After losing two straight games to the Boston Bruins and struggling to score goals, everyone expected the Washington Capitals to break out against the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday night at the Verizon Center. After all, Atlanta had played Friday night at home (and got blown out by Tampa Bay) while the Caps sat plus the Thrashers were one of the worst teams in the NHL in penalty killing. But for the Caps these days, nothing is coming easy, but after trailing 2-1 going into the third period they rallied to take a 3-2 lead on an Alexander Semin hat trick, promptly gave up the tying goal with 32 seconds left to Evander Kane, before Tomas Fleischmann won it in overtime backhanding home an Eric Fehr blast that Thrashers goalie Chris Mason (40 saves) could not handle. It was a huge win for the boys in red, white, and blue and the battered Caps are now 5-3. They don’t play again until Wednesday and they need that rest with all of the injuries they have.
Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, and analysis of the Capitals eighth straight home victory over Atlanta:
- The analysis can’t totally begin until we fully comprehend how banged up this Washington hockey club is right now. Defenseman Tom Poti is out day to day and therefore Mike Green, who is nursing an upper body injury, had to dress but he would only play on Caps power plays logging just 5:32 of ice time. Therefore, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau had to go with five defensemen throughout the rest of the contest. In net, Semyon Varlamov, who was 4-0 against the Thrashers in his career, re-injured his groin so Michal Neuvirth (29 saves) got the start and Dany Sabourin was recalled from Hershey. Up front things aren’t much better as Marcus Johansson sufferred a hip flexor in Boston and with Matt Bradley and Boyd Gordon still hurt GM George McPhee recalled Mathieu Perreault and Jay Beagle from Hershey to play against the Thrashers. So a team that had lost two in a row and were finding it hard to light the lamp was going to have to dig deep to get a victory on Saturday, and they did outshooting Atlanta 44-32.
“It was good. I would have liked to have him more. I wasn’t nervous about him at all. We made the decision before the game that we would see how Mike is; if he is comfortable we will play him more, but the intent was to play him on the power play,” said Boudreau on the play and ice time given to Green on Saturday.
- After a good first couple of shifts by the Capitals, sparked by the Perreault-Semin-Brooks Laich line, the Thrashers dominated the first period and initial portion of the game. Atlanta outshot the Caps 13-4 in the opening stanza and scored first on the power play. John Erskine took a boarding penalty and when Neuvirth couldn’t handle Anthony Stewart’s shot from the right wing corner, something #30 struggled with a few times on Saturday, Andrew Ladd outworked Karl Alzner in front of the Washington net and put the biscuit in the basket. The Caps appeared to be in a fog for much of the first two periods giving up 27 of the 32 shots they allowed and if not for Neuvirth they might not have been able to come back.
“I don’t know [what happened]. I knew they [Atlanta] were going to come out and be very good. They played really well, skated really well; they didn’t give us much of a chance to breathe. But it is really difficult to keep that pace up and we got a little momentum off a power play and were able to move it forward,” explained Boudreau on the Caps slow start on Saturday night.
- Neuvirth, who is the team’s MVP the first eight games this season, really kept Washington in this one despite the problems he had with shots from the right wing boards. #30′s breakaway stop on Jim Slater with the Thrashers leading 2-1 in the second period was one of those saves that are game changers. After that huge save, and the stupid charging major and game misconduct that Dustin Byfuglien took on Neuvy trying to rattle the young goalie, the Capitals started to play with more intensity and resemble the squad that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season. Of course, they still aren’t finishing plays well enough to hit that level yet, but most of the players were exhibiting the intensity and energy necessary to start getting there.
- Intensity and energy is exactly what Perreault (2 assists, 9-5 on face-offs, +3) brings to the lineup and is the primary reason I thought he had made the team out of training camp, only to be sent down, mostly because of the Capitals ability to do so without having him go through waivers. #85 was the right player to pair with Semin tonight because he isn’t afraid to go to the boards and corners to get the puck for #28. Semin, to his credit, was outstanding all evening and played strong on the puck. That line, which included Laich, is the other reason the Caps got victory #5. Laich still isn’t producing at the level #21 expects as his hands are failing him, but he is getting there and with Perreault up for an extended period that could help get him going as well.
“(Semin) is such a good player. He makes the job easier for me on the ice and hopefully we can get some more games like that. We bounced back in the second and third periods. We felt the emotion on the bench. Everyone wanted to really win tonight,” said Perreault on playing with #28 and the mood of his squad.
- As for the Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble line, well they are just not producing and look out of sync. Knuble appears a step slow right now, Backstrom seems to be battling the puck, and Ovie’s problem is he is not continuing to move his feet on his shifts. The Great #8 is in the right position to get scoring chances or make the big hit but when the opportunity presents itself he is coasting or gliding on his skates instead of continuing to churn his powerful legs. Case in point, he was incorrectly called for goalie interference late in the third period but that situation never happens if Ovie keeps skating when he corrals the puck in the offensive zone. In fact, had he turned on his jets he likely would have scored and ended the tilt right then.
- Special teams were once again a problem for DC on Saturday night. They allowed a power play goal and the second tally, Kane’s first of two goals, came 11 seconds after John Carlson exited the box (high sticking). On that goal there were five Caps around Kane yet he somehow was all alone in front of Neuvirth to bang home a pass from Rich Peverly from behind the cage. Both Erskine and Tyler Sloan incorrectly abandoned the front of the net and Carlson left Kane as well. It was shoddy defense and something that needs to be corrected. The power play moved the puck better with Green out on the ice but Ovechkin struggled at his point early on. The 2009-10 regular season number one unit went 0 for 3 and is now 4 for 33 this season (h/t @PckhdsThghts). Perhaps it is time to move Ovie down low and go with just defensemen on the points, preferably Carlson and Green, and put Poti, when healthy, in the mix on the second unit?
- There are alot of guys struggling to score on the club and the Caps had only two goals in their last 77 shots at one point tonight, both of which came as a result of goalie misplays (h/t @VogsCaps), but that game winning goal by Flash has to do wonders for his confidence and for Fehr as well. Those two guys are ones that Boudreau and McPhee expect to take their game to the next level this season but so far it has not happened. Flash just doesn’t seem to want to consistently pay the price in front of the net, on the boards, and in the corners and he was the lone weak link on face-offs on Saturday, going 2-6. Simply put, he needs to play bigger if he is going to stay in the NHL. As for Fehr, I just can’t put my finger on it, he should be doing better and one way for him to get going is to continue to use his powerful shot and get to the front of the cage more consistently.
Notes: The Caps handily won the face-off battle 41-23 with Dave Steckel going 13-3…Washington’s three game road trip starts Wednesday in Carolina and takes them to Minnesota on Thursday and then on Hockey Night in Canada at the Calgary Flames on Saturday…the next home game is Wednesday, November 3rd against the Toronto Maple Leafs…Down on the farm, Braden Holtby won his 3rd straight start stopping 17 shots in a Bears 5-1 victory over the Adirondack Phantoms. Hershey plays the Phantoms again on Sunday at 5pm at the Giant Center and tickets are available. There were three fights in the second period on Saturday night so the Sunday matinee should be an entertaining tilt.