. The second goal came with Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office.
Those two goals give Ovechkin 232 power play goals for his career, tying him with Dino Ciccarelli for ninth on the NHL’s all-time list.
MORE CAPITALS NEWS:
- Big Game Feel: Caps are getting everyone's best shot
- Targeted: Caps need to adjust to life at the top
- Caps Mailbag: Where did all the hitting go?