GAME 58 REVIEW: Lucky 13

Posted by Dave Nichols | Saturday, February 06, 2010 | , , , , , | 0 comments »

In the midst of another record-breaking snowstorm, the Washington Capitals continue to break records of their own with each win they record.

Friday night, the Capitals added to their franchise-record winning streak, defeating the Atlanta Thrashers 5-2, before a healthy, hearty snow-braving crowd at Verizon Center.

The winning streak is the longest in the NHL since the New Jersey Devils won 13 straight in 2000-01.

Goalie Michal Neuvirth, recalled earlier in the day from AHL Hershey, was stellar again in goal.  He stopped 43 of 45 shots he faced, including a tremendous glove save in the third period on Ron Hainsey.

In his last two starts, Neuvirth has saved 78 of 81 shots, defeating his countrymen Tomas Vokoun and Ondrej Pavelec, the Czech Olympic team goaltenders.

"It's always something special when I beat a Czech goalie.  Last game I beat Vokoun, now Pavelec.  I beat Olympic goalies for my country so it's a big deal for me."

"I was not that sharp in the first, but I think I was getting better every minute and I think I had a good game," Neuvirth said after the game.  "Its Theo's streak.  I've been in a couple games, but he's playing really good right now.  I'm just happy to help when he gets tired."

"Neuvirth played fabulous," coach Bruce Boudreau said.  "They got their legs [in the second period] and we couldn't meet their push and we needed the goalie to be really good, and he was really good."

As for the streak itself, Boudreau still doesn't really want to acknowledge it all that much. 

"You guys don't realize how hard it is to win.  It's difficult to stay at a pace when every team that you're playing are coming at you in waves because they are the ones that want to end it."

"The reason winning streaks are tough is because you have to be at the top of your game all the time."

As has been common during the streak, the team came out sluggish in the first period, and got down quickly to Atlanta.  Tobias Enstrom took advantage of Neuvirth, who was out of position a little bit, putting a bouncing puck into a fairly open net just 2:36 into the game.

The Caps tied it up later in the period on Alex Ovechkin's 40th goal of the season, a power play marker.  The Great Eight broke a stick and had to go back to the bench for a new twig. 

Center Nicklas Backstrom essentially held the puck along the boards until his captain could glide back into the offensive zone, where the silky Swede set the puck up on a tee, and Ovechkin hammered it home effortlessly.

Atlanta took it to the Caps in the second period, outshooting the home team 22-9 in the frame.  But the only tally would come by Backstrom, slamming home a nice feed from Ovechkin.

The Capitals would, once again, steamroll their opponent in the third period. 

Alexander Semin scored into an open net after Brooks Laich did the hard work, drawing Pevelec's attention, then sliding the puck deftly over to a breaking Semin.  Jason Chimera picked up a loose puck at center ice, drove into the offensive zone, and blasted a slap shot high glove side, and Mike Green added an empty net goal as time ran down, lofting a backhand shot five feet from his own goal line.

The only pock mark on the period was a short-handed goal by Altanta.  Semin tried a risky crossing pass on the power play that was picked off by Rich Peverly.  Peverly came in on Neuvirth with Semin giving chase. 

Neuvirth made the initial save, but Semin crashed into his own goalie and dislodged the puck, knocking in into the goal.

It cut the lead to 4-2 at the time, but Green's empty netter sealed the deal.

"The guys want to win more than anything," Boudreau said. "That's why they come out in the third period and they're pretty well in control so far in the third period lately."

The win sets up a nationally televised game with Pittsburgh on Sunday (weather permitting).  Coincidentally, the Penguins own the league's longest winning streak at 17 games, set in the 92-93 season.  You have to believe, as Boudreau does, that Pittsburgh would like nothing less than to end the Caps streak on their home ice.

"You're playing against the Stanley Cup champions," Boudreau said when asked about the Penguins.  "I gotta believe, even if they say we're not a big rival of theirs, they would take an awful lot of pleasure beating us on Sunday in our building."

NOTES:  Backstrom did not play in the third period, with what he described as a headache.  Boudreau said that he was experiencing "flu-like symptoms", but expects his No. 1 center to play Sunday.

The team canceled practice on Saturday due to the massive snowstorm that has gripped the region.

Goalie Braden Holtby was assigned to Hershey to clear room for Neuvirth.

D John Erskine delivered a good, clean check on Marty Reasoner, knocking the Atlanta center to the ice, and winger Chris Thorburn took exception and engaged Erskine in some fisticuffs.  Thorburn received an extra two minutes for roughing, but could (should) have been assessed a misconduct instigator penalty.

The Washington Capitals won for the twelvth consecutive game, defeating the New York Rangers 6-5 at storied Madison Square Garden.

