The Washington Capitals scored two quick goals to start the second period to grab a 2-1 lead and then they blew the game wide open in the final frame scoring three times en route to a 5-1 dominating victory over the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh. The Caps, who were 5-0-1 against the Canes last season, got goals from Jeff Halpern, Troy Brouwer, John Carlson, Cody Eakin (his 1st NHL tally), and Nicklas Backstrom while Anthony Stewart had the only marker for Carolina in the game’s first four minutes. Washington is now 9-2 overall in 2011-12 and they are 7-0-1 in their last eight games against the Canes, outscoring them 24-13 in the process.
Here are the highlights and analysis from Washington’s fourth straight win at the RBC Center:
– Typically the Caps and Hurricanes are known for playing close contests but in this game Washington used its’ depth to wear down Carolina and by just past the midpoint of the third period this one was all but over. 13 different Capitals players finished this game at +1 or better and even though the third line of Brooks Laich, Joel Ward, and Jason Chimera were all -1 on the night, they played a role in a final 20 minutes that saw the hosts get only five shots on net and not even a quality chance in that stanza until just a few minutes remained (h/t @ngreenberg). Washington’s defense was outstanding, especially Carlson, who arguably played his best game of the season, and that wasn’t because he scored the marker that ignited the three goal explosion in the final period. #74, who seems to have found some chemistry with Roman Hamrlik since they were paired together starting midway through Tuesday’s game against Anaheim, was as sound positionally as I’ve seen him be all season. His stick clogged the passing lanes, he didn’t chase the puck, and he used his size to keep the Canes offensive players away from Michal Neuvirth (24 saves).
– Eakin, who made his NHL debut on Tuesday, made a nice play in the neutral zone on Brouwer’s goal, which gave the Caps a lead they would not relinquish. Eakin allowed Marcus Johansson to get the puck just past the red line and MJ90 skated in across the blue line and saucered a beautiful pass to #20, who one timed it home. It was Eakin’s first NHL point and then in the third he scored his first NHL goal on a two on one break with Alexander Semin. #28 made the play with some super defensive stickwork and then he fed Eakin with the puck in the slot in the Canes zone. Semin then went to the net and that froze Cam Ward (27 saves) giving #50 room to beat him short side. The former Western Hockey League star, who was recalled from Hershey earlier this week, was +2 with two points in 8:45 of ice time.
– Backstrom, who is off to a super start with 16 points in 11 games, made a beast of a play on Carlson’s power play tally as he shouldered the Carolina defender mightily off of the puck and then slid a beauty of a feed to #74. #19 looks so much different and stronger this season, primarily because he didn’t have a shoulder injury that hampered his offseason workouts this past summer like it did in 2010.
– Neuvirth was good in this tilt, especially in the second period when the Canes had three straight power plays. He was also lucky that the game wasn’t tied at two because an early whistle wiped out what should have been a Carolina power play goal (h/t John Walton, who brought me the game via radio in the middle frame). #30’s positioning was solid and he was only beaten on Stewart’s tipped shot off of a faceoff. The defensive draw occurred because Karl Alzner made a bad backhand pass up the boards that led to a Canes quality scoring chance. Then Laich lost the faceoff and Jeff Schultz failed to tie up Stewart in the slot and he tipped home Jay Harrison’s point blast. But that was about the only really bad stretch for the Caps in this one.
– Ward, when he is on, can easily shut down a team. Other nights it just takes one goal to open the flood gates on him and Halpern’s greasy goal, which was helped by Matt Hendricks working hard in the crease area and Mike Knuble digging the puck out off of the back boards, was just what the Caps needed to get going. That tally came right after a dominating Washington first power play that spanned the end of the first period and the commencement of the second. Both Alex Ovechkin (two assists) and Semin had great chances on that man advantage. Overall the Caps went 1 for 3 on the power play while Carolina was held to 0 for 4. On Carlson’s power play tally, it was the Gr8 who provided the screen in front of Ward.
– In summary, this was a game where it was ultra clear the advantage Washington has talent and depth wise. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, who scratched Mathieu Perreault tonight, did a super job with his in game adjustments and also once again stuck to his guns by evening out the ice time. That strategy has really shown its effects on the opponents in the final period in the last two tilts. It also works better when the game is played most of the time at five on five. The Caps did have that bad stretch of penalties in the second period, but other than that they were disciplined, another key for victory. This club has speed and size, which is a deadly duo that will wear a team out if the players buy into what the coaches are selling and repeatedly get pucks deep in their opponents zone. Washington executed the game plan on Friday night and turned this one into an easy win.
Notes: The Caps are in Long Island on Saturday night against the Islanders at 7pm on Comcast…if you ever can’t catch a period or a part of the game on television, which I had to do tonight for the middle frame, you absolutely have to tune in on radio to Walton, who definitely makes you feel like you are in the arena…Semin (1 assist) had his best game out of the last six and he continues to own the Canes during his career…the teams each won 29 of the 58 draws. Backstrom was the best for the Caps at 9-5…Brouwer took an awkward hit at the end of Tuesday’s game and appeared to have an upper body injury but he showed no ill effects tonight in a strong performance…John Erskine was excellent in his second game back from offseason shoulder surgery…Mike Green missed his fourth straight game and is doubtful for Saturday.