With the Caps 12 game winning streak on the line, goalie Michal Neuvirth, who was in goal for three of the previous 12 victories, was recalled from Hershey to play against the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday with Jose Theodore, who is 9-0 and at times has been incredible, needing a contest off with Washington scheduled to play four games in six nights. After giving up a shaky goal just 2:46 in, the 21 year old goalie shut the door on the Thrashers until the Washington offense got untracked and the Capitals rolled in the third period to a 5-2 victory to make it #13. They will go for another club record 14th straight victory on Sunday at Noon at the Verizon Center against the Pittsburgh Penguins on NBC, weather permitting.
Washington is now 40-12-6 overall and have a three point lead for the President’s Trophy over the San Jose Sharks, who have a game in hand. With New Jersey’s come from behind victory in Toronto on Friday, the Caps still lead the Eastern Conference by 12 points.
Here are the highlights, quotes, some neat statistics courtesy of the Caps outstanding Media Relations Department, and analysis of another Caps victory:
Goaltending: GM George McPhee and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau continue to get top notch net minding, for the most part this season. Whether it has been Semyon Varlamov, Theodore, or Neuvirth, major credit has to go to Boudreau for picking the correct one to play each night and also to first year Caps goalie coach Arturs Irbe. Irbe has done whatever has been needed to get the “next goalie up” ready to go when the current hot one either gets injured (which has been the primary case) or has an off night, or needs a rest.
“I have never seen a team without great goaltending. If you don’t have good goaltending streaks don’t happen,” confirmed Boudreau when the topic of his super goaltending was brought up and its impact on the team.
Neuvirth (43 saves) was outstanding tonight, and as he said after the game, he got better and better as the contest went on. The only other goal he gave up was fluky as he actually stopped a shorthanded breakaway by Rich Peverly with just under seven minutes remaining, but Alexander Semin, who had the giveaway that led to the scoring chance, crashed into his own keeper and kicked the puck into the goal.
“Neuvirth played fabulous. [In the 2nd period] They got their legs and we couldn’t meet their push and that is when we needed the goalie to be really good and he was really good,” added Boudreau on #30, who has stopped 110 of 114 shots in his last three games, including 22 alone in period two on Friday.
“For the most part we did a good job of boxing guys out, let him see the puck on the power plays. We didn’t have too many guys in front of the net. I don’t think screens weren’t too much of a problem for him. That was a big key. He made some huge saves for us in there and that’s what it takes. The depth of the team starts from the goalie out and it’s been working good lately, so hopefully it keeps going,” said forward Jason Chimera, who was injured on a Todd White hit in the second period but returned late in the middle frame and then went on to have a monster third period, including notching the 4th goal on a pretty top shelf shot.
“I thought we played pretty good considering we took four or five penalties with a five-on-three. I thought we outplayed them in the second [period], they just had the key goal to make it 2-1. You give these guys an inch, they’ll take a mile with how skilled they are. They scored on their two-on-one, they took advantage of their chances. We had a ton of shots, their goalie played really well and seemed to handle everything,” said the Thrashers Peverley on Neuvirth and the Caps.
Sloppy Caps Play: Boudreau wasn’t totally happy after this one because his team, for the third straight game, gave up too many shots (45) and endured stretches where they were dominated, but luckily bailed out by their goalies. Washington is taking too many penalties in spurts and they took two in the second half of a period two that was all Atlanta. The Caps relied on the hot goaltending early on and then turned up the heat in the final stanza in a formula that has been followed pretty much all week. The coach cited lack of practice time as a reason for getting away from their system but he also pointed out the other teams are highly motivated to knock off the Caps and end their winning streak.
