Eric Fehr (2 goals, 1 assist) and Alexander Ovechkin (3 assists) led the way offensively for the Washington Capitals as they defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets for their 5th straight preseason win in five tries, 5-3, at the Verizon Center on Friday night. Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, and Alexander Semin also tallied for the Caps while Michal Neuvirth went the distance in the cage, stopping 23 of 26 Columbus shots. The Capitals close out their preseason schedule on Sunday at 1230pm at home against Nashville and the regular season will start on Friday, October 8th in Atlanta against the Thrashers.
Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from Friday night’s tilt that was played before 17,496 fans:
– Columbus dressed a lineup that once again triggered the Paul Newman “Who are these guys?” line. Rick Nash, RJ Umberger, Kristian Huselius, Steve Mason, Jakub Voracek, and Jared Boll were among some of the more familiar Blue Jacket names that did not suit up on Friday, but that did not stop Coach Scott Arniel’s squad from competing hard. After Washington jumped to a 2-0 lead, Columbus came back in the middle stanza and tied things up setting the stage for a third period that was hardly like a preseason contest. The intensity was elevated and both teams seemed intent on winning at all costs, something that is typically not seen before the games count, except for guys who are fighting for roster spots. Many of the Columbus players fit the “fighting for roster spots” bill against Washington and it showed in their effort and determination. The Caps, who had been so solid in their first four preseason tilts, reverted to some bad habits on Friday night, according to Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau.
“We felt like an alcoholic tonight. For two weeks we were doing so great defending, not giving up 2 on 1’s, and then we fell off the wagon in the first period and started playing that river hockey again and we’ll have to get back to a regular game tomorrow at practice,” said Boudreau, who was in midseason form in his post game presser.
– Those bad habits that Boudreau talked about led to a close contest that, on paper, should not have occurred. However, following the second period a different Washington team showed up for the final stanza.
“We wanted to play better. After the 2nd period we were talking about it and the coaching staff came in and they weren’t exactly thrilled with the way we were playing. There were three turnovers and some bad decisions being made. So we wanted to turn it up a notch and Nicky [Backstrom] got that first one for us early but they came right back at us and were going blow for blow for awhile. It sort of got heated there and boys were taking care of each other, which is great to see, even Ovie, but we don’t want him damaging his hands too badly. It’s good to see the boys sticking together early,” said forward Andrew Gordon, one of several players battling for the last few roster spots, on a third period that was physical and entertaining.
– The winning goal sequence was started with a big hit by Ovechkin behind the Columbus net and he fed Mathieu Perreault in the slot. #85 had traffic in front of him but found a way to get the puck to the net, allowing Fehr to bang home another goal from in close. It is those type of “garbage goals” that the Caps will need more and more of in the post season.
“I got it on my forehand and I didn’t have any lane to the net, two guys were in front of me, so I just brought it to my backhand and threw it on net and Eric was driving to the net and just got the rebound in,” added Perreault on the way his assist on the game winning goal unfolded.
– This was not a pretty one from a pure hockey standpoint. The contest had its’ lulls, especially in the middle of the second period when Washington chose to take a snooze, but it is clear that neither team likes the other and as a result, the contest was physical and downright chippy, at times. Caps forward Matt Hendricks was flattened in the neutral zone by a Nathan Guenin check just two minutes into this tilt, stayed on the ice for a couple of minutes, and did not return. Immediately after the hit Washington’s Tyler Sloan went after Guenin, with both dropping the gloves, and #89 earned an extra minor for roughing. That sequence set the tone for a physical battle that got even rougher late in the contest when Nick Holden cheap shotted Mike Knuble in the neutral zone. That incensed the Caps captain, who threw a punch with his glove on while grabbing Holden. The Great #8 would earn a double minor for roughing on the play.
“I love the way we responded and to that, there were a couple of real borderline hits on their part without it getting out of hand. I don’t think they had any of their main toughness dressed tonight but I was glad of the way we stood up for each other. I think it all started with Hendricks standing up for Ovie in Boston. So, that’s a good sign for the future, I hope,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the physicality of the contest and the way his players stuck together.
“It was a little physical. Obviously when Hendy (Matt Hendricks) went down, our team didn’t like that and their team didn’t like the hits we were laying on them. So it was physical but it was a good game to play in. We want to play a physical game. We don’t want to back down,” added Fehr on the team’s mentality.
– Penalty killing is an area that Washington wants to improve on this season, they were in the bottom third of the league last year, and coming into Friday’s matchup they had only allowed one power play goal in the preseason. Columbus would tally twice in seven tries (12:02 of power play time) in this one, but the Caps did kill off a 71 second five on three when Washington was clinging to a one goal third period lead. That combined with the way the Blue Jackets scored their two PPG’s didn’t seem to concern Boudreau.
“The power play goals, the first one we got caught running around and the second one was a bang-bang play where Nicky [Backstrom] almost scores at one end and we thought there might have been a hook. They come in and they get a good deflection from Chris [Clark]. They get a good goal but it wasn’t from breakdowns in the penalty kill so I was happy with that,” explained Boudreau.
– With one game left and the regular season looming, it is getting closer and closer to the final roster deadline, which comes on Wednesday, October 6th. The Caps have 18 forwards battling for 14 roster spots so the decisions will be very difficult for the organization.
“That’s George’s call, I don’t want to make any of them,” started a chuckling Boudreau putting the onus of the roster decisions on GM George McPhee. “All of these guys have played well. I firmly believe that we’ve got 20 forwards that could play regularly in the NHL,” finished the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner on the depth Washington has on its’ roster.
– From where I am sitting the last four forwards out are likely Steve Pinizzotto, Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks, and Marcus Johansson. In Johansson’s case, he is going to be a full time NHL player at some point, but at 19 (he turns 20 on Wednesday) he just doesn’t have a mature enough body to handle the 82 game grind and post season at this juncture. The other three will play in Hershey and will likely get at least one call up this season. If the four I chose are the players sent down or possibly in Johansson’s case, headed back to Sweden, then both Andrew Gordon and Perreault will make the Caps out of camp for the first time. The advantage Gordon has going for him is that in order to go back to the AHL he would have to clear waivers and it is not likely that McPhee wants to lose an asset for nothing. In Perreault’s case, he showed glimpses of being able to perform in the NHL last year but eventually his smaller frame would wear down and his production would drop. But now, at 22, #85 has filled out and increased his strength, something he talked about after Friday’s tilt.
“I put on like 10 pounds of muscle [the last 2 years] and I feel so much stronger and bigger out there. As you can see I feel like I can win the one on one battles against anybody out there. This is a big thing now in the NHL, if you get people one on one you have to win your own battles. Preseason is almost over and I feel like I’ve done everything I’ve could to stay up here and the rest is up to them now,” finished the Caps 6th round draft choice in 2006.
Notes: Boudreau said after the game that Hendricks was fine and that he could have come back and played had it been a regular season game…Washington only had 4:10 of power play time. They went 1 for 4 and failed on a 1:47 two man advantage. They also gave up a shorthanded goal when Ovechkin over stick handled, got slashed (breaking his stick), and lost the puck…The Caps outshot Columbus 38-26…The Caps were only 28-34 on faceoffs with Johansson going a pitiful 0 for 10. Backstrom was 12-6 and Perreault went 8-4.