Mike Green blasted a slapper that nicked off of the shin pads of Carolina defensemen Bryan Allen and then through the legs of goalie Brian Boucher (32 saves) to give the Washington Capitals a 4-3 overtime victory in their season opener at sold out Verizon Center(18,506) on Saturday night. When these two teams play, the game always seems to be close, and despite the fact that the Caps went 5-0-1 against the Hurricanes in 2010-11, five of the contests were decided by one goal. This night was no exception and Carolina sent this marker to the extra session with a tally with their netminder pulled and the extra attacker on the ice with 79 seconds remaining. Alexander Semin, Jason Chimera, and Brooks Laich scored for the Caps before #52’s game winner while Eric Staal had two goals and assisted on the other to Jussi Jokinen.
Here are the quotes, highlights, and analysis from an entertaining start to the 2011-12 Capitals season:
– While the Capitals were victorious on this night, the coaching staff will not be happy with several things when they dissect the videotape of this one. Carolina was able to get a lot of quality scoring chances and all three of their tallies came with a manpower advantage. The first two were power play goals and the last one came on a 6 on 5. The Caps, who were 2nd in the NHL in penalty killing last season, gave up goals on two consecutive shorthanded situations (overall Carolina went 2 for 4 on the PP). Each of those came on cross ice passes that allowed Staal to pretty much have an open net. On the final Canes goal, both Karl Alzner and John Carlson got caught behind the Caps net allowing Jokinen to notch an easy game tying tally. Carlson made the same mistake, leaving the front of the net when his d-partner is already behind the cage, in the pre-season game against Buffalo last weekend. The Caps want to be aggressive defensively but playing smart is important too. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was not pleased with the penalty kill and winger Joel Ward talked about the miscues his club made to allow those goals.
“I’m a little disappointed in our penalty killing, but that will get better. Dean [Evason] does such a good job, him and Woody [assistant coch Bob Woods too], I know that’ll pick up. Specialty teams in today’s game are so important and that is what it came down to again tonight,” commented Boudreau on Washington’s shorthanded ability on Saturday.
“Just bad sticks and just in positioning, kind of not bearing down on certain chances, getting pucks out of our own zone. We definitely have to concentrate and just be more sturdy, so there is some work we’ve got to do. Fortunately it is only game one,” added Ward on how Carolina was able to get the open looks that led to their goals.
– Washington’s power play went 2 for 5 and the last two goals were scored in man advantage situations. However, in the first period the Caps had two power plays and both were not good at all. Alexander Ovechkin played the point for over three of those four minutes and was not effective. When Boudreau received a late third period power play with the game tied, he opted to put the Gr8 in the slot instead. That move worked well as Ovechkin received a puck between the circles and had a golden chance to give Washington the lead only to be tripped and slashed. The Capitals were awarded a five on three and 30 seconds later Laich scored on a rebound of an Ovechkin point shot that went wide and bounced to #21 at the right post. I was okay with the Gr8 being on the point on the 5 on 3 but in 5 on 4 situations he would be best utilized on the half wall where he can fire one timers or feed the point and go to the cage for rebounds. Despite the early troubles, Boudreau attributed some credit for the victory to his team’s play with the manpower advantage.
“When our power play is scoring, then we’re usually successful. I wouldn’t doubt [it was nerves on the first two power plays]. You were all asking me about nerves. It’s the first game, the crowd is into it, lot of new guys, nerves were there. It’s like the first day being on the job and going into the office. You’re nervous whether you are a 20 year vet doing the job or just brand new. The first period the passes weren’t very crisp and I’m hoping that was due to nerves,” finished Boudreau on the impact of his power play on the game.
– Michal Neuvirth (28 saves) received the start over Tomas Vokoun primarily due to his stellar preseason plus he shut the Canes out in the first meeting between these two clubs last October. It is hard to fault #30 on any of the three goals as they all came via cross ice passes to the back side of the defense. When Semin took a very unnecessary and undisciplined boarding penalty at the end of regulation, Boudreau and company needed #30 to come up big in net. The two time AHL champion goalie did just that robbing both Jokinen and Staal on quality chances. Given the issues Washington had in their own end, at times, I am not sure they would’ve won this contest with Vokoun in goal given that he is still learning the intricacies of the Caps defensive zone play.
– This game could be put in the Clint Eastwood file (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly) but one thing Washington was good with was not getting emotionally or mentally drained when something went against them. This occurred at a couple of key points in the game. The first occurrence was in the second period when Washington had the heat on the Canes for seven or eight consecutive shifts. However, Carlson took a tripping penalty and Staal scored to make it 1-0. At that point a mentally weak team might have slumped their shoulders or moped, but that didn’t happen. Just over two minutes later #74 hit a streaking Semin for a breakaway and the highly skilled Russian beat Boucher like a rented mule depositing the puck by him on the backhand. The second time was when the Canes tied the game up late in regulation and despite Semin’s stupid infraction, they managed to find a way to keep working and pull out a victory.
“We were working, then things weren’t going our way..then we stayed positive at the end when that bad goal went in for them at the end to tie it up. I think that’s the biggest thing, that just shows our character right now. I’m telling you positivity is everything, especially around here..but at the end of the day, it was imperative that we didn’t quit. We kept working hard and sticking to our game plan. It’s something that we worked on over the course of preseason is the mindset that were going to be the hardest working team. Sometimes it just gets too high and too low during the game and it’s just a matter of staying on an even keel and we were fortunate enough to get the win tonight,” said Green, discussing his team’s resiliency and their focus on work ethic.
– Green was paired with Roman Hamrlik in game one and the two meshed well. Last season #52 spent much of his time with either Jeff Schultz or Scott Hannan and neither of those guys skate as well as #44 does so Green will have less pressure on him to move the puck by himself. In addition, that should prevent him from taking so many big hits and his health is key to his offense. As I mentioned in my season preview for The Washington Post’s Capitals Insider, it looked to me in preseason that Green’s slap shot was back, something he agreed with when I asked him about it after the win over Carolina.
“Yeah, it’s a lot better when you are a 100%. You don’t have the aches and pains that restrict you from certain things and yeah, I feel good,” commented Green on his ability to fire the biscuit this season.
– In summary, a win is a win, despite the mistakes Washington made in this tilt. But a sold out and boisterous crowd got to see a Capitals victory, something Ward was just happy be a part of.
“It was pretty loud, that is for sure. You can tell the fans were right into it. We had a couple of chances to put away the game but that is just how it goes, it is a pretty competitive league and we kind of capitalized on our chances and things worked out in the end,” finished Ward (1 assist).
Next up for the Caps are the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night at the Verizon Center at 7 pm. Vokoun is expected to the get the start in goal.
Notes: Nicklas Backstrom went 15-10 on faceoffs and had two assists. The young Swede looked much stronger on his skates than last season. Perhaps his conditioning has improved and that shoulder he injured in the 2010 Montreal series might finally be totally healed?…Washington won the face-off battle 37-31 and Laich was 10-6…Marucs Johansson was scratched in favor of Mathieu Perreault who was +1 in 12:50 of ice time…Green led all players with 23:18 of ice time…Schultz played the fewest minutes on defense, logging 15:47…Hershey improved to 2-0 on the road and overall with a 3-2 victory over the Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins. The Bears are in Norfolk on Friday night and then come home for Saturday’s opener at the Giant Center against the Admirals again.