Those words, however, don't do the game, or this team, justice.

Alex Ovechkin scored two goals and had an assist, and Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and four assists, leading the team's offensive output.

With three points, Ovechkin reached 500 points for his illustrious career.  It took the 'Great Eight' only 373 games to reach that lofty record.

Jose Theodore had as good a game as anyone that gave up four goals, making 33 saves.  None were more critical that with just under 12 seconds, as a shot came in from the slot and bounced up in front of his eyes. 

Theodore made a quick swipe with his catching glove and covered up, wresting away the Rangers last, best shot at tying a game they led on several occasions, once by two goals.

New York scored four power play goals en route to their biggest offensive output in weeks.  The Caps responded in kind with two power play goals of their own in the third period.

Tom Poti sent a wrist shot toward Henrik Lundqvist less than a minute into the third that seemed to confuse the stellar goalie.  It might have been tipped or been deflected, but Poti gets credit for the goal.

Less than five minutes later, Nicklas Backstrom fired a shot from the high slot that beat Lundqvist cleanly. 

The goal capped a tremendous effort from the entire team after spending a good chunk of the game defending -- poorly -- on the penalty kill. 

The second period was a bizzare, back-and-forth, pond hockey type of affair.  Washington took four penalties in the second, New York three, where the two teams exchanged six goals.

But the frame ended with the captain, Alex Ovechkin, making a bull rush toward the Ranger net.  He put the puck between the defenseman's legs, and -- one handed -- flipped the puck over and past a sprawled Henrik Lundqvist to draw the team within one.

The goal, with seven seconds remaining in the second, broke the Rangers momentum and steered it back in Washington's direction.

In what is now becoming habit, the Caps then steamrolled in the third, as the Rangers themselves couldn't stay out of the box, taking five penalties against the league's No. 1 power play.

So the win streak runs to 12 games, and the Capitals race the impending snowstorm home to face the Atlanta Thrashers Friday night.  The Thrashers will be a shell of their former selves, as they dealt their leading scorer, Ilya Kovalchuk, to the New Jersey Devils today.

Should the Caps get lucky 13 on Friday, it'll set up a marquee matchup on Sunday -- weather permitting -- on national television with arch-enemy Pittsburgh.

It's all any Caps fan could ask for.

The Washington Capitals face the New York Rangers this evening, going for win No. 12 in a row. 

While that is exiting enough to get most Caps fans into a frenzy, this weekend's massive snowstorm that's bearing down on the mid-Atlantic region calls into peril the Friday night game with Atlanta and especially Sunday's nationally televised matchup with the dastardly Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

First, from the National Weather Service:



It sounds like the Thrashers (with or without Ilya Kovalchuk) will be able to get IN to D.C., but probably won't make it OUT Saturday.  Atlanta is scheduled to play in Florida against the Panthers at 7:00 pm Saturday night.  Good luck with that, but it's not the Caps' problem.

What is the Caps problem, is Sunday's game.  The snow will be over by then, but the real problem is Pittsburgh's schedule, and the game time on Sunday.

The Pens play in Montreal at 2:00 pm Saturday, and are scheduled to come to DC that evening.  For the same reason that Atlanta probably won't make it out, the Pens could very well not make it in Saturday night.

What's worse, because of the nationally televised noon game (to avoid going against the Super Bowl), there's no way they'd fly in Sunday morning to play at noon.  They'd have to move the game to later Sunday (which they would want to avoid if at all possible), or perhaps Monday night.

The Caps and Pens are both off until Wednesday, and Verizon Center is dark Monday night, with the Wizards on the road Tuesday in Charlotte (maybe).

There are two other complications:  arena workers, and transportation.

If there's as much snow as predicted, it'll be pure hell getting around town.  We were on the road last Saturday and the beltway hadn't even been plowed yet, and we were only talking a few inches.  Most of the jurisdictions in the area have already spent their season's budgets on snow removal.

Getting stadium workers, security and game officials into (and out of) the arena will be messy at best and hazardous at worst.

Also consider, the Hoyas and Wizards have both have games Saturday between the two hockey games.  That's four games in tow days, with different people needed to work the different events.  It'll be nuts!

And if you plan to take Metro to come to any of the games, be warned:  they've already announced that once eight inches accumulate, the outdoor stations will be closed.

So stay tuned Caps fans.  Caps News Network will have any schedule updates as they become available over the weekend.  You can check us out on Facebook and Twitter (@CapsNewsNetwork) for immediate updates as well.

Until then, enjoy the snow.  What else are you supposed to do about it?

