With 20 minutes to go in Sunday’s contest against the Ottawa Senators, the Washington Capitals were trailing 1-0, and were staring at the possibility of their seventh shutout loss of the season. However, the Caps ramped up their intensity big time, became more physical, and played arguably their best 20 minutes in a long time, scoring three goals, including John Carlson’s game winning goal on the power play, en route to a much needed 3-1 victory. The win halted a three game losing streak and vaulted the Capitals (25-14-7) back into a tie for first place in the Southeast Division with the Tampa Bay Lightning (26-15-5). Both teams have 57 points.
Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from the victory, the Capitals league leading 13th win of the season after allowing the first goal to their opponent:
– Carlson was voted the number one star of the game, but my top performer was Michal Neuvirth (22 saves). #30 was one of the few players to show up when the puck was dropped and the only tally he allowed, to Mike Fisher in a goal mouth scramble after Mike Green failed to clear the biscuit from the door step just 1:12 into the game, was not his fault. With the Senators carrying the play in the first period, they outshot Washington 9-5, Neuvirth shut the door on Ottawa giving his club a chance to regroup for period two and get their legs going. But the second period was a struggle early on again for the Capitals and in that stanza the two time AHL Calder Cup winning goalie made the save of the game on Filip Kuba. Kuba pinched down into the slot and he took a perfect centering feed on his forehand and fired it towards the top left corner of the cage. The calm and collected Neuvirth quickly lifted his blocker and deflected the puck to the corner to thwart what would have been a seemingly insurmountable two goal hole for Washington. You’ve heard me say this many times this year and I will say it again: the Capitals do not need another goalie because Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov have been outstanding this season. Varly is 8-6-2 with a .926 save percentage while Neuvy has gone 15-6-4 with a .912 save percentage. Those are some fantastic numbers.
“Our defense did a good job clearing pucks after that (the first Ottawa goal), not giving any second opportunities and Neuvy (Michal Neuvirth) held the fort,” commented Brooks Laich on how his team was able to stay in the game until they could break things open in the third period.
– The third period effort is something that many fans expected to see more of from Washington this season. The Caps skated hard and their aggressive forechecking in the offensive zone was back. In fact, the first goal was set up by a big check on Erik Karlsson by Alexander Ovechkin behind the Sens net. Karlsson, while being hit, sent a wobbly pass to Chris Phillips on the other side of the cage, but with Marcus Johansson bearing down on him he tried to hit Daniel Alfredsson up the middle of the ice. However #4’s pass missed #11 and went right to Laich in the slot and #21 buried it top shelf, far post to tie the game up. That goal, Laich’s first in 13 games, really energized the Capitals and their fans as the building started rocking again.
– Just 43 seconds later Milan Michalek cross checked Karl Alzner in the back in the Caps zone sending #27 flying head first into the boards. It was an extremely cheap and dangerous play and Alzner stayed down for an extended period, then went down the tunnel after being helped to the bench. Clearly the call should have been a five minute major for boarding but the zebras, Ghislain Hebert and Bill McCreary, only gave Michalek two minutes for cross checking. Washington’s struggling power play then finally found a way to connect as Nicklas Backstrom won the faceoff back to Carlson and #74 blasted it by Elliott (23 saves). The goal, which only took two seconds of time, came just 45 seconds after Laich had tied things up. The Caps would then add an insurance goal with 6:29 left when Jason Chimera scored from the goal line by banking the puck off the back of Elliott, who went down too soon on the right post. That tally involved a lucky bounce but the hard work of Alzner on the boards provided #25 with the opportunity to send the puck on goal.
“Sometimes you try to bank it off them (the goalie) and that time I did and fortunately it went in. Nine times out of ten, it doesn’t go in. Fortunately it worked out,” said Chimera on his sixth goal of the season.
– Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau once again mixed up his lines with Eric Fehr out of the lineup due to a shoulder injury (likely 3-4 weeks) and Andrew Gordon recalled from Hershey. Boudreau put Johansson with Ovechkin and Laich and that line played fairly well, especially in the third period. Johansson was +1 in a career high 22:16 of ice time. He had a couple of golden opportunities, including a perfect set up from Ovechkin in the slot, but he couldn’t connect. MJ90 is getting better along the boards, he actually was credited with two hits in this tilt, but the one thing he needs to really work on is his shot. We need to see more of it and the shots need to be quicker, harder, and on target.
– In addition to the forward line juggling, two of the defensive pairs were switched with Jeff Schultz going back with Green and Scott Hannan played the right side while John Erskine was flanked to his left. Hannan had another strong game in 17:32 of ice time. The 52-55 pair looked like it was headed for a disastrous night after allowing that first goal just 72 seconds into the game but they steadied themselves as the contest went on. The best defensive pair was once again the Carlson-Alzner duo. #74 was +1 in 21:07 and had the game winning goal while King Karl was +2 and had an assist in 19 minutes and 50 seconds of ice time. Alzner, who was shaken up a bit from the dirty hit by Michalek, did come back in the game missing at most one shift.
– One thing Washington did well the entire contest was win faceoffs. The Caps, who are ranked third in the NHL from the dot at a 52.8% success rate, won 43 of the 62 draws in this game. Boyd Gordon was an amazing 8-0 and Backstrom went 13-6. Faceoffs played a huge role in the outcome and the Senators bench boss took notice.
“They [face-offs] are huge. Both [third period] goals were off of a lost face off,” said Ottawa Coach Cory Clouston.
– So a bad week for the Caps, one in which they went 1-2-1, ends up on a high note. They still are not scoring many goals and this was the 16th time in the last 17 games that they have failed to notch more than three tallies but over the last 14 games they’ve only given up 28 goals (just two per game). There are 43 days left before the trade deadline for GM George McPhee to set his roster up for a long playoff run. Based on what I’ve seen over the first 46 games, I think the team is solid in goal and on defense but the forward crew needs upgrading in order to get two lines scoring, something you absolutely have to have to advance in the post season.
Notes: Along with Fehr being out, Alex Semin, Matt Bradley, Tom Poti, and DJ King were also out of the lineup due to injury while d-man Tyler Sloan is in Hershey for a conditioning stint…Green led the team with five hits but he also got rocked hard by Nick Foligno into the back boards right before he took an interference penalty with 33 seconds remaining. Hopefully #52 didn’t reinjure his shoulder on that hit…the Caps now embark on a three game road trip with the first stop in Philadelphia on Tuesday night. I will be covering the game in person and will bring you quotes, highlights, and analysis from a battle against the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference…by the way, please check out Japers Rink Radio, I was on with hosts Stephen Pepper and Russell Waxman for the last 25 minutes of this past Saturday’s show. We touched on all things Caps hockey.