The streets of Charm City were filled with fans decked out in red and the energy in 1st Mariner Arena was super, but unfortunately the Washington Capitals were unable to score any goals in the inaugural Baltimore Hockey Classic and lost, 2-0, to the Nashville Predators. An announced sellout crowd of over 11,000 witnessed the first professional hockey game at the arena since the Baltimore Bandits left for Cincinnati in 1997. It was a super event for the city of Baltimore and something that Caps Owner Ted Leonsis and General Manager George McPhee felt was a good idea to do given the growing Capitals fan base just 30+ miles up the BW Parkway.
“We’re thrilled to bring Washington Capitals hockey to the Baltimore market. Tuesday’s game will pump revenue into the local economy and serve as a great public-private partnership between the city and the Capitals,” said McPhee of the event.
There is no doubt the local businesses in the area received a spike from this game and despite the fact that the ice conditions weren’t exactly stellar - I don’t think anyone is going to confuse that surface with Rexall Place – it was indeed a great night to be a part of.
Now onto the game itself and the all important quotes and analysis from what was a pretty sloppy game due to the heat and humidity in the building.
- When the ice is the way it was on Tuesday, the team that simplifies and minimizes their mistakes usually wins. Nashville did that as their two tallies came as a result of Washington defensive zone turnovers, something that plagued them in their series loss to Tampa Bay last spring. On each goal scored by the Predators there was a turnover by a forward and the defense was unable to cover up for the mistake.
“On the first goal, [assistant coach] Bob [Woods] said it was the winger. On the second, Michal [Neuvirth] said it was a two on one and the guy tried to pass it and it hit our guy and came right back to him so it was an easy play. The first one I do know that we made a bad change and that’s what left [Shea] Weber so alone in front of the net to be able to make that play,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on Nashville’s two goals.
“They just didn’t get the building cold enough, but it is what it is. There was less water in Florida [last night], but they had the building colder…the conditions were what they were, a hot building so you’ve really got to be mentally tough. We talked about let’s keep it simple, we can’t control the humidity and the heat and all of that…and it worked for us,” said Nashville coach Barry Trotz on how his club approached the way the game would have to be played.
“It’s hard to handle the puck out there. The conditions made a difference but both teams were playing on it. You see how wet the ice is, so sometimes you get the puck and kind of worry about if you handle it is it going to get stuck in the water? So I just tried to focus on moving the puck quick and getting it off of my stick,” added Caps defensemen Sean Collins on what he tried to do when he was on the ice.
- The best player for Washington on this night, in my book, was goalie Michal Neuvirth. #30 faced a lot of rubber, many of which came on quality chances due to Washington turnovers in their own zone. Both tallies were not the fault of the goaltender, he pretty much had no chance on either goal.
“It is usually the younger players, the hungrier players, that you see take over in games like this and I thought this was the case in this game tonight. The younger players were probably the better players or shined brighter, if there was anyone shining. I thought Michal Neuvirth is still pretty young and I thought he was a guy that played very steady for us tonight,” said Boudreau on the play of his young netminder.
- The 3rd and 4th lines for Washington provided the most effort and in particular Stanislav Galiev, Jay Beagle, and DJ King stood out for me.
“DJ King I thought had a pretty good game, guys that are fighting for jobs. Beagle, working really hard out there like he always does. Those were the guys that shined,” said Boudreau, who also praised Galiev’s ability to generate scoring chances.
“I think our line, right off the hop, we had a couple of good scoring opportunities we couldn’t bury. Obviously I’d like that one goal back, the puck bobbed on me and they ended up burying it. You have to play your role and play your game. I think they outworked us and that is what it came down to. We got to get it deep. You saw that when we got it deep we had it in there for the whole shift that we were out. You get the puck deep, you grind it out, and you take it to the net. Give it to the D, they had a couple of shots with tips and deflections. The puck just wasn’t going our way, but I think our line once we got it deep and got it going we played well,” said Beagle on what he thought of his line which included King and Garrett Mitchell.
- As for Washington’s more established players and stars, there wasn’t a lot of quality performances with Alexander Ovechkin having some nice shifts but many of the others not really playing well or hard.
“It’s hard for the skill [in this type of preseason game], but at the same time it is always easy to judge effort…you can tell the effort that is given and the effort that is received,” commented Boudreau, who felt that his younger guys were the ones who worked harder.
- On the special teams front, the Capitals power play only received two opportunities. On the first one, the initial unit featured Mike Green and Chris Bourque on the point with Ovechkin, Marucs Johansson, and Mike Knuble up front. Washington’s other power play came late in the game and the coach was able to try a few different combinations since he is in “try out” mode.
“Just experimenting, seeing what clicks, what didn’t click, trying to find fits. It’s one of these things for the next 17 days we’ll experiment with probably, a lot. I’d like to see something click and stay with it for a long period of time. This was the first real chance we had to see it. But what did we have, 2 chances? The last one I thought we had a couple of good opportunities at the end but when you get that sense of urgency on the 6 on 4, that was maybe our best opportunity,” stated Boudreau on what he is trying to do with his once deadly power play unit.
- Nashville didn’t play top six forwards David Legwand or Mike Fisher, but they did play their top defensive pair, and that duo made a difference in this game.
“Weber and [Ryan] Suter, they’re one of the best D pairings in the league, in the world. I know they were playing them quite a bit so I’m sure it was good for our forwards to really get a gauge of where they have to be. There are so many good defensemen here, it was nice for guys like me and Patty [Pat McNeill] to watch and learn from a Suter, a Weber, also Alzner, Green, so it was a learning experience,” added Collins on the benefit of playing a club like Nashville to open the preseason slate.
- Two of McPhee’s off-season additions, goaltender Tomas Vokoun and forward Joel Ward, played for the Predators and afterwards we had a chance to get the opinion of the Nashville bench boss on those Capital acquisitions.
“Tomas Vokoun is a helluva goaltender, they got a really, really good two way player in Joel Ward that was a Mr. Fix it for us. You can use him in a lot of different areas. He plays a little bit of a different game than a lot of guys for the Caps. He used to be a guy that stabilized lines for us, probably very similiar to Brooks Laich. He’s sort of whatever line you put him he puts stability to it, that is what Joel does and he is a great person. They got a good player in Joel. We’ve got some players scattered all over the place,” said Trotz, pretty much noting at the end that the small market nature of Nashville prevents them from keeping their good players from moving on for more money.
- In closing, this was a big night for Baltimore with the return of hockey and the city did a good job of supporting the Capitals, as Boudreau thought would happen based on his experience from his playing days in the AHL.
“I didn’t know what to expect but I do know that when I played here the Baltimore fans were great. So I expected if they’re still following hockey or their children are still following hockey, that they would be rowdy and be good just waiting for us to do something. Unfortunately we didn’t score any goals,” finished Boudreau.
Notes: Boudreau noted that his top guys will get more games this preseason, “Our main guys will probably play more games in this preseason than they’ve played in the past. Four, five, six games rather than the three or four that they’ve played maximum in the past to get ready for the season.”…Trotz added that he was impressed with the renovations in the downtown Baltimore area and also praised the Caps marketing efforts, “The Caps are doing a fantastic job of creating fans in this whole Baltimore Washington DC area and that it is really good, there is a lot of red out here.”…5 foot 9 Ryan Ellis tried to line up Ovechkin for a big hit, at one point, but bounced off of the Great 8 like he was hitting a brick wall…former team Capitals team captain and the man known as the Secretary of Defense, Rod Langway, dropped the ceremonial first puck…the Caps play preseason game number two in Columbus on Wednesday night.