Jose Theodore was tremendous in goal, leading the Washington Capitals over the hosting Boston Bruins, 4-1, setting the franchise mark for consecutive victories with eleven straight.

It was Boston's eight straight defeat.

The Capitals broke the club record set from Jan. 27-Feb. 18, 1984 and have the NHL's longest winning streak since the San Jose Sharks also won 11 in a row from Feb. 21-March 14, 2008. During their 11 wins, the Capitals, who lead the Eastern Conference, have outscored opponents 51-22.

Theodore was really on his game tonight, and he needed to be, especially in the first period, when the Caps took four penalties and was shorthanded for a good chunk of the frame.

The veteran goalie finished with 41 saves, including one on Blake Wheeler where, from the ice, he reached back with his stick to sweep the puck off the goal line.

It was another sparkling effort for Theodore, who won his personal-best eighth consecutive game.

"It's fun to be part of franchise history. Getting that 11th win, and beating the old record, it's great," Theodore told reporters after the game.

"Not bad," Boudreau said of Theodore. "He was in a complete zone today and I hope he stays there."

Theodore needed to be in the zone, as few of his teammates played up to his level for the first couple of periods.  It didn't help that the Caps took four minor penalties in the first and another in the second, three against winger Alexander Semin.

Semin was plagued with games like this early in his career and earlier this season.  He took two hooking calls, resultant from lack of effort and determination.  He was fortunate that the penalty kill is playing so well, mitigating the damage done from his infractions.

Washington got balanced scoring once again.  Mike Knuble tied the game in the second period, and Brooks Laich, Boyd Gordon and Alex Ovechkin all scored in the third period.  Tom Poti had two assists on the evening.

So the win streak goes to 11 games, and it's on to New York to face the imploding Rangers Thursday night.  If you've been a Caps fan since the beginning, picked it up during the playoff years in the '80s, or joined the Red Army after the lockout, it's a proud night to be a Capitals fan.

Enjoy it.  Then get ready for Thursday.

Alex Ovechkin broke a 2-2 tie with six and half minutes remaining in yesterday's game, and the Washington Capitals withstood a late flurry to hold onto a 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at sold out Verizon Center.

Both Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist, and Brooks Laich added a goal, leading the Capitals to a franchise record tying tenth consecutive victory, originally set Jan. 27-Feb. 18, 1984.

"I told the guys it's something that you might go your whole career again without getting again, and so enjoy it," coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters after the game.

Ovechkin's reaction to the streak was certainly in keeping with his personality, "It's kind of fun and it's kind of good.  But we don't want to stop."

And why should they?  During the streak, they beat both of last year's finalists, other contenders, and division opponents alike.  They've won in blowout fashion, and in nailbiters.  Everybody's scoring, as their longest individual scoring drought is Boyd Gordon's 10 games.

And they are getting quality play in goal.  Yesterday, Jose Theodore returned from a lower-body injury to record 25 saves for the win.  Theodore went 8-1 in January with a 2.28 GAA and .930 save percentage.

Whether it's been Theodore, the veteran, or Michal Neuvirth, the rookie, they've been getting the job done between the pipes.

You know a team is comfortable in the standings when they decided they can send their rookie backup (Neuvirth) down to AHL Hershey so he can get enough games in to qualify to play there during the Olympic break.  It leaves the team with another rookie, Braden Holtby, backing up Theodore for the time being. 

Holtby, who started the season at ECHL South Carolina, has yet to make his NHL debut.

The team hopes to get Semyon Varlamov, yet another rookie, back soon from the knee injury that has had him sidelined since early December.

This team is the first in the Capitals 35 years to reach the 80-point mark before February.  It's the first to record 13 wins in January.  And with 26 total points in January, Washington tied its single-month franchise record set in Dec. 1984.

They currently hold a 23-point lead in the Southeast Division, and an eight-point lead in the Eastern Conference.

It seems on a daily basis, players are reaching personal milestones as well.  The latest was yesterday, as Nicklas Backstrom notched his 23rd goal of the season, passing his career season high set last season.

This team is firing on all cylinders right now, and there are only two questions that separate this team from true greatness:

1)  Are they peaking too early?

2)  How will the Olympic layoff effect the team?

These are both questions to be answered as we play out the rest of the season.  For now, Caps fans, enjoy the ride.

The Caps have road games against offensively challenged Boston and the imploding Rangers, then home against Atlanta in the coming week. 

It's not hard to imagine a 13-game streak heading into the Super Bowl Sunday matchup with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

Bruce Boudreau would tell us not to get ahead of ourselves.  And I'm SURE he telling his players not to.  But the way the Caps are playing and winning, it's hard not to.  Especially with the juicy nugget of the Pens game looming on the horizon.