GAME 10 RECAP: Capitals Not Feeling Minnesota

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, October 29, 2010 | , , , | 0 comments »

"You can't play ten minutes in this league and hope to win a game." Coach Bruce Boudreau, on his team's performance in a 2-1 loss to the Wild.

THE RESULT:  One team looked rested, in the middle of a five-game homestand.  They had a game plan; forcing shots to the outside, clogging up the neutral zone, and relying on a steady if unspectacular goalie.

The other team looked like they played the previous night on the road, in a different time zone.  They looked like they took a two and a half hour plane ride and got to bed around 3:00 am.  And they looked like they knew that 24 hours later they would be in a third time zone in a different country.

Looking back at the Washington Capitals 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild, the Caps should consider themselves the beating wasn't worse.  The loss drops the Caps' record at the Xcel Energy Center to 0-5-1 all-time.

The things that have plagued the Caps all season long continued to trouble them in this one as well.  Poor and sloppy passing through the neutral zone.  Forwards skating in one-on-three.  No one willing to do the hard work in the crease.  And players losing individual defensive battles along the boards.

And the team's best player -- it's captain -- once again had a mostly frustrating evening, getting four shots on goal, but also getting four blocked, as defensemen continue to press him hard as he enters the offensive zone as he carries the puck instead of laying back, not allowing themselves to become a screen. 

And when the Great Eight does manage to get a shot through the D-man, it's still far enough out for the goalie to find it.

Not until 18:24 of the third, as the panicked Capitals played 6-on-5, was Alex Ovechkin able to get space and sneak a puck into the opposition net, cutting the deficit to 2-1.  Unfortunately, he and his teammates could not find the equalizer, having started their energized play much, much too late.

Ovechkin was very blunt in his assessment of the game.  "We didn't shoot the puck. We didn't hit their guys. We didn't finish our shots," he said.

No truer words have been spoken.

The most recent goalie to look like Patrick Roy against the Caps was Niklas Backstrom of Finland.  He played well shutting out the Caps until a minute and a half left in the game, but was not tested often, facing just 22 shots.  His mates blocked an additional 15 shots, and the Caps misfired on 18, including Alexander Semin's clear breakaway early in the third period.

Backstrom's best was a lunging, back-door glove save on his name-twin, Nicklas Backstrom of Sweden, with just 5.8 second remaining.

Continuing the theme of the season, the hard-luck loser tonight was Michal Neuvirth, who once again was stellar -- if not tested very hard either -- stopping 15 of the 17 shots thrown his way.

These Capitals are struggling to put two good period together right now, let alone two straight games.  As well as they played Wednesday night in Carolina, finally putting together 60 minutes of hockey, it has to be especially deflating to Coach Bruce Boudreau and his staff to see that effort mimicked by their slow, lumbering performance against Minnesota.

Boudreau was especially expressive after the game with the media.

"It was a really disappointing effort, I thought, from our team for about about 50 minutes," Boudreau said.  "You can't play ten minutes in this league and hope to win a game."

Asked about the team's struggles, particularly in the first periods, Boudreau said, "I haven't changed too much of the way my philosophy as far as getting them ready for the game.   I don't know.  I don't know what it is."

"It looked like we were in quicksand.  We weren't moving the puck, we couldn't handle the puck... I'm not buying any of this excuse about being fatigued -- emotionally or physically."

"I'm not very happy with what happened."

No one is.

"We know what makes this team successful, and it isn't going diagonal passes through the neutral zone.  We got a big, strong team, big forwards, and our success has been winning the battles below the circles.  That's what we did last night so successfully and tonight we decided we wanted to be fancy."

"You can't be fancy in this league."

The coach seems to have a handle on the general problems plaguing his team.  Let's see if he can figure out how to fix them.

THE GOOD:  Neuvirth.  He's the only thing this team can depend on right now.

THE BAD:  Alexander Semin.  One shot on goal.  Three blocked.  Four misses.  The Enigma strikes again.

THE UGLY:  The Power Play.  0-for-2.  Rinse and repeat.  And one night after having a dominant faceoff record, in this one they won just 48 percent of the draws.  Five more minor penalties, including a terrible giveaway-interference by Tyler Sloan in the first.  Please get well soon, Tom Poti.

THE STATS:  Alex Ovechkin (5) from Mike Green (2) at 18:24 of 3rd.

NEXT GAME:  Saturday night at Calgary Flames at 10:00 pm eastern.

CAPS NEWS NETWORK THREE STARS

3.  Mike Knuble.  He was instrumental in the penalty kill and had five shots on goal, though most came from the top of the circle entering the zone -- but that's exactly how the Caps got a goal against Carolina, when Backstrom followed up a big shot by driving to the net.
2.  Jason Chimera.  He had a goal waived off after the referee rule he pushed Backstrom into the net.  He also rang two posts and brought what little speed was on display for the Caps.
1.  Michal Neuvirth.  Maybe we need to retire the three stars until they start playing better.

