Despite blowing a two goal third period lead, the Washington Capitals rallied to tie the game via an Alexander Semin power play goal with 5:38 remaining and then went on to knock off the Toronto Maple Leafs in a shootout at sold out Verizon Center on Wednesday night. The Caps received a goal and an assist from Semin and two helpers from Alexander Ovechkin while getting 24 stops from rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth in the victory. With the win, Washington moves to 8-4 overall and are now tied for first in the Southeast Division and Eastern Conference with the Tampa Bay Lightning (the Bolts have a game in hand).
Below are the highlights, quotes, and analysis of an entertaining game that was shown across Canada on TSN:
– There are some who will not like this Caps victory at all and pick at the negatives, including a stretch of just over three minutes in the third stanza where Washington allowed three straight goals to lose a 3-1 lead. As Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau stated after the game, it was not the way you want to win, however, the Capitals did a lot of good things in this game and those types of positives will likely pay off down the road. One criticism of the Caps this season and in the past has been that they have a tendency to play too much on the perimeter, at times. In this contest, that was clearly NOT the case as line after line for Boudreau skated hard to the net all evening long. The result was four goals, all of which came in close, but if the puck had bounced the Caps way, and I thought the luck factor was clearly on Toronto’s side for much of this contest, Washington could have had at least six or seven. Here are how the goals were scored:
Goal 1: Mike Green takes a sweet feed from Semin in the slot on the power play and from in close he roofs it by Jonas Gustavsson (26 saves).
Goal 2: Matt Bradley gets the puck deep and then Boyd Gordon makes a great pass into the slot from behind the net where a streaking Jason Chimera bangs it home from the door step.
Goal 3: Washington’s offensive zone pressure results in a turnover and Brooks Laich passes the puck up the right wing boards to John Carlson at the point. #74 fires the biscuit on net and Tomas Fleischmann comes out from behind the cage and tips the puck by Gustavsson.
Goal 4: Another PP marker is notched when Ovechkin fires a shot on net that is partially blocked but Laich out works the Leafs defense in front of the cage and the puck bounces right to Semin on the left post and he roofs it to send the game to extra time.
Bottom line is if Washington shows that kind of desire to get traffic and drive for rebounds then they will score a lot of goals.
“Yeah, we had chances as did they. We went to the net and that’s how you score goals,” started Boudreau,”We talk about it and that is how you score goals. When [Semin] scored his goal on the power play, there is not too many guys in the National Hockey League who can pick it and put it there quickly.”
“That is absolutely right. The puck was bouncing around out there so the only play really was to shoot it at the net and have guys crash. Our forwards did a great job with that plan and I know I hit Brooksie a couple of times and we created some plays. We need more of that,” said #52 when asked if the Caps game plan against Toronto was to storm the crease.
– Neuvirth continues to be a major factor in the team’s early season success. Despite giving up four goals he made the big stops when they were needed. Early in period two, with the Leafs up a goal, he made a point blank save on Clarke Macarthur. In period three, with Toronto leading 4-3, Neuvirth thwarted a Leafs blast and he received some great help from Karl Alzner on the rebound, who batted the puck out of the air and out of harm’s way. Finally, in the shoot out he stoned Phil Kessel when #81 tried to go five hole and then he shut down Nikolai Kulemin’s attempt setting the stage for Semin to win the game with his blast on Washington’s third shootout attempt (Caps won 2-0).
“You know what, we’ve asked a lot from him this year. We’ve played 12 games and he’s played in 11 of them and if you look he’s never played more than 45, 50 games, including playoffs in his pro career. So we are asking a lot of him right now for a first year guy to come in and stand on his head and he does. That is why he was rookie of the month and probably get more,” added the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winning bench boss.
“I think he’s incredible. I don’t want to pump him up too much here and get his head too big but he’s been outstanding for us and as a defenseman I feel so comfortable with him behind us. There is already a mutual bond that we feel that we have with him even though he’s only been here for the period of time he has been. You know he has a bright future ahead of him, as long as he stays focused here he’s going to be a great player for us,” said Green on the play of his rookie goaltender.
– Special teams played a key role in the victory and the Caps killed off three of four Leafs man advantage situations. Washington’s power play is red hot right now and is five for its last seven attempts.
“We finally are going back to the basics and creating the chances that we were creating last year. I think at the start of the year we were making the wrong plays at the wrong times and it’s taken almost a month and a half here to click again. It feels good out there,” said the two time Norris Trophy finalist on a power play that is starting to look like the one that was ranked #1 in the 2009-10 regular season.
– Green was -3 on the evening but he was on the ice for the Capitals two power play goals. In addition, he wasn’t the one primarily responsible for those tallies against. On the first Leafs goal, John Erskine leaves his feet in the slot and Kulemin has all day to get Neuvirth to go down and slide with him. That allowed #41 to slip the puck just inside the left post. Goal 2 against was the result of a horrible DJ King giveaway (-2 in just 8 shifts but he did fight Colton Orr in period one) while the third Toronto marker came when Jeff Schultz (-2) incorrectly pinched at the offensive blue line giving Kris Versteeg a breakaway. The final Leafs tally was on a power play and it was Schultz who could not tie up Tyler Bozak just outside the crease, and as a result #42 slid the puck around Neuvirth into the empty cage. #52 logged 30:17 of ice time and nearly won the game in OT but he hit the left post on a 4 on 3 power play ( he told me after the game he was still thinking about that post shot). His regular partner, Sarge, however, had his worst outing of the year. #55 logged 22:34 of ice time and seemed to constantly be indecisive and lack confidence, especially in the third period. Schultz, who had one of his best games of the season in Calgary last Saturday, just didn’t have it on this evening but his teammates bailed him out. Alzner was especially solid in this tilt and earned 22:32 of time on ice [Programming Note: King Karl will be on WNST 1570 Baltimore on the Comcast Morning Show with Drew Forrester in the 9am hour. You can listen live at WNST.NET].
– About those bad bounces I mentioned above, Nicklas Backstrom had an open net on a two on one break after a super Ovechkin feed but somehow Gustavsson dove back and got the toe of his stick on the shot to knock it wide. Eric Fehr also had a great chance that hit the knob of Gustavsson’s stick and deflected high while both Mike Knuble and Green hit pipes. Knuble also beat Gustavsson early on but Leafs d-man Luke Schenn swept the puck away on the goal line preventing a Washington tally.
“I’m not worried about [Knuble or Fehr], the media worries about them. Mike Knuble had three goals after 16 games last year and he ended up with 29 and he had a broken hand in between there where he probably could have had 35, he’s gonna get his goals. He gets chances every night and actually they will start going in for him, I firmly believe that. Eric Fehr, I thought played a lot better tonight. Had a couple good shots, had one hit the knob of the goalie’s stick and went wide and he had good energy. Sometimes it is hard to get out of the gate but they’re working at it. I have all the faith in the world in them,” finished Boudreau on two of his right wingers.
Notes: Ovechkin is now 2 for 2 on penalty shots this season and his routine has been to take the puck wide on the left wing boards and then cut in on the goalie. The move has worked and it appears to be giving the Great #8 more options with the puck…Toronto played without defensemen Dion Phaneuf, who severly cut his leg on Tuesday night vs Ottawa and will be out at least four weeks…the Leafs won the face-off battle, 38-31, with Nicklas Backstrom posting a poor 4-13 mark. Dave Steckel was tops for Washington at 8-3…Boudreau pretty much indicated Neuvirth will start again on Friday night vs. Boston at the Verizon Center. The Caps will likely face Tim Thomas, who is 7-0 this season and defeated Washington twice already last month.