THE RESULT:  Michal Neuvirth was stellar in net and Nicklas Backstrom broke out with two goals, leading the Washington Capitals to a 3-0 shutout over the Carolina Hurricanes in their home opener, before 18,680 at the RBC Center in Raleigh.

Matt Hendricks also chipped in with his first goal as a Capital to kick the scoring off in the first period.

It was the Capitals most complete game of the season, with all four lines contributing pressure.  The Caps centers, including much-maligned Tomas Fleischmann, controlled the faceoff circle.  And the return of two important veterans noticably bolstered the energy and offensive flow.

“I thought that was easily our most complete game by everybody,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “You get contributions by the fourth line, the penalty killing, and I thought the goaltending was great. Everybody did a good job.”

But the bottom line was the goaltending.  Neuvirth was simply outstanding, saving all 29 shots on goal he faced, earning his first NHL career shutout.  The rookie netminder ran his record to 6-2, with a 2.18 GAA and .929 save percentage.

“I think we played a great game as a team,” said Neuvirth. “For the first time we did everything right and it’s a big two points on the road. The shutout is just an unexpected bonus for myself. But I’m happy with the two points.”

Neuvy made an especially impressive save on Carolina captain Eric Staal during a power play.  Staal fired a one-timer after a nice cross-crease pass, and the 22-year old Czech goalie did the splits to get back to the far post and made a terrific lunging, low glove save to keep Carolina off the board in what was a 1-0 game to that point.

Neuvirth wasn't the only hero though.  The Capitals played perhaps their strongest complete game of the season.  The Caps blocked 16 shots and kept the shots primarily from the perimeter where the goalie could see them coming.

Coach Bruce Boudreau noticed the effort from his blue liners.  “We’ve struggled with our defensemen a little bit this year, but I thought it was the best game for about three of them of the year. They kept it simple, they did easy things, cleared it. We blocked a lot of shots, it seemed to me."

It's no coincidence the Caps played better, as Wednesday night saw the return to the lineup of two very important players: Mike Green and Matt Bradley.

Even the most casual of fans can watch the Caps and see how much of a difference Green makes in moving the puck and controlling the tempo of the game.  He's an asset that the Capitals really miss when he's not out there. 

Bradley is the soul of this team.  The plucky winger dished out hits and along with linemates David Steckel and Matt Hendricks worked really hard defending Carolina's skilled players.  The line was even responsible for the first goal of the night.

Defenseman John Erskine -- who isn't getting enough compliments for his good play this season -- fired slap shot from the point.  Steckel crashed the goal -- literally -- as he collided with Carolina goalie Cam Ward (30 saves on 32 shots) in front of the blue goalie crease.  Steckel was able to guide the rebound, laying on his side, to Hendricks in the slot who dumped the puck into the open net.

After a review, the goal stood.  It was the only goal needed for the night.

Nicklas Backstrom did add some insurance though.  Mike Knuble took a pass from Alex Ovechkin and broke out down the right wing boards, unleashing a slap shot from the top of the circle.  Ward could not control the big rebound and it came out all the way to the left wing dot, where Backstrom buried it in stride.  It's the first time in two weeks the Caps' top line has connected in concern with one another.

Backstrom added an empty net, short-handed goal with a minute and a half left to play in the contest.

So the first game of the three-game trip is in the books, and the Caps face Minnesota tonight in the middle stanza.  It will be a good test for the Caps resiliency to see if they can handle a game Wild crew on consecutive days on the road.

THE GOOD:  The Caps completely dominated in the dot.  Tomas Fleischmann went 8-of-11 (73 percent) and David Steckel went 13-of-17 (76 percent) to lead the Caps individually.  The Hurricanes came into the game with the lowest faceoff percentage in the NHL, and the Caps did what they were supposed to do.  If you have the puck, it's a lot easier to control the tempo.

THE BAD:  Washington took five minor penalties, including three in the late second period while they controlled a 1-0 game and Mike Green's unnecessary tripping call at 17:17 of the third.  The penalty kill was able to bail out the offenders, but the lack of discipline is going to bite this team if they aren't more careful. 

THE UGLY:  Sticking with the penalty theme, Alex Ovechkin took a charging penalty late in the second, leaving his feet to launch at Chad LaRose in the corner, hitting the Carolina winger high.  Ovi was lucky LaRose saw him coming, or the shoulder/elbow he was leading with would have caught LaRose in the head, potentially turning a two minute penalty into something much worse.

In the Atlanta game, Ovi was hitting everything and there were no problems, but last night was the type of dangerous hit Ovi needs to avoid.

THE STATS:  Matt Hendricks (1) from David Steckel (1) and John Erskine (1) at 10:47 of 1st.  Nicklas Backstrom (2) from Mike Knuble (2) and Alex Ovechkin (5) at 12:33 of 3rd.  Nicklas Backstrom (3) from Mike Knuble (3) and Jeff Schultz (2) at 18:32 of 3rd (SH-EN).

NEXT GAME:  Tonight at 8:00 pm eastern v. Minnesota Wild (3-3-2-8)


3.  Matt Bradley.  He's back.  All is right with the world.  Just his presence helped bring an air of confidence last night.
2.  Nicklas Backstrom.  Whether he's been dealing with some nagging soreness or just in a slump, Super Swede is starting to look more like himself.
1.  Michal Neuvirth.  What more need be said?  Just an awesome performance in the first game of a three-game, four-day road trip.  Exactly what you want out of your No. 1 goaltender.  Yeah, I said it.

*Quotes in this story used from various publications, including