“That’s the trend, but there’s also the trend that we are giving up a lot of shots lately. I mean we gave 40 shots up. It’s going to be tough to continue doing this at this rate. We need to get back out of our sloppiness, because I thought we were pretty sloppy again. It’s systems and groove. The effort is there, the guys want to win more than anything, that’s why they come out in the third period and they’re pretty well in control so far in the third period. You don’t realize how hard it is to win, it’s difficult to stay at a pace when every team you’re playing, is coming at you in waves because they’re the ones that want to end it. The reason winning streaks are tough is because you have to be at the top of your game all the time and when you go back-to-back games it’s tough. It’s not an excuse, it’s a fact.” finished the 2007-08 Jack Adams Trophy winner, pointing out that Washington played on Thursday while Atlanta waited for the Caps to return from New York.
Bruce is right, the team has developed some bad habits but with the compressed schedule it is tough to find time to work on things. Effort is not the problem and because of Washington’s great skill plus the super goaltending, they have been able to overcome their mistakes and keep the streak going.
“Quite honestly, I don’t want to sound like I’ve been around the block a lot, but [the streak] doesn’t mean that much to me. Maybe next time we lose two in a row it will be ‘Holy smokes, how did we do that?’, but right now that game is over let’s focus on what we have, four games to the break, the guys are tired, let’s get to Sunday and then generate enough energy for the three games on the road,” said Boudreau on his and the team’s mindset as the Winter Olympic break approaches.
Offense Delivers in Crunch Time: NHL scoring leader, Alexander Ovechkin, had another ho-hum two point night scoring the first goal and then setting up Nicklas Backstrom’s tally that made it 2-1. But what was even more impressive was that once again at the start of the third period this team struck like sharks in blood invested waters with a couple of daggers that turned a close game into one with a decided outcome. Brooks Laich took a breakout pass from Shaone Morrisonn and made a great play to set up Semin for an easy goal and then just 68 seconds later Chimera got his tally on an odd man rush. Washington’s winning streak has seen the Caps outscore opponents 62-29 (not including the goal awarded for winning a shootout in the first game of the streak). Also in the streak the Caps:
- have been held to three goals just twice and allowed as many as three goals just four times
- have had power-play goals in all but two games in the streak
- have outscored opponents 28-6 in the third period
Backstrom Leaves & Doesn’t Return: Perhaps the most important news of the night was that Backstrom left the game after two periods and did not return. #19 is a critical piece to this team but he does have a history with migraines. The good news is Backstrom is okay and will be able to play against the Penguins. Brian McNally of the DC Examiner talked to Backstrom and he said Nicky told him he was suffering from a headache.
“I thought he was just sick, I don’t know, I thought it was just flu-ish. He didn’t want to go on the ice with no energy, not be able to back check. [Trainer Greg Smith] Smitty told me on the bench at the start of the third period he was feeling better and would be okay for Sunday,” responded Boudreau when McNally presented him with the information he received from Backstrom.
Notes: Mike Green returned from suspension and had an empty net goal (13th of year for #52) to seal the deal in the last two minutes… Tom Poti (+1 in 23:27 of ice time) had another super game on defense, he is playing his best hockey as a Capital right now…Defenseman Karl Alzner played tonight but his broken stick helped lead to the first goal. He did pick up a plus on Backstrom’s goal and was even in just over 12 minutes of ice time…Tyler Sloan (healthy) and Brian Pothier (hand) were scratched on defense while Quintin Laing was once again the forward scratch…The Caps are now 22-3-3 at home and are 14-6-2 when the opposition scores first this season. Both stats lead the NHL and no team has won at least half of its games after giving up the first tally..Boudreau on the prospect of the Penguins coming in and ending Washington’s win streak: “Well you are playing against the Stanley Cup champions, I don’t know, but I gotta believe, that even if they say we are not a big rival for them, they would take an awful lot of pleasure by beating us in our building so it will be a big one.”…The Penguins are in Montreal on Saturday afternoon so who knows if they will even be able to fly in to DC on Saturday evening making Sunday’s contest a major question mark?…The Caps are 6-0-1 when they give up 40 or more shots but Boudreau won’t want to hear that stat..Eric Fehr was -2 and Brendan Morrison was -1 on Friday, #16 struggled, especially in his own zone in the first period…Washington was 1 for 5 on the power play and failed to score again on a two man advantage..the Thrashers went 0 for 3 with the man advantage.