THE RESULT: Let's make no mistake about tonight's 2-1 win: If the Washington Capitals were playing a better, healthier team than the New York Islanders they probably would have faced a different result.
As it was, Alex Ovechkin scored once and had a big blast from just inside the blue line redirected by Nicklas Backstrom for the game winner, and the Caps (3-1-0) escaped with their third straight win, in front of a depleted announced crowd of 18,398 at Verizon Center.
It was a sloppy game for Washington, one where they could certainly be accused of playing down to their opponent. But the Islanders (1-1-1) were the aggressors all evening, holding the puck in the Caps end almost at will and winning the vast majority of loose pucks.
Coach Bruce Boudreau acknowledged New York's effort, especially early, when they took the lead in the first period. "They came to play. They're gonna be a tough foe for anybody."
But the bottom line is that the Islanders, who are not contenders when healthy, were missing their two top scorers and top defender to injury in John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit, and their top free agent, defenseman James Wisniewski, to suspension for his lewd gesture against the Rangers Monday night.
This was a team the Capitals should have dominated, and they simply played flat, tired and uninspired.
Playing their fourth game in six nights certainly played a part, but motivation to play games against non-contenders in the regular season is going to be a challenge for Boudreau all season long.
Only brief explosions of overwhelming talent -- and another stellar performance from a 22-year old goaltender -- carried them on this night.
Michal Neuvirth again carried his teammates (23-of-24 saves), often left to fend by himself, including a breakaway by Matt Moulson in the third period tied at one where Mike Green simply whiffed on a long outlet pass in the middle of the ice.
"I was just trying to stay patient," Neuvirth said calmly. "That was a big save for us."
Neuvirth has arguably been one of the Caps' two best players thus far this season. But with Semyon Varlamov returning from injury and available Saturday, once again the situation between the pipes will be muddled. For Neuvirth though, he's in a very strong comfort zone right now.
“It’s all about confidence,” says the 22-year-old Czech. “Everybody says you get more confident with every minute on the ice. It’s been great. It’s been a tough week, but I’m feeling great and I’m pretty happy with the effort. Three wins in a row, it means a lot to me.”
He leads the league with three wins (3-1), and he now has a 2.22 GAA and a .924 save pct. on the young season.
As for the game winner, it came on the power play, Washington's just second of the season on 17 attempts. Boudreau didn't seem concerned about the unit's struggles after the game. "It was just a matter of time. With the people you put out there, hopefully they simplify it and they got one at the right time."
Alexander Semin dug the puck out of the corner and hit John Carlson at the point. Carlson slid it over to Ovi, who wound up with a big one-timer that hit Backstrom just a couple feet from Islanders' goalie Dwayne Roloson.
"I was just standing in front of the net there and [Ovechkin] was shooting at my feet," Backstrom said. "He hit my foot. It was kind of lucky he didn't hit it too hard, otherwise I probably couldn't walk tomorrow."
So the Caps complete a three-game homestand with three victories and now travel to face a game Nashville squad, off to a 2-0 start before a home-and-home with Boston next week.
The Caps better hope that a couple days off clears their heads and they come to realize that two points against the Islanders in October mean the same as against Pittsburgh in January.
THE GOOD: Neuvirth. 23 saves on 24 shots, several at point blank and without help, such as the breakaway. He was in control all the way tonight.
THE BAD: Brooks Laich. The "Iron Man" didn't distinguish himself tonight, struggling in all phases of his game. He still worked hard, as that's the only thing that doesn't slump, but nothing clicked for him, missing passes and finding himself out of position on more than one occasion.
THE UGLY: Mike Green. As well as he's played so far this season, that's how poorly he played tonight. Now, he got popped in the chops pretty hard early which may have affected him all night, but he had two bad turnovers, and twice was just outskated (including on the breakaway), losing position that led to quality scoring opportunities for the Isles.
On top of all that, after the breakaway he went for a big hit in the corner but only ended up hurting himself. He left the game and did not return, missing the power play goal. Boudreau saidhe suffered a stinger and was "day-to-day", but did not seem overly concerned.
THE STATS: Ovechkin (4) from Backstrom (1) at 18:19 of 2nd. Backstrom (1) from Ovechkin (3) and Carlson (4) at 16:21 of 3rd (PP).
NEXT GAME: Saturday night at Nashville at 8:00 pm eastern. Nashville (2-0-0) beat Chicago tonight 3-2.
CAPS NEWS NETWORK THREE STARS OF THE GAME
3. Nicklas Backstrom. Deflected goal and assist for Nicky. The numbers were better than overall play, but so few candidates for Caps stars tonight.
2. Alex Ovechkin. Lifted the team on his shoulders as the captain should. Two big plays was all it took.
1. Michael Neuvirth. He was the best player ont he ice for the Caps tonight. He saved the Caps bacon on more than one occasion.
RW D.J. King, Washington's new enforcer who played in his first game of the season, got into a fight just 2:47 into his Capitals career, squaring off against Islanders LW Trevor Gillies.
The Caps scratched D Tom Poti (lower body), RW Matt Bradley (lower body) and C Marcus Johansson (leg). Poti and Bradley are expected to play Saturday, but Johansson may take a couple more games, though he took part in the pre-game skate.
Washington did not allow a power play goal in three attempts and remains perfect on the season at 15-of-15 penalty kills.
|D.J. King fought Travis Gilles to a draw in his first shift as a Capital. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)|
|Jason Chimera, looking right at ya, during pre-game skate. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)|
|Tomas Fleischmann in a candid during pre-game skate. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)|
|John Carlson was one of several Caps that struggled on defense tonight. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)|