After his team was blanked 5-0 in its last two road games, Alexander Ovechkin came out with a vengeance on Wednesday night in Carolina skating hard, hitting Canes, and firing the biscuit on net often. The result was a three assist night in a 3-2 victory over the Hurricanes in Raleigh on Thanksgiving Eve. Nicklas Backstrom tallied on Ovie’s first two assists and Brooks Laich tapped home the game winner on the power play with 7:53 remaining. Semyon Varlamov, who was playing his first game since early October at the NHL level due a bad groin, was outstanding in goal stopping 30 of 32 shots. The victory halts an overall three game slide and improves the Capitals record to 15-6-2. The win keeps them four points ahead of the red hot Tampa Bay Lightning, who defeated the New York Rangers on Wednesday, 5-3. The Bolts will now come in to the Verizon Center on Friday for a 5pm tilt. That game should be a great one.
Here are the highlights and analysis from a huge Caps win in Raleigh:
– Ovechkin (3 assists, 10 shots on goal, 5 hits) was clearly the main story on Wednesday night. The Great #8, who is the team captain and leader of this Washington squad, had been struggling of late, especially on the road. However, from the very first shift it was clear that he was ready to go and a tactical switch by Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau seemed to help jump start the two time Hart Trophy winner. Boudreau, in an attempt to get Ovechkin more space and get him to churn his powerful legs, inserted him on the right wing of Backstrom and it yielded big dividends. The Swedish superstar center, who turned 23 on Tuesday, scored the first two goals of the game on Ovie set ups from the right wing boards. The first was an Ovechkin blast from the top of the right wing circle and when Justin Peters (35 saves) couldn’t handle the rebound, Nicky beat Joe Corvo to the biscuit and slapped it home. Then, in a 4 on 4 situation early in the second period, Alexander the Great outworked the Canes in the right wing corner and fed Backstrom with a nice pass. #19 had all kinds of room coming off of the wall and he lasered it by Peters for a 2-0 lead. The hard work by those two, with Laich on the left wing, would continue all night and they could have had five points each if not for some great goaltending by Peters. But Peters made a big mistake in the 3rd period trying to play the puck while shorthanded and when he cleared it right to the Great #8 at the point, Alex fired it on the cage and Laich tapped it home to break a two all tie and give the Caps the victory.
– Varlamov, who made three appearances in Hershey over the last 10 days in an attempt to rehab his injury, was outstanding. His positioning was great and he had numerous big saves, especially early on when Carolina had the Caps on their heels a bit in the first five minutes. #1 held his ground well on several occassions on goal mouth scrambles and he fought through some screens to thwart other opportunities for the Canes from the point. The only two tallies he allowed were a Sergei Samsonov deflection from the top of the crease on a Joni Pitkanen blast and an Eric Staal power play marker from in tight after the referees missed a clear hook on the Caps John Carlson. Both of those came in the first 10 minutes of the third period when Carolina was storming the castle. Now the key for Varly is to stay healthy, because as good as Michal Neuvirth is playing, Varlamov is the best goalie in the organization.
– It was clear that Boudreau’s “Send a Message” practice/skate on Tuesday resonated with his troops as Washington did not float through this contest like they did in Atlanta and New Jersey. The team skated hard and did a super job of puck support. When one player lost the puck it seemed like there was always a Capital close by to cover for the turnover. I also don’t remember too many odd man rushes for the Canes, something Washington needed to cut down on.
– I spoke about the stars contribution to this victory but two other Capitals deserve a lot of credit in the win: Matt Bradley and Matt Hendricks. Bradley took on Troy Bodie at the 8:16 mark and was cut in a losing bout. But there is something about #10 bleeding that brings out the best in his teammates and after that they seemed to really kick things into gear, culminated by Backstrom’s opening tally five minutes later. In addition, Hendricks, who fought on Monday only to see his club not respond to it, did a lot of little things including drawing a tripping penalty and jumping into any scrums to stand up for his mates, most notably was confronting Erik Cole after he bumped Varly and then tried to get at Tom Poti. Role players like #10 and #26 are what win regular season games and make a difference in the post season.
– Poti made his return to the lineup after missing 14 of the last 15 games due to a groin injury and he was sturdy in 24:30 of ice time. #3 was +1 and played the second most on defense to ice time leader, Carlson, who logged 26:39 because Mike Green was out of action due to an injury. The top 4 blue liners, Carlson, Poti, Jeff Schultz, and Karl Alzner were fairly solid, while Hershey recall Brian Fahey struggled a bit and that impacted his partner John Erskine, who only played 10:47. It was Erskine’s penalty that led to the game tying goal after he and #44 were running around in their own zone. Fahey and Erskine did not see the ice in the last 5:59 of this tilt.
Notes: Michal Neuvirth dressed as the back up goalie, meaning his lower body injury that occurred in the morning skate on Monday was not serious…both teams went 1 for 4 on the power play…Tampa has won five games in a row for their first winning streak of 5 or more in three seasons, so Friday’s Caps-Bolts tilt will be “Can’t Miss” hockey…Oveckhin only had 3 shots blocked tonight to go with the 10 he had on net, clearly the move to RW helped him big time – great coaching by Boudreau…the Caps won the face-off battle 37-29 with Boyd Gordon going 13-4 and Dave Steckel winning 11 of 15 draws. Backstrom was 5-13…Tyler Sloan was also out due to an injury…the Hershey Bears lost 3-2 to the Worcester Sharks at the Giant Center. Mathieu Perreault and Jay Beagle tallied in the losing effort for the boys from Chocolatetown.