We learned yesterday that it’s been more than 14 years since the Caps have gotten two goals from defensemen in two consecutive games. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Caps got goals from blueliners Ken Klee and Calle Johansson in a 5-4 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Nov. 11, 1999, and they got tallies from Klee and Dmitri Mironov two nights later in a 4-2 win over the New Jersey Devils in the District.
Caps television play-by-play announcer Joe Beninati brought up a good point this morning. He recalled that Klee frequently skated as a right wing in those days, and that perhaps that might have been the case for one of both of those two games. Having retained some lineups and notes from those days, and having the Caps’ archives at my disposal here at Kettler, I did a bit of research.
It turns out that Klee was indeed dressed as a defenseman for both games, so the stat is legit. What was interesting to me was that in the second of those two games, the Caps dressed just five defensemen and primarily used only four.
In the Nov. 11 game against the Rangers, Klee scored the game’s first goal and his first of the season at 2:33 of the first period. Adam Oates scored his first of the season for Washington in the second period, and the Caps actually owned a 3-1 lead in the game after Joe Sacco netted his second of the season at 12:59 of the middle period.
Johansson’s goal (his third of the season) came in the third period – with assists from Oates and Brendan Witt – giving Washington a 4-3 lead. But with Rangers goalie Mike Richter pulled in favor of an extra skater, longtime Caps nemesis Petr Nedved tied the game at 4-4 with just 19 seconds left.
New York won it in overtime on a goal from Tim Taylor; Mike Knuble collected the lone helper. Johansson paced Washington defensemen with 26:46 in ice time and Oates led the team’s forwards with 22:02.
The Washington defense pairings that night were: Johansson and Witt, Klee and Alexei Tezikov, and Mironov with Sergei Gonchar.
Gonchar suffered an injury (termed a “muscle strain” in the days before lower/upper body ailments) in the game, and he ended up missing the next five games. Tezikov’s back spasms flared up, and he was sidelined for the next four games. Defenseman Joe Reekie was already on the sidelines with a foot injury.
The Caps had journeyman defenseman Jamie Huscroft on hand as their seventh defenseman, but they didn’t learn that Tezikov would be unable to go until just before game time. Huscroft went into the lineup for the game against New Jersey, but that left the Caps with just five blueliners for the game: Witt, Johansson, Klee, Mironov and Huscroft.
Oates netted his second goal of the season on a Caps power play in the middle of the first with help from Johansson and Mironov to give Washington a 1-0 lead. Late in the first period, Huscroft fought ex-Cap Scott Stevens, taking the Caps down to four defensemen going into the second. Huscroft’s ice time was sporadic the rest of the way; he finished the night with just 6:48 and was out of the lineup for the next two weeks.
Jersey struck for a pair of quick goals on Caps goalie Olie Kolzig early in the second to put the visitors up 2-1. Down a goal and down to four defensemen, it was the blueliners that stepped it up for the Caps at the other end of the ice.
With a single assist from Oates, Mironov netted his first of the season at 11:22 of the second to make it a 2-2 game. Klee scored his second in as many nights and second of the season at 2:48 of third to give the Caps a 2-1 lead. Washington’s four defensemen and Kolzig nursed that lead into the waning seconds of the game, until Caps winger James Black scored an empty-netter to ice a 4-2 win.
Kolzig faced 25 shots in the final two periods and 34 on the night. Mironov skated 31:04 in the game, Johansson was clocked in for 29:11, Witt for 26:49 and Klee for 26:21.
Prior to the Caps’ next game (against Dallas two nights later), Washington recalled defenseman Nolan Baumgartner from AHL Portland. The Caps also reinserted Reekie into the lineup, but he was able to play only 9:54 on the night.
The two games against New York and New Jersey came in the midst of a stretch in which Johansson skated at least 25 minutes for 16 straight games, surpassing the 30-minute mark on two of those nights. He was the only one of the 10 defensemen the Caps used that season who played in all 82 games.
Led by Gonchar’s 18 goals, that 1999-00 defensive corps finished the season with 37 goals and 111 assists for 148 points for an average of 1.8 points per game from the backline. This season’s blueline bunch is currently a shade under that figure at 1.67.