Road Trip Starts Well for Caps

January 18, 2012 | Ed Frankovic

After Tuesday night’s bad 3-0 loss to the New York Islanders I blogged afterwards that I felt that coach Dale Hunter had the Capitals situation in control based on how he historically stays on an even keel. I thought that he would not get emotional following that game and get the team focused, more importantly, on the task at hand, a contest in Montreal on Wednesday night.

Hunter and his team proceeded to prove me right one night following that terrible defeat on home ice with a 3-0 victory at the Bell Centre.

The Caps came out strong and got two early goals on Montreal goalie Carey Price (13 saves) then added a power play tally by Alexander Ovechkin in period two before riding some good penalty killing and goaltending in the final stanza. Michal Neuvirth stopped all 31 shots he faced, including 17 in the third period when referees Stephen Walkom and Gord Dwyer turned in one of the worst officiating periods in modern day hockey. Simply put, those two guys were a joke with the calls made on Washington and those not made against the Habs in those last 20 minutes. “Typical Montreal” as Flyers Coach Peter Laviolette would say.

But nothing was getting past Neuvirth on Wednesday, regardless of the zebras and their inept work. #30 hadn’t played since the day after Christmas and he made a statement to coach Hunter that he should get more time in the cage going forward. Tomas Vokoun, who started the last 10 games, has been playing well too so Dale has an enviable position of having two goalies that are hot, something that has not happened so far in the Capitals 2011-12 season. Simply put, this is a nice problem for a coach to have. Competition is good and forces players to improve.

The Caps had struggled on the road coming into this tilt going 7-12-1 this season and they hadn’t gotten a two goal lead away from the Verizon Center since November 3rd against Carolina (a 5-1 victory; h/t @VogsCaps). Tonight they got at least one gift from Price (Marcus Johansson’s goal) and took advantage of that by playing a classic road game. Washington only gave up 14 shots in the first two frames before the officiating bonanza. The Capitals, however, only had 10 shots on net through 40 minutes themselves, something they must improve on. Another thing that needs correcting is the execution of odd man rushes. Washington had three 2 on 1 breaks in the final frame and didn’t get a really good shot on net on any of them. Hunter needs to get the team to realize that many times the best pass is a shot that leads to a rebound.

Fortunately, the Capitals didn’t need to score on those odd man rushes on this night, but going forward they must start converting, especially when they go up against the better teams in the Eastern Conference (like the Boston Bruins).

But tonight, the Caps refocused after a bad loss, taking a cue from their head coach, and did what they needed to do, win a game on the road against a struggling team. With the next five of six away from the Verizon Center, this was a very good start to a big road stretch.

Notes:  The zebras called a bizarre six minute minor (2 for elbowing, 4 minutes for high sticking) on John Erskine in the final frame but Washington killed it off.. Brooks Laich was outstanding blocking shots on the penalty kill and was credited with four blocks overall…Montreal had seven power plays to just four for Washington…Mathieu Perreault got a sweater on Wednesday for the first time in a week and made the most of it potting the first Washington goal. #85 only played 6:09…Johansson took a hit from Josh Gorges to the hip/knee late in the third period and didn’t return. Hopefully MJ90 is okay because the Caps can’t afford to lose another center with Nicklas Backstrom still out…speaking of Backstrom, Matt Hendricks took on cheap shot specialist Rene Bourque 75 seconds into the game as a pay back for Bourque’s hit to #19’s head. Bourque won the fight but the message was sent…the Caps won 37 of the 63 face-offs (59%)…next up for the Caps are the Hurricanes in Raleigh on Friday night before a Sunday 12:30 pm start with the Penguins in Pittsburgh on NBC.