When Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee signed Tomas Vokoun last July, there was a lot of talk about the Caps getting a goalie who could flat out steal games. Well on Thursday night in Pittsburgh, that is exactly what happened as Vokoun made 39 saves to lead the Capitals to a 3-2 overtime victory. Defensemen Dennis Wideman netted the game winner on Washington’s only power play of the contest after Penguins forward James Neal had tied this one up at two on the power play with 3:45 left in regulation.
Here are the highlights and analysis of a game that saw the Penguins dominate most of the contest:
- Michal Neuvirth likely would have had this start given his recent success against the Pens, but when he came down with a lower body injury that forced the Caps to recall Braden Holtby from Hershey today and give Vokoun the chance to get wins in consecutive starts. The 35 year old Czech delivered, building on his great OT and shootout performance in Monday’s 6-5 victory over Tampa Bay. Vokoun didn’t have to be spectacular but he was very solid and didn’t give the Penguins many second chances. If the Caps can improve their play in their own end, and they were pretty bad tonight, just think how good this goalie could be for this team?
- Evgeni Malkin had an outstanding game for Pittsburgh. His two cross ice seam passes set up James Neal’s two tallies. One of the reasons #71 was able to make those plays is because the Washington players were not playing positionally sound or smart in their own end. On the first goal, both Alexander Semin and Marcus Johansson chase the puck carrier leaving the back side open. In the first three games we’ve seen opponents exploit the Capitals habit of over chasing and/or watching the puck carrier. The Capitals have to learn to play better without the puck in their own zone and clog the passing lanes and not over commit. I imagine Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe will be showing lots of video on Friday to try and correct these d-zone breakdowns.
- The Capitals players have talked about being the team with the better work ethic in every game. Tonight they were soundly defeated in that category. The Penguins out shot the Caps 12-3 in the first period and 18-3 in the third. It was only in the middle frame that the Capitals had the upper hand, outshooting Pittsburgh, 11-9. I am not sure why the Capitals were so flat early on but one of the reasons for the third period letdown was the Arron Asham-Jay Beagle fight. Beagle had just coincidentally knocked off the helmet of Kris Letang, which would earn him a roughing penalty, and Asham took exception calling on #83 to fight. Beagle, who is definitely not a fighter, but as he told me on media day last Thursday knows he will need to do so at times, was floored with a couple of rights and went to the ice bleeding. He had to be helped off of the rink afterwards but that didn’t stop Asham from making a couple of classless gestures. Asham admitted after the game that he got caught up in the moment, but still, to celebrate after knocking out a non-fighter was totally uncalled for. The fight clearly negatively impacted the Capitals, who had played 25 decent minutes of hockey in a row, since they struggled mightily the rest of the way until overtime.
- Alexander Ovechkin, after a subpar opening two games, made a difference in this one. He deflected in Green’s point shot early in the third period to give the Capitals a 2-1 lead and he drew the only penalty officially called on the Penguins in the game. That came in overtime when he faked Jordan Staal out of his jock in the neutral zone and #11 tripped the Gr8. On the 4 on 3 power play Green hit the right pipe but on the ensuing rush Wideman took a nice feed from Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) and buried it past former Capitals goalie Brent Johnson (16 saves).
- When you are outworked, you normally will find yourself on the short end of the stick in total number of power plays. The Penguins received five while Washington only had one, although I do think the Pens got away with a few things, especially some goalie interference by Chris Kunitz. In addition, Tyler Kennedy did hit Backstrom in the head in the third period, similiar to the Beagle shot on Letang, although #19′s lid stayed on so maybe it didn’t look so bad to the blurry eyed zebras? (Note: the referees initially waved off Ovechkin’s goal, they thought it hit the cross bar). It is hard to argue about the calls against the Caps, they were of the lazy or not too smart variety. Brooks Laich’s cross check on Malkin came after a failed clear. What made that situation even worse was that Green already had lost his stick so what the Caps should’ve done was ice the puck. Instead they got running around and eventually found themselves shorthanded. The last penalty though, on Troy Brouwer, might have been the worst. The Caps were up a goal and he needlessly hauled down a Pens player in the neutral zone. That one ended up allowing Neal to tie the game. Brouwer did make a nice play on Ovechkin’s goal, he was in front of Johnson battling with Zbynek Michalek providing traffic.
- In summary, the Caps were fortunate to win this contest and move to 3-0. Washington has been playing with fire by going to extra time in each tilt and they have had some very poor play in their own zone. The good news though, is they are getting balanced production in their lineup and Boudreau is not having to put his big guns out on the ice for extended minutes. Green has already seen a reduction in his ice time and that should only keep him fresher and hopefully injury free.
Notes: Steve Whyno of The Washington Times tweeted that Asham had 83 career NHL fights while this was Beagle’s first…the Caps lost the faceoff battle 26-23 but Jeff Halpern went 6-2…Mike Knuble scored the Caps first goal by crashing the net hard…Karl Alzner had another strong game and picked up his third assist of the season…the Penguins were without Sidney Crosby, although he has been cleared for contact effective today, and defensemen Brooks Orpik…Washington is now 11-0-2 in their last 13 regular season games against Pittsburgh (h/t @SkyKerstein of DC’s 106.7 THE FAN)…next up for the Caps are the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night at the Verizon Center.