After losing two games earlier in the season to the Boston Bruins in back to back tilts, the Washington Capitals played like they had something to prove against the B’s on Friday night at the Verizon Center. Washington jumped out to a 3-0 lead after two periods, gave away the lead, then scored twice in the final ten minutes en route to a 5-3 victory before a sold out crowd. The Caps third straight win, and fifth in their last six games, improves their record to 9-4, good for first place in the Southeast Division and first overall in the Eastern Conference.
Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, and analysis of a contest that saw the Caps outshoot the Bruins, 39-18:
– There were a lot of positives on Friday in this tilt but to me the biggest thing about this club right now is it is continuing to improve and the second period they played was easily their best of the season. Washington outshot the Bruins 17-6 and notched three tallies in the middle stanza, including a dandy shorthanded goal by Alexander Semin that was made possible by defenseman Mike Green (1 goal, 1 assist) jumping up into the play and then making an all-world pass back to #28, who fired the puck five hole on Bruins goalie Tim Thomas (7-0 coming into this game). The glass “half-empty” crew will likely be out in full force for Washington losing a three goal third period lead but Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was having none of that after this victory.
“I feel great about the way we played the first two periods, we played tremendous. So I am not going to try to spin any negatives on this one. That is a great team that we kept down with 11 or 12 shots in two periods. They came out really hard in the third and got two power play goals and we had a couple of breakdowns. Then we righted the ship and I don’t think they had more than one chance after that. I don’t want to get negative here,” stated Boudreau when asked if he was disappointed in giving up three goals again in the third period.
– Thomas and Michal Neuvirth (11 saves on 14 shots), two of the top goalies in the NHL this season, started the game and both were yanked from the cage in this one. The Bruins net minder was replaced by Tuukka Rask (stopped 12 of 13 shots) for the third period, likely in an attempt by Boston coach Claude Julien to try and change the momentum, while Neuvirth, who had very little work since the opening 10 minutes, gave up three tallies in a six minute stretch. At that point, Boudreau had a huge decision to make with Braden Holtby, who had previously never played in an NHL game, sitting on the bench. But the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winning coach made another great tactical decision based on something that only coaches typically notice and that led him to the switch.
“With us, I thought Neuvy didn’t look very good on goals two and three and he was looking over [at the bench]. Any time a goalie is looking [at the bench], I thought okay [let’s make the switch]. It wasn’t I didn’t know if it was fair to Braden, his first game, to put him in with 10 minutes to go against Boston in a tie game, but I thought he did outstanding,” said Boudreau on another tactical decision that led to a Caps victory.
Neuvirth, who Boudreau said appeared to be tired on Wednesday against the Leafs, could be wearing down from playing in 12 of the 13 games so far this season, but who knows if that is really the case?
“You’d have to ask him [on the goals allowed]. He might be tired. In the American League it is two of three games but then you get four days off and here it is every other day you have to play,” surmised Boudreau on the schedule adjustments his young goalie is having to make in the NHL.
– Green is clearly the straw that stirs the drink for the Caps with his rushes from the back end. He notched his third goal in three games by faking Bruins forward Gregory Campbell out of his jock and to the ice on Washington’s second tally and the aforementioned setup he made on the Semin shorthanded marker is a sequence that only highly talented defensemen like a Bobby Orr or Paul Coffey are able to make. #52 logged 25:43 of ice time and was the game’s number one star for his play at both ends of the rink.
“Best offensive defenseman in the NHL, which means he’s the best one in the world. So when you don’t have him it is a detriment. He blocks shots, he blocked about five shots in the third period alone and he played a lot of hockey, he was a real plus for us,” said Boudreau on the blue liner who was +2 on Friday night.
– As former Capital Alan May blogged on Monday, the Caps jettisoned some of the older players from last season’s roster and brought up young players like John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Neuvirth. May pointed out that it will take time for those players to adjust to the rigors of the NHL but he also noted that the team continues to win and it will likely pay off in the long run (i.e, April). Carlson had the game winner with 6:35 to go on a point blast off of a face-off win by Boyd Gordon that included great hustle and a nice pass by Eric Fehr, as well. #74 and his partner, Alzner, just continue to get better and better each game with tonight’s contest being their strongest yet.
“Alzner and Carlson were very good. Our defense was very good, in general. Tyler’s [Sloan] best game too. Alzner and Carlson played really good against the Leafs and then were good in Calgary and they are just getting better,” added Boudreau on his young defensive pair that won back to back Calder Cups in Hershey.
– As said above, the Caps continue to improve and their effort is getting stronger. They continued to go to the net hard and are following Boudreau’s system much more closely after some shaky tilts early on. Overall the head coach was very pleased because this win came against a squad that was 7-2 on the season prior to tonight.
“One of the things we talked about in the firts two games was Boston is a real strong team that wins a lot of one on one battles so we were real cognizant of trying to compete and battle with them. It’s a great video clip because when you win battles you have success and we’ll be showing that one, for sure,” finished Boudreau on the victory over the Bruins.
Notes: Alexander Oveckin had an empty net goal and an assist but, according to the stat sheet, he did not register a single hit…like the game winner, the Caps first goal by Sloan came off of a face-off win (Tomas Fleischmann) and Mike Knuble did a great job screening Thomas…both Knuble and Fehr had strong games and appear to be on the verge of breaking through with some goals…Boston won the face-off battle, 42-35…Jeff Schultz made a very headsy play on the empty net clincher. Instead of trying to fire through a maze of players and risking a blocked attempt, #55 dumped the puck deep along the left wing boards where Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) corralled it and fed the Great #8 for an easy tap in…the Caps are undefeated with Gordon (1 assist, +1) in the lineup (7-0). Next up for the Caps are the despised Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday at 5pm, so after the Ravens hopefully defeat the Miami Dolphins, fans can rush home and watch the Caps knock off those “scumbags” (as WNST Morning Show host, Drew Forrester, calls them) on the ice.