For the first time since February of 1984 the Washington Capitals have won nine games in a row. On Friday night at the Verizon Center, in a performance Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau said was not one of their best, Washington crashed the net to get their first three goals en route to a 4-1 victory over the Florida Panthers. Michal Neuvirth was outstanding in net stopping 35 shots and Nicklas Backstrom (1G, 2A) and Mike Knuble (2G, 1A) each had three points in their fifth win over the Cats in five tries this season. The only real bad news of the night was Mike Green left the game in the second period after a collision with defenseman Dmitry Kulikov of Florida. Green hurt his knee and appears to be okay but what may be worse is Ray Ferraro of TSN is saying that he should be suspended for an elbow on Michael Frolik, but more on #52 later.
With this victory the Caps are now 36-12-6 and have a six point lead in the Eastern Conference standings over the New Jersey Devils. They are just a single point behind the San Jose Sharks for 1st place overall in the NHL (and they are tied for second in the league with the Chicago Blackhawks). The nine game winning streak is the second longest in team history and they will try and tie the 1983-84 team that won a club record 10 games in a row when they face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday at 3pm at the Verizon Center. The Lightning were the last team to knock off the Capitals this season and that was the night that Matt Bradley prevented Alexander Ovechkin from fighting Bolts chief punk Steve Downie late in the 7-4 Washington defeat.
Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis of this one:
I agree with Boudreau, the Caps were not very good on Friday, especially early and they can thank Neuvirth for being so sharp. The Caps struggled with the Panthers neutral zone trap as they tried to pass through the three Florida guys positioned at the red line instead of dumping the puck in and then working the cycle game. That led to some odd man rushes and scoring chances for Florida. Washington also was aided by an off game by goalie Tomas Vokoun who gave up some big rebounds, especially the second Cap goal scored by Knuble.
“I thought we were lucky actually. We didn’t have our best game tonight. We gave up way too many chances. Neuvirth was outstanding and when you get the good goaltending sometimes you overlook your mistakes,” said Boudreau on the play of his club against Florida.
“Tonight we didn’t play very well. Fortunately we had great goaltending and timely goals. When you are on a roll things happen like that,” said Caps defenseman Brian Pothier.
Neuvirth had his second straight super outing, and third straight win, since being yanked in back to back games in the Sunshine State. The young guy seems to be maturing in his play and mentally too.
“He is an NHL type goalie. I think that is the 15th game he has played and of the last 12 he’s played he’s had one off night. I’ve seen Martin Brodeur had an off night too.” commented Boudreau on #30’s goaltending.
Last year, the Caps scored a lot of goals but many bemoaned the fact that, other than Brooks Laich, they lacked the ability to score the ugly tally in close. Well with the addition of Knuble it seems that more than just #22 are going to the net. Backstrom scored his first off of a Knuble rebound (and Green made a nice rush and pass to set that goal up), then Ovechkin (1 assist, +2) fired a shot off of Knuble’s skate into the net after Backstrom’s initial blast was mishandled by Vokoun, and the third goal was a Jeff Schultz point shot that got by Vokoun because Brooks Laich was screening the Panthers net minder.
“We were second in goals last year..but we didn’t get alot from in the paint.. and [Knuble] does a great job at that. It is something we practice all the time, going to the net,” added Boudreau on why his team is scoring more goals in close this season.
WashingtonCaps.com reporter Mike Vogel asked the coach about the recent ability of the Caps to have more of a killer instinct, something we’ve especially seen during the nine game winning streak and is aided by the fact that the team is finally fairly healthy at forward.
“We got the 3rd and 4th [goals] pretty quick and that makes it easier to play. Then what happens is other teams open up and sometimes if you open it up we’ve got just as many chances to score as you do,” said Boudreau.
Last month, when talking to a Western Conference scout, he told me the Caps “should forget goaltending and just play run and gun.” Well, Washington is getting good goaltending and then when they get the lead, other teams are forced to go “run and gun.” With the Capitals highly skilled line-up the law of probability says that the team George McPhee and his staff has assembled is going to come out on top a very high percentage of the time when a contest opens up with Washington leading, much like the dominant Edmonton Oilers teams of the 1980’s did to its’ opponents.
