If you missed Saturday night’s Washington Capitals game in Nashville live I sure hope you have this one recorded on DVR. After being thoroughly outworked for 35 of the first 40 minutes the Caps rallied with two third period goals from Alexander Semin and Tomas Fleischmann to send this tilt to overtime. Then after Alexander Ovechkin drew a penalty on the Predators Ryan Suter, the Great #8 fired a power play blast on the Nashville cage that was tipped home by Brooks Laich for the game winner. It was an improbable 3-2 victory for a Caps team that was without their top two defensemen in Mike Green and Tom Poti. Michal Neuvirth was easily the game’s number one star stopping 37 shots, including 28 in the first two periods alone. The win puts the Caps record at 4-1 and at the top of the Southeast Division.
Here are the highlights, a quote, and analysis from a thrilling victory that seemed rather improbable early on:
– Michal Neuvirth is now 4-0 with a .945 save percentage since opening night (h/t @JapersRink). It was the fifth straight stellar performance from #30 and he appears to be gaining more and more confidence in the cage. The two time Calder Cup champion rarely gave up rebounds on Saturday and the two goals he allowed were not his fault. The first one came when Brian Fahey (-2 in his first NHL game) gave the puck away and J.P. Dumont snapped the biscuit top shelf on the 16th attempt on the rookie Washington goalie. In those first 15 shots, many of them were of the quality variety and if not for the young Czech goalie the Capitals probably would have been starting the plane early to go home. Nashville’s other tally came after an Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom turnover at the Washington blue line and Jordin Tootoo used the room Tyler Sloan gave him to center the puck, which then banked in off of Fahey’s skate behind Neuvirth.
– The second reason the Caps had a chance to come out on top was their superb penalty killing, which is now a perfect 21 for 21 on the season. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s crew failed to come out of the gate skating well and as a result the Predators received the first five power plays, including a 29 second 5 on 3. But a unit that struggled last season (finished in bottom 3rd of the NHL) and in the postseason, has been revamped with a more aggressive approach. It also helps that Neuvirth has been stellar in the cage. By not allowing a potentially back breaking power play tally in the first half of the contest the Capitals were able to hang around, something Boudreau said his team took notice of.
“You could feel the tide turning because they outplayed us so bad the first 27, 28 minutes of the game, that when you look up and you go holy crap, we are only down a goal at this stage, or two goals, you still got a chance,” said Boudreau on his team’s mindset at the midway point of the contest.
– As mentioned at the outset of this blog, both Green and Poti were not dressed for this tilt meaning Washington would employ their 7th and 8th defenseman for the contest in Music City. As a result the team struggled early on and the defensemen were not getting much help from the forwards, particularly their center ice men who were not doing a good job of handling breakout passes. But as the game went on the Caps blueliners got stronger and the Karl Alzner-Jeff Schultz pair was very good. In addition, John Carlson, who made some defensive gaffes in the beginning of the game, did what a young player needs to do: forget about it and just keep playing. #74 was strong in the third stanza, when he had to be for the Caps to come out on top. With Sloan and Fahey only playing 12:51 and 9:50, respectively, Carlson (24:14), Schultz (24:03), Alzner (22:57), and John Erskine (21:58) logged a lot of ice time on the back end.
– Up front, the Tomas Fleischmann, Laich, and Semin line was pretty bad for two periods but took over the game in period three. Laich started getting physical and he made an outstanding play behind the Predators net that allowed Flash to tie this contest up at two with just over eight minutes left in regulation. #21 also committed himself to helping improve the d-zone breakout and that allowed #14 to spring Semin for some quality chances, including a partial breakaway. #28’s tally came on the power play as he just blasted the puck through Nashville goalie Anders Lindback (31 saves) to give the Caps their first real hope of coming back, just 4:33 into the third period. This line is so key for Boudreau and company because the Backstrom-Ovechkin-Mike Knuble unit is usually facing the opponent’s checking line and top d-pair.
– Ovechkin (1 assist, -1) made the two key plays in OT to win the game, but overall he did not have a strong effort. Specifically his play in his own zone was not very good and too often he did not stay with his point man. Maybe Ovie and the guys had too much barbeque on Friday night? Whatever the case they have to be thanking their lucky starts that Neuvirth was so good on Saturday because the film of the first two periods is pretty ugly. But this Caps team is one that never quits, so the Great #8, as team captain, deserves credit for making sure his squad doesn’t fold tent when the going gets tough.
Notes: Marcus Johansson returned to the lineup and logged 10:19 of ice time. His play was up and down and as a result the 3rd line did not really click for most of this tilt… Backstrom had two assists but he was -1 and his boarding penalty in the second period was not very smart. Arguably, he was a little lucky not to get a major…the Predators won the faceoff battle, 32-26 (Flash was 1-11 and MJ90 was 1-6 while Backstrom went 13-6)…the Caps next game is on Tuesday at the Verizon Center against the Bruins at 730pm on VERSUS.