CAPS GAME NIGHT, GAME 10: Caps Prepare for Wild Game in Minnesota

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, October 28, 2010 | , , | 0 comments »

Washington Capitals (6-3-0-12, 2nd SE) v. Minnesota Wild (3-3-2-8, 4th NW)
8:00 pm EST, Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, MN
_____________________________________________________________

The Washington Capitals travel to the Land o'Lakes to face the Minnesota Wild in the middle game of a three-game road trip, in a building where Washington is 0-5-0 all-time.

Tonight's match-up to watch is the Caps penalty kill against Minnesota's top-rated power play.  The Capitals are 13th in the league in total penalty minutes and ninth overall in minors taken.  They took five minors last night in a 3-0 win over Carolina, killing all five ensuing power plays.

The Wild score at a 43.5 percent clip on the power play at home, so it's critical for the Caps to stay out of the box tonight.

Minnesota has lost their past two games, at Vancouver 5-1 and a shootout home loss to Los Angeles, 3-2, Monday night.  They'll be well rested for a Caps team that enters play uncharacteristically looking to get on track offensively.

Coach Bruce Boudreau thinks a team on a two-game losing streak is a dangerous team, especially in the middle of a long homestand. 

"We don't know them as well as we'd like to, and anytime you don't know a team, you feel uncomfortable with it," Boudreau said on Caps365 after this morning's practice . "You never like playing against a desperate team because they always play above themselves."

Rookie goaltender Michal Neuvirth is expected to start again tonight.  He stopped all 29 shots he faced for his first career shutout last night in Carolina. Neuvirth has appeared in all nine games for the Capitals and shares the NHL lead with six wins.

Neuvirth is already a third of the way to the Capitals’ rookie record for wins (18, Jim Carrey in 1994-95).
_____________________________________________________________

LEADERS

WAS:  LW Alex Ovechkin (4-5-9, even), LW Alexander Semin (5-3-8, +4), G Michal Neuvirth (6-2-0, 2.18, .929)
MIN:  C Matt Cullen (3-6-9, -2), C Mikko Koivu (2-7-9, +5), G Niclas Backstrom (3-2-2, 2.25, .926)

INJURIES

WAS:  C Marcus Johansson (foot-OUT), G Semyon Varlamov (groin-OUT), D Tom Poti (LBI-OUT), RW Boyd Gordon (UNK-QUE)
MIN:  LW Guillaume Latendress (UNK.-OUT), RW Chuck Kobesew (groin-DBT), G Josh Harding (OUT)

STATS

WAS:  GF/G: 2.89 (11th);  GA/G: 2.33 (5th);  PP: 11.1% (25th);  PK: 90.0% (5th)
MIN:  GF/G:  2.88 (13th);  GA/G: 2.62 (13th);  PP: 34.3% (1st);  PK:  83.7% (17th)

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)

CAPS NEWS NETWORK THREE STARS

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 NHL.com.

CAPS GAME NIGHT, GAME 9: Three-Game Roadie Starts in Carolina

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, October 27, 2010 | , , | 0 comments »

Washington Capitals (5-3-0-10, 2nd SE) v. Carolina Hurricanes (4-3-0-8, 3rd SE)
7:00 pm  RBC Center, Raleigh, NC
_______________________________________________________

The Caps start a four-day, three-game road trip with the first game of a six-game season series with division rival Carolina tonight from Raleigh.  Surprisingly, it's Carolina's home opener, as the Hurricanes started the season with a pair of games in Helsinki, Finland, then returned to North America and went on a four-game road trip, with stops in Ottawa, Vancouver, San Jose and Los Angeles.

Carolina receives balanced scoring, with seven different players having tallied two or three goals in their seven games.  C Eric Stall paces the club with three goals and three assists.  RW Eric Cole is off to a good start as well, with four points and plus-6 rating.

Cam Ward is Carolina's undisputed No. 1 goalie.  He's played in six of the team's seven games, and is 4-2-0 with a 2.78 GAA and .923 save percentage.

The Capitals have had their difficulty making the trip to Carolina in recent memory, having lost nine of their last 12 games at the RBC Center.  They hope to get the road trip off to a good start tonight.

"It's going to be a tough trip, but everyone has them," Coach Bruce Boudreau said

One player they need to get going is LW Alex Ovechkin.  The captain has gone four games without a goal and three straight without a point.  The last time Ovechkin went four consecutive games without recording a point was Feb. 15-21, 2007.