As for Green, it was a crazy night and it seemed the Panthers put a bullseye on him and they hit #52 at every chance. Green and Kulikov exchanged checks early in this one and then late in the second period the Panther came across and caught Green with his leg while trying to catch him with his shoulder first, much like some of the ones that some of the very whacky Canadian media have criticized Ovechkin for. The two locked knees, with Green’s right one appearing to buckle, and after he laid on the ice for a minute or so, trainer Greg Smith and forward Eric Fehr carried him to the bench with #52 not putting any weight on his right leg. However, Green came out midway through the third period and skated during a timeout, then went back down the runway to the locker room.
“I assume he will play Sunday. He came out there and he said he was fine but we didn’t want to take any chances. Players always say they are fine but it is more of a charlie horse than anything else. It was like knee on knee but it was high. I thought Mike might have been a little careless, a little casual, when he cut into the middle there. I’m just really happy to see that it is not going to be long term,” said Boudreau on the injury that Green told reporters afterwards definitely was his knee.
The controversy is on the elbow to Frolik and it is more fodder for some of the anti-Capitals Canadain media who seem to look for any borderline play involving a Washington player. Ferraro, who was never one of my favorites, called for five games minimum while Darren Dreger was much more reserved and pointed out there likely would be a hearing but that NHL Director of Hockey Operations, Colin Campbell, can’t be involved because his son, Gregory Campbell, plays for Florida. Thus VP of Hockey Operations, Mike Murphy, will handle the matter.
Courtesy of a tweet from Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post, Green had the following to say on the elbow: “I didn’t mean to elbow him. I might have got it up. I thought it was my shoulder.”
“I don’t think he will [get suspended]. Frolik got up and was fine,” added Pothier, defending his teammate on the hit to Frolik.
Back to the contest, Florida, who is battling for their playoff lives, really came out strong and was determined to try and defeat the Caps on Friday night for the first time this season, something Boudreau definitely noticed.
“They were working awful hard, coming at us preetty good. They had a sense of urgency and they’ve lost four in a row to us. They had three days off to prepare for this so they came out pretty hard so it didn’t surprise me that they were going to do everything in their power to win,” finished Boudreau on the Florida approach.
Florida Coach Peter DeBoer was clearly disappointed in his team and the problems they had in trying to win at the Verizon Center against a highly skilled Capitals team.
“They have a lot of confidence and I didn’t think we helped ourselves with our puck management. Some of our decisions with the puck weren’t very good and against a team like that, unless you bring your A+ game, they are going to make you look bad and that is what happened. I thought our first period was good but we were fortunate it was only 2-1 after the 2nd because I thought they took control of the game. We talked about hanging around and trying to get it to overtime and obviously the next goal is a key and we lose a draw in our own end and it is in the net,” said the former Kitchener Rangers Ontario Hockey League coach on his team’s effort.
Here are some more interesting notes and statistics on the current Capitals team:
- Washington is now 12-2-0 in the month of January. With the win, the Caps matched the franchise record for most victories in a month. The Capitals went 12-2-2 in Dec. 1984, posting a franchise record for most points (26) in a month in the process.
- The Caps outshot the Panthers 40-36 in the contest for their second straight contest with 40 or more shots and 10th game of the season. The Caps are 9-0-1 this season when they record 40 or more shots in a game.
- The Capitals have now recorded a power-play goal in eight straight contests, and lead the league with 54 power play goals. The Caps are 15 for 37 (40.5%) on the power play in their last 11 games. They are now 16-0-1 when they don’t allow a power-play goal and score one of their own.
- The Capitals were a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill and have not allowed a power play goal in five of their last six games (25-for-26). The Caps are 22-1-3 when they do not allow a power-play goal.
Programming Note: On Saturday, January 30 at 1:25pm I will be on-air at WNST talking with Section 410 host Eric Aaronson about the Capitals. You can listen live on 1570 AM or via WNST.NET