The Washington Capitals went into Atlanta tonight to take on the Thrashers with the chance to sweep them on their home ice this year and thanks to some superb early goaltending by Michal Neuvirth (38 saves) and timely offensive tallies the Caps raced to a 3-0 first period lead en route to an 8-1 thrashing of a hockey team that appears to be falling apart. Mike Knuble and Alexander Semin both scored two goals in the victory and Washington leads the league in that stat this season as 31 players have had two tally contests. The Caps have yet to register a hat trick this season but with the win they are now 27-11-6 and have a whopping 16 point lead in the Southeast Division.
Here is the post game highlights, quotes, and analysis:
It is not often you credit your goalie in an 8-1 win but tonight the Caps have to thank rookie Neuvirth for what turned into an easy victory after a very shaky defensive first period. Atlanta was all over Washington in the opening stanza outshooting them 18-7 but #30 made several sparkling saves. The only reason the Caps led was because Johan Hedberg and some of his defenseman were trying to prove who was worse while Neuvirth was a brick wall in goal. Neuvirth also made a huge save on a 2 on 1 Thrashers rush near the end of the 2nd period with the score 4-1. A goal there and Atlanta has life going into the 3rd period but the rookie was stellar again. Neuvirth was the game’s number one star, in my opinion, and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau concurred.
“They had the puck in our zone the whole first period…Our goaltender should have been the first star. We got a couple of breaks and it was 4-0 and the rest is history,” said Boudreau, who turned 55 today.
Atlanta had just halted an eight game losing streak with a 2-1 win over the Rangers on Thursday night and they came out hard in an attempt to build on that victory. But when you dominate yet fall behind 3-0 you can become discouraged quickly and Boudreau mentioned that as a factor in the game afterwards.
“Absolutely. We’ve seen it happen to us…It is disheartening to a team and it is tough to duplicate that effort. They beat the Rangers and I thought they’d come out hard,” said Boudreau when asked if being unable to get the lead early after dominating the play had a negative effect on the Thrashers.
Through two periods the shots were 33-24 in favor of Atlanta but goaltending was the story as Washington led 4-1. The fifth goal was the one that took all remaining energy from the Thrashers and opened the flood gates for the rout. The amazing thing is the play started with an absolutely simple, yet smart pass by Jeff Schultz (2 assists and +5) to Tom Poti behind his own net. Sarge’s pass trapped two Atlanta forwards deep in Washington territory and then Poti made a super stretch pass to Semin at the red line. #28 then tapped it to Tomas Fleischmann, who has looked great in three games at center (another Boudreau shrewd move), and they went in two on one with #14 making a great feed to Semin, who quickly buried it into the vacated net to finally solve Ondrej Pavelec. Pavelec had entered the game for Johan Hedberg after “Moose” allowed four goals on nine shots and he kept Atlanta in the contest up until that gem of a goal by the Caps.
The official three stars on the night were: 1. Knuble 2. Semin 3. Mike Green (2 assists, +3). My three stars were: 1. Neuvirth 2. Schultz 3. Semin although you could pick several guys as the third star and I would not argue. I won’t back off on Neuvirth being the primary reason Washington won this one, unless you want to credit Hedberg, then you have a valid argument.
The Caps did outshoot the Thrashers 13-6 in the final period but after it was 5-1 Atlanta flat out quit. Simply put, that team is headed for disaster with the Ilya Kovalchuk situation still unresolved. If you ask me, that off ice situation combined with bad goaltending has helped turn a promising start into a club that is spiraling downwards with April tee times very likely in their future.
After the contest Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post reported, via his Twitter account, that defenseman John Erskine (only 9:50 of ice time) was injured and did not finish the contest. With Washington’s next two games in the Sunshine State on Tuesday (Tampa) and Wednesday (Florida) they will either turn to Tyler Sloan or recall Karl Alzner from Hershey if #4 is out. Also, look for Jose Theodore to get a start in goal in one of those contests. #60 will really have to work hard and play extremely well if he wants to have any chance at unseating Neuvirth and Varlamov in the Washington crease. Boudreau’s confidence in Neuvirth is clearly sky high and #30 made the coach look good with his choice tonight, especially given that Theo was bombed in 2 starts in Atlanta last season (gave up 8 goals on 36 shots and looked terrible in the process).
Notes: The Hershey Bears won 3-2 in Winnipeg on Saturday night to set a franchise record with 12 straight victories. Kyle Wilson had the game winner while Braden Holtby picked up another win in goal. The Bears are the defending AHL Calder Cup Champions.