The Great 8 has yet to score on the power play after doing so 13 times last season.

But Ovechkin insinuated himself into the play against Atlanta Saturday night, with a team leading nine hits, and his coach thinks it's just a matter of time. 

"His will come," Boudreau said after the OT win over the Thrashers.  "There's once a year, he goes through a stretch where he doesn't get any points, and he doesn't score any goals.  And then he goes 30 games out of 33 [with points].  And that's just the way he is.  But you can see he's getting a little closer, a little frustrated.  But he's getting a little closer."

Washington hopes that some of the walking wounded will return to action on the trip as well.  RW Matt Bradley and D Mike Green are both expected to fully play tonight after taking the morning skate, but C Boyd Gordon and John Carlson, who has skipped a couple practices with a lower body injury, are still questionable.  C Marcus Johansson did not skate this morning and will not play either.

Two players not on the trip are G Semyon Varlamov, struggling with a sore groin, and D Tom Poti, nursing an LBI as well.  Poti may join the team at some point on the trip, but Varlamov will not.

D Brian Fahey was called up from AHL Hershey to take Poti's place on the roster, and Braden Holtby will back up Michal Neuvirth, and possibly make his NHL debut sometime on the trip.
_______________________________________________________

LEADERS

WAS:  LW Alexander Semin (5-3-8, +4), LW Alex Ovechkin (4-4-8, -1), Michal Neuvirth (5-2-0, 2.53, .919)
CAR:  C Eric Staal (3-3-6, even), LW Jussi Jokinen (2-4-6, -3), Cam Ward (4-2-0, 2.78, .923)

INJURIES

WAS:  G Semyon Varlamov (groin-OUT), D Tom Poti (LBI-OUT), C Marcus Johansson (foot-OUT), C Boyd Gordon (undisclosed-QUE), D John Carlson (LBI-PROB)
CAR:  LW Jiri Tlusty (knee-QUE)

STATS

WAS:  GF/G: 2.88 (11th); GA/G: 2.62 (12th); PP: 12.1% (23rd); PK: 88.6% (7th)
CAR:  GF/G: 2.86 (13th); GA/G: 3.00 (T-20th); PP: 12.9% (21st); PK: 76.7 (25th)

"Any kind of win would have been the kind of win we needed." -- Bruce Boudreau, on 4-3 overtime win.

Caps celerate 4-3 overtime win over Atlanta at Verizon Center (C. Nichols/Caps News Network)
THE RESULT:  It wasn't over until it was over, but the Washington Capitals ended a two-game losing streak when Tomas Fleischmann's backhander hit the back of the Atlanta Thrashers' goal 1:37 into overtime, sending 18,398 home happy with a 4-3 win -- that almost wasn't.

The heroics were necessary because the Thrashers tied the game at three with just 33 seconds remaining in the game, skating 6-on-5.  Nothing has been easy for this Capitals team this season, including tonight's win.

Asked if this gut-checker was the type of win his team needed, Coach Bruce Boudreau replied. "Any kind of win would have been the kind of win we needed.  It would have been a tough pill to swallow if we hadn't have come away with points going on three tough road games next week."

It looked for the world like Washington was going to take this one in regulation, courtesy of a Hat Trick from winger Alexander Semin, but Evander Kane snuck through the back door and banged one home from out of mid-air after Atlanta pulled their goalie as time trickled down.

Ninety-seven seconds of play later, Eric Fehr bounced a slap shot high off Thrashers' goalie Chris Mason (40 saves) that found Fleischmann alone in the slot as the teams played four-on-four in overtime.  Flash beat a stunned Mason with a back-handed chip shot for the game winner.

Fleischmann wasn't even sure what happened on his goal.  "What I saw was just puck bouncing at my feet and I tried somehow to put it on the net and lucky for me it went in."

Semin -- and just recalled Matthieu Perrault -- were the stars of the game.  The pair hooked up for two third period goals that completed The Enigma's fourth hat trick of his career, and finally take the lead at 3-2.


Alexander "The Enigma" Semin had a big night.

Semin's first goal was a blast from the right wing after Mason misplayed a puck along the boards, but the second two were really a product of Perrault, playing his first game for the Caps after being the last cut of training camp. 

On the second goal, Perrault got to a loose puck in the high slot and was tripped by an Atlanta defender (he would have earned a penalty), and on the way down somehow directed the puck over to Semin, who deked Mason and buried it.  On the third, Perrault gathered the puck off the side boards, cut to the slot -- drawing both defensemen -- and hit a wide open Semin on the doorstep.

"I knew [Semin] was there," Perrault said after the game.  "I took a quick look and saw him there.  You can't go wrong when you give a guy like that the puck.  I just slide it to him and he finished it."

