It is now four pre-season games played for the Washington Capitals and they have resulted in four straight wins. On Wednesday night the Caps completed a home and home sweep of the Boston Bruins, prevailing 4-1 over the B’s in Beantown. Nicklas Backstrom tallied once in each of the first two periods and then Andrew Gordon and Matt Bradley closed out the Washington scoring before Mark Recchi added a late power play goal to wreck the shutout for the Caps goaltending duo of Dany Sabourin and Braden Holtby. Holtby was the victim on the last marker.
After suiting up a large contingent of minor leaguers on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center, Boston dressed most of their top guns for this tilt while Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau rested Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Mike Green and his top two goalies (Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth). Thus on paper it looked like the recipe for a Bruins victory, however, when you have the competition that the Capitals have occurring for a few remaining roster spots, you can bet that whatever players are in the lineup will go hard to try and impress the Washington brass. That is what happened on Wednesday night as the Caps dominated much of this contest and outhustled a Boston team that looked ready for their European vacation, er, upcoming preseason game in Ireland on Saturday.
Here are some thoughts and analysis on what I saw on Wednesday night (h/t to the Boston Bruins website for streaming the game):
- It doesn’t matter who plays with Backstrom because he will look good as will his linemates. In this tilt the 22 year old Swede had Eric Fehr on his right wing and young Marcus Johansson on left wing. Both wingers had good contests, although MJ90 wasn’t on the ice on #19′s first tally. Jason Chimera was on and #25 intercepted a pass behind the Bruins net that was very soft thanks to a Fehr hit. Chimera then threw the puck in front of the net to an all alone Backstrom, who easily buried it by Tim Thomas (20 saves). On Nicky’s second marker, late in the second period, #19 tipped a Jeff Schultz point shot down from near the top of the left wing circle. Overall the line was very good at controlling the puck and generating chances. Johansson continues to impress and there is no doubt in my mind that once he physically matures he will be an NHL player.
- Ovechkin, despite not playing, did have an impact on this contest. The opening faceoff was between the Caps Matt Hendricks and Gregory Campbell of the B’s. Campbell had taken what the Caps believed was not a clean run at the Great #8 near the end of Tuesday’s tilt so right off the face-off #26 let Campbell know that his actions were unacceptable. Hendricks dominated the scrap and both headed to the box, given five for fighting. So far in pre-season this Caps team has been “grittier” than the club we saw last season.
- Andrew Gordon, who was outstanding for Hershey last season, put this one out of reach in the 3rd period after Mathieu Perreault and Chimera went to the B’s cage on a 2 on 1 break. Chimera, who was solid all evening, nearly scored on his two attempts on Thomas on the rush, but when the puck bounced up the slot #63 was coming late in the right place and he banged the biscuit home to make it 3-0. Bradley finished the scoring for the Caps after Boyd Gordon made a super play in the lower right wing area and then fed #10 for an easy tap in at the left post.
- Steve Pinizzotto doled out some big hits in this affair but he also took a double minor for high sticking and was also whistled for tripping. It was his last infraction that ended the Caps perfect PK run to start the pre-season. “Pinner” can skate and is physical but he has to be smarter on the ice if he wants to play at the NHL level.
- With Varlamov reportedly not 100%, Neuvirth got the call in goal on Tuesday which prompted Washington to call up Holtby from Hershey to split time in the cage with Sabourin for Wednesday’s matchup. Sabourin was very solid stopping all 12 shots he faced and showed that if he was needed in the short term, he would likely do well. The young Holtby played a strong game too. Braden is very aggressive in net and on one sequence near the end of the 2nd period he came out and challenged Blake Wheeler, who was all alone in front. The former Saskatoon Blade forced Wheeler to try and go forehand and the Bruin bobbled the puck and wound up falling to the ice when Holtby cut off his angle. On the lone Boston goal, however, Holtby was overly aggressive and got himself flopping around and out of position, which allowed old man Mark to score easily from the top of the crease.
- John Carlson was outstanding on Wednesday. The 2010 US World Junior Championships hero was +2 and had an assist on Backstrom’s 2nd goal, but even more impressive was his physical and positionally sound work in his own end in 21:24 of ice time. There is no doubt that having both Carlson and Karl Alzner (+1, 21:14 of ice time) up in DC all season will help the Capitals defense.
Notes: Dave Steckel, Pinizzotto, and Jay Beagle were even on the night while the rest of the Caps were all either +1 or +2. The final shot tally was 26-24 in favor of Boston. Next up for the Caps are the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Verizon Center on Friday night.