When the Washington Capitals are motivated and focused, they are a tough team to beat. Less than 24 hours after basically not showing up in Atlanta in a season opening loss to the the Thrashers, the Caps hit the ice against the New Jersey Devils, a club they went 1-2-1 against in 2009-10, and in a fight filled contest the Capitals buried GM Lou Lamoriello’s squad, 7-2. Leading the way for Washington was Alexander Ovechkin, who scored two goals (including one on a penalty shot) and added an assist, defenseman John Carlson, who tallied a goal and notched two assists, and Michal Neuvirth, who stopped 31 of the 33 shots he faced. The very raucous capacity crowd of 18,398 definitely received their money’s worth in this victory, which evens the Caps record at 1-1. The Capitals next game is Monday night at the Verizon Center at 7pm against the Ottawa Senators (7pm on Comcast Sports Net).
Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes and analysis of an extremely entertaining contest:
– I know he was only the third star of the night, but if it wasn’t for Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth’s play in the first 30+ minutes of this tilt, Washington may have been the team that was blown out. #30 was super in the cage making some very big stops, including a whopping 17 in period two. The two time Calder Cup champion goalie was fundamentally sound in net and when he did give up a rebound it was either close enough for him to gather or swat away or he was able to get in position for the second shot. Caps forward Mike Knuble gave credit to the young net minder for his play.
“You just have to have him keep you in there a little bit and make some saves until we get going. It was kind of a fluky first goal. I think we helped him on that one and then the second goal was kind of a busted play shorthanded. He played great after that, he had to make some key saves. It was good to see,” said #22, who had an assist on the night, but more importantly was the one who drove to the net and screened Devils goalie Martin Brodeur on the Caps game winning goal that was scored by Ovechkin in the second period.
– The first star of the game was the Great #8, who took four periods this season plus a Saturday morning video session, to get his game going in 2010-11. Ovechkin’s goal at 14:31 of the second period was vintage Ovie as he came down the left wing, cut to the middle of the ice, and used Knuble as a screen while skipping the puck off the ice and by Brodeur. Then just 37 seconds after Jason Chimera gave the Caps a 4-2 advantage, Ovechkin was hauled down on a breakaway and awarded a penalty shot. Brodeur is notoriously one of the best in the league on penalty shots, as evidenced by his great shootout record, but the Great #8 was able to beat him by uncharacteristically going wide left to start his attempt and when #30 committed and went down Ovechkin slid the puck by him to make it 5-2. Alexander the Great had way more energy on Saturday night than in Atlanta and Coach Bruce Boudreau mentioned after the game that Ovechkin was the focus of a not so flattering video session for the team after the morning skate.
“The difference was that last night was an embarrassing night for us and we just regrouped and watched video. Everybody played bad last night and tonight we moved our legs and finished our checks, [we] played better in the neutral zone, defensive zone. I think guys like Brads (Matt Bradley), Chimmer (Jason Chimera), Greenie (Mike Green) and (Matt) Hendricks do unbelievable jobs protecting our guys and protect themselves. It was a pretty big step for us tonight,” said the two time Hart Trophy winning superstar on the team’s play on Saturday against the Devils.
– Chimera played a significant role in the win as well, blasting one by Brodeur after he came out of the box for holding at 18:25 of period two to give the Caps a two goal advantage. It was a shot that the future hall of fame goalie typically would stop, but not in this one. Then to start the third period the Devils gave up on winning the game and seemed more determined to get an advantage in the fisticuffs department, especially with Washington heavyweight DJ King not in the lineup. #25 showed, to quote Slap Shot, “some good ole fashioned guts” standing up to Devils tough guy David Clarkson in a bout in the Caps defensive zone.
– With under five minutes to go and the Caps up 7-2 things got really crazy as New Jersey was totally frustrated. First $100 million man Ilya Kovalchuk goaded Green into fighting, then Rod Pelley fought Matt Hendricks four seconds later with #26 landing some good shots on Pelley, who was chippy all evening. Two seconds later Clarkson wanted to go again and Bradley fought up in class, and after taking a couple of punches, landed a solid one right in the mind of #23, flooring the Devils top thug. The Verizon Center crowd erupted but just four seconds later New Jersey Devils Coach John Maclean took it too far losing his mind and the focus of his team. Fourth line stiff Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond followed the smallest and youngest Capital, Marcus Johansson, all the way down the ice and jumped him at the Washington blue line. MJ90’s teammates came quickly to his aid and the Devils goon was given two minutes for instigating, two for slashing, five for fighting, and a game misconduct. Johansson spoke about the sequence after the contest.
“He asked me if I wanted to go at the faceoff. I said no and he chased me down the ice. Im happy the guys stood up for me,” said #90, who was the Caps first round selection in the 2009 draft and the last guy on the team who would be in a fight.
The instigator call on Letourneau-Leblond will result in a $10,000 fine for Coach MacLean and a one game suspension. Bottom line is this play was gutless and MacLean looked like a bush leaguer plus showed his head coaching inexperience. Boudreau was clearly upset with the Devils bench boss and fortunately his young rookie was not injured.
“You know, we had the fewest majors in the league last year. We weren’t sending guys out to fight or anything and that’s why I sent Marcus [Johansson] out. Purposely. You know if we had sent an [John] Erskine or somebody out they would have had a partner. I was just mad, the guy went out there and he was going to grab the first guy he saw. I thought it was great the way our team stood and protected each other, but I mean that was just dumb,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Trophy winner for NHL coach of the year on the Devils galactically stupid tactics.
– For the Caps, this was a huge win after some sloppy early play in which they made some terrible passes (Johansson’s backhanded d-zone cross ice pass led to the first NJ tally) and were running around in their own zone. After giving up 27 shots in two periods, they only surrendered six in the last frame and they also showed that you can’t come in and push them around like was the case on some occassions in 2009-10.
“Clarkson had been looking to fight all night and finally found someone to fight. We responded very well. I think we did a great job. I think we probably made a bit of a statement after two games. I feel like we showed the league a little bit that we are not quite the same team we were. I think we are a little bit edgier and a little harder to play against. We can do it on the scoreboard and then we can show up if somebody wants to get physical. We have some players that can respond to that,” said Knuble on the rough stuff when asked if Chimera taking on Clarkson lit a fire under the team.
Notes: Alexander Semin (two assists) outmuscled the New Jersey defense and then set up Tomas Fleischmann (1 goal, 1 assist) in front for the game tying goal at 1:59 of the second period…Johansson was 7-4 on face-offs after losing seven of eight on Friday night..Overall the Caps were 35-28 from the dot…Eric Fehr scored midway through the third period on the power play to break a long drought (38 attempts) that dated back to the season ending series loss to Montreal last April…Broudeur was yanked after two periods and replaced by Johan Hedberg. The goalie known as “Moose” mishandled the puck early in the 3rd period and that allowed Brooks Laich to score an easy shorthanded tally to make it 6-2 Washington…These two clubs meet again on November 22 at “The Rock” and you can probably bet on King being in the lineup for that one…Tyler Sloan, King, and Dave Steckel were the Washington scratches…based on morning reports, it appears that Semyon Varlamov skated again on Saturday and could play next week…The Hershey Bears opened their season in Wilkes-Barre on Saturday night and they lost to the Penguins AHL team, 4-3, in a shootout.