Playing in a home opener for the opposition for the third time this season, the Washington Capitals went into a tough building and shut down a speedy Carolina Hurricanes team thanks to 29 saves by goalie Michal Neuvirth plus outstanding play by the Caps six defensemen to win, 3-0. The victory was #30′s first career shut out and he is now 6-2 on the young season. Matt Hendricks tallied first for Washington and then Nicklas Backstrom sealed the deal with a rebound goal followed by an empty netter to silence the Raleigh crowd on opening night in Carolina. Overall the Caps are now 6-3 and head to Minnesota for a tilt with the Wild at 8pm on Thursday night (CSN HD).
Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, and analysis of this one:
- Early on the Capitals dominated the play and it was Cam Ward who looked like he might be the star of the game as he made some big saves on Washington, including a huge one in the slot on Alexander Ovechkin in period two. Ward also would be saved by the post on two occassions. However, when Carolina made their push, it was Neuvirth who would not be outdueled and he made some superb stops down the stretch to hold the fort until the first line finally delivered in the last 10 minutes. He only came close to being beat once, in the second period, and that was because Mike Green fell down and Tomas Fleischmann played a Canes two on one break horribly. Fortunately for the Capitals, Eric Staal hit the post on that rush. The two time Calder Cup champion, who seems to be gaining more and more confidence, owned Staal and the Hurricanes on this night.
- Matt Bradley had missed the Caps last five games due to a lower body injury, but on this night Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau started #10 with his two linemates, Hendricks and Dave Steckel, to open each period and those guys set the tone for DC with their energy and hard work. Steckel’s collision with Ward as the puck arrived just above the top of the crease, allowed #26 to net the game winner into an open cage in period one. Carolina protested but the referee made the correct call and the tally stood. That line was Washington’s best on this evening. Bradley will never be confused with the top skill guys but he is the consumate team guy and a player that leads by example. It will be hard for the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner to break the 39-26-10 line up on this road trip because it was that good on Wednesday.
“It was easily our most complete game by everybody. You get contributions from your fourth line, the penalty killing, you know I thought the goaltender was great. Everybody did a good job. When the fourth line was going, or the energy line, whatever you want to call them, is playing good we can roll all forward lines lines. I don’t think any forward line had over 20 minutes tonight. When we don’t [have forwards playing over 20 minutes] we usually are successful,” said Boudreau on the role his fourth line played and how it impacted the entire team (h/t to Comcast Sportsnet for these Boudreau quotes).
- Getting Green, who only played 5:39 last Saturday night due to an upper body injury, fully back on defense makes Washington a totally different team. He brings that puck rushing ability that gets the other team back on their heels and it opens up the ice for everyone else. In addition, #52′s quickness allows the Caps to keep the puck in the offensive zone more often and that allows them to keep their cycle game going and wear out the opposition defense. When Green is healthy and in the line-up, he is so good paired with Jeff Schultz and as a result Boudreau shrewdly put John Carlson and Karl Alzner back together and that pair might have played their best game of the season. Finally, the Tyler Sloan-John Erskine duo was solid as well, in fact, this clearly was #89′s best game in a long time. Overall, the six defenseman were outstanding.
- Up front, Alexander Semin had his usual good outing against Carolina, although he didn’t get a point. Center Mathieu Perreault, who was the spark plug on Saturday in the Capitals win over the Thrashers in OT, had a rough night with the puck not bouncing his way for most of the evening. But #85 never hung his head when he made a mistake and his hustle is contagious. #28 is clearly a better player with a center is who willing to go into the corners or behind the cage for the puck and help Semin with the cycle game. Perreault seems to be the best fit for that at this time. As for the top line, they had their down moments, like when Ovechkin made a mental mistake and left his point man to deliver a hit that would be whistled for a charge (and luckily not more, it was close to a head shot), but when the chips were down, they delivered with Mike Knuble (two assists) playing his best game of the season. #22 seemed to have his legs back and Backstrom was a two way workhorse all night. If the Great #8 can get more focused in his own end and churn his powerful legs more often on his shifts, the domination plus the goals and assists, will start coming.
- In the end, this was pretty much a complete game for Washington as Boudreau mentioned above and I don’t think it is a coincidence that this solid road performance came after a day off on Sunday and two days of practice. TheCaps were banged up (still are to some degree) and needed to get on the ice and work on their system. On this night it was mission accomplished.
- Now it is on to Minnesota for a contest with the Wild. The big question for Boudreau will be whether to come back with Neuvirth in net or give rookie Braden Holtby his first NHL start. Holtby has been playing well in Hershey and given that the Caps have to play Calgary on Saturday night at the Saddledome, I would eschew the “go with the hot hand rule” and give #30 some rest and allow the Caps 4th round pick in the 2008 NHL draft to get his feet wet in “The Show.” Either way, tomorrow poses to be a tough task for Washington as they travel late into the night before landing in St. Paul. Meanwhile the Wild are resting and stewing after their 3-2 shootout loss to the Kings on Monday night.
Notes: Somebody hosed up in Raleigh tonight because all of the game statistics were not findable on NHL.com nor ESPN.com as of this posting…Forwards Marcus Johansson, Boyd Gordon, and DJ King were not in the lineup for Washington and defenseman Tom Poti was out due to injury as well…The Tampa Bay Lightning knocked off the Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-3, on Wednesday and lead the Caps by one point in the Southeast Division race (the Bolts are 6-2-1).