Careful what you wish for Canadian hockey fans.
All night long, the Winnipeg Jets crowd booed or shouted at Alexander Ovechkin every time he touched the puck, but the Gr8 made the Manitobans pay dearly as Ovechkin scored the game’s only goal with 1:14 to go to lead the Capitals to a 1-0 victory. It was a win the Caps badly needed and they finally received some stellar goaltending, this time from Michal Neuvirth (26 saves).
There is no doubt the Caps have struggled after their 7-0 start to the season. The coaching change brought a new voice in Dale Hunter but also a very different system on the ice. Washington is now playing man to man in their own zone and the Capitals have switched to a trapping scheme. As a result of trying to re-program themselves they are prone early on in the Hunter era to some rough stretches in games. Tonight it was the first period where the Jets came out flying and fired 14 shots on the Washington cage. The key to overcoming those down periods is good goaltending and on Thursday Neuvirth kept his club in the game.
As I blogged after the loss to the Flyers on Tuesday, bad goaltending kills the energy of a team while solid netminding can give it confidence. #30’s super first period seemed to give the Caps a shot in the arm and they carried the play the last 40 minutes holding the Jets to just 12 shots from thereafter. In addition, when Washington had breakdowns, Neuvirth was there for the save and with under five minutes to go he had one of his best stops on Blake Wheeler in tight. It is a very simple saying, but there is no substitute for good goaltending in hockey.
As for the Capitals offense, well it is still a work in progress. The biggest problem is the Caps are overthinking things offensively instead of simplifying. During one short sequence in period two Washington had three odd man breaks but failed to get a shot on net. That can’t happen and the Caps forwards need to learn that a shot on goal that leads to a rebound is often the best pass. You can’t score if you don’t shoot and the Capitals tend to be guilty of that because too often they try to make the perfect play.
Fortunately for the Caps, Ovechkin is one guy who often thinks shot first and after getting a sweet feed from Marcus Johansson, his laser beat Ondrej Pavelec (27 saves) to give his club a textbook road victory and silence an over zealous crowd at the MTS Centre.
Memo to Winnipeg fans: Next time the Caps are in you might want to keep quiet and let sleeping dogs lie.
Notes: Ovechkin now has 10 goals in 30 games and the Capitals are 16-13-1 overall…The Caps were 0 for 2 on the power play but killed off all four Winnipeg man advantage situations. I am not sure what game referees Chris Rooney and Brad Meier were watching because there is no way the Capitals should have been on the short end of the power play total the way they carried the play the last 40 minutes…the Caps won the faceoff battle 27-24 with Jeff Halpern leading the way at 9-3…the Capitals next game is Saturday night in Colorado at 9 pm.