It was a very strong game from Perrault, who sounds like a man that want to stick around a while on the big club.  "I want to show them I can play here.  The decision isn't up to me, but I'll make it as hard as I can on them."

Boudreau was relieved that the Caps finished this one off heading into a tough stretch on the road, with games at Carolina, Minnesota and Calgary next week. 

"With three days off it's really gonna help cause we've played a lot of hockey and as you know we have a lot of banged up bodies."

The list of walking wounded grew today, as Tom Poti and Semyon Varlamov, who both practiced fully earlier in the day, were held out with injuries, joining Matt Bradley and Boyd Gordon on the unavailable to play list.

Boudreau said Poti (LBI) and Varlamov (groin) were day-to-day, but missing Poti really put a crimp into the D-man rotation.  Mike Green dressed for the first time in four games, but only played -- gingerly at that -- on the power play, causing a five-man defensive rotation. 

Boudreau was happy to have whatever Green could give him.  "I would have liked to have him more.  I wasn't nervous about him at all.  We made the decision before the game that we would see how Mike is.  If he is comfortable we will play him more, but the intent was to play him on the power play."

Green did put a puck in the net, but it was waived off when it was ruled he kicked it in.  Replays showed he was trying to direct it to his stick, but it slid away from him and got past Mason.

Finally had a Mike Green sighting for the Caps tonight.

THE GOOD:  Semin.  He's been one of the teams more effective players the last couple of games, but had nothing to show for it until tonight.  He really benefited from having a true playmaker at center, not an out-of-position winger or a just-turned 20-year old still adjusting to the power of North American hockey and the speed of the NHL.

Boudreau had praise for him after the game.  "He's played well.  The consistency has been there for sure.  We are eight games in, but no real lapses.  Tonight he got rewarded for playing a good game."

THE BAD:  Fleischmann had the game winner, but he was the only man to take a draw tonight that did not have a faceoff percentage better than 50 percent.  He is simply out of position at center.

THE UGLY:  Mid-way through the second period, Dustin Byfuglien left the penalty box and got sent on a breakaway.  Neuvirth made the save, then the 6'3", 250 lb. defenseman collided with the goalie, sending Neuvy tumbling and into his goal. 

Neuvy's recollection of the event was kinda fuzzy, naturally.  "[Byfuglien] came from nowhere.  He was shooting short side and I turned my head as I was following the puck.  It was a big hit from him.  I hit the net.  If the net wasn't there I probably would have end up in the corner."

Instead of truly standing up for their unprotected teammate, David Steckel and Jason Chimera both had just a quick word and slight shove for the tough customer.  It wasn't until John Erskine, who was out at the blue line, came rushing to his goalie's defense, charging Byfuglien and laying him out behind the net.  Byfuglien got five minutes for charging and a game misconduct on the play.  Erskine received two for roughing.

It was extremely difficult to watch Steckel and Chimera not lay into Byfuglien.  I know he's a tough guy, but there are times when you have to do what you have to do, and neither stood up when it was time to be counted.  They might have been thinking that they didn't want to take a penalty and jeopardize a power play, but it was the wrong decision.  Neuvirth needed to be stood up for, and they didn't do it.

"I didn't really see the whole thing," Erskine said.  "I looked back and I saw Neuvy on the ground and I knew [Byfuglien] did something so I just kinda went after him.  I was trying to make a point.

Boudreau had good words for Erskine's defense of Neuvirth, "I applaud him.  That's what you need to do to protect your teammates.  Sometimes as a coach you sit back there and you go 'we only got five defense', but if you start using that as a criteria then your players don't get protected.  He did what he's supposed to do."

Steckel and Chimera did not.

THE STATS:  Semin (3) unassisted at 00:38 of 2nd.  Semin (4) from Perrault (1) at 5:09 of 3rd.  Semin (5) from Perrault (2) at 13:28 of 3rd.  Fleischmann (3) from Fehr (2) and Sloan (1) at 1:37 of OT.  Neuvirth 29 saves on 32 shots.

NEXT GAME:  Wednesday, Oct. 27 at Carolina Hurricanes.

CAPS NEWS NETWORK THREE STARS:

3.  John Erskine.  In addition to sticking up for Neuvirth (which would have had him on this list regardless), he also blocked five shots and laid out four hits.
2.  Matthieu Perrault.  He's gotta stick around this time.  He was the most effective player on the ice tonight.  Great passing, great vision, terrific forechecking.
1.  Alexander Semin.  It takes a hat trick to leap Perrault's excellent game.

MULTIMEDIA


video


Fan favorite Matthieu Perrault.
Michal Neuvirth during warmups.

Jay Beagle made his 2010 debut for the Caps.