“I feel great about the fact that we played tremendous the first two periods, so I am not going to try to spin any negatives on this. This is a great team and we shut them down with 11 or 12 shots in two periods.” -- Coach Bruce Boudreau

THE RESULT:  The Washington Capitals played their best second period of the season in front of the 67th consecutive sellout crowd at Verizon Center on Friday night.  Caps won 5-3 over Boston Bruins.

The Caps have already played the Bruins four times prior to Friday's game.  Caps took the wins in both pre-season games and Bruins won the regular season games 3-1 and 4-1.  Both teams looked very different from that last two games. 

The Caps defense was strong throughout all of their lines and having a healthy Mike Green back has made a world of difference.  Coach Boudreau  expressed the value of Green back on the ice in his post-game presser. “He’s the best offensive defenseman in the NHL, which means he is probably the best one in the world. When you don’t have him, it’s a detriment - when you do have him, it’s a real bonus.”

Caps first goal of the game was scored by Defenseman Tyler Sloan, just one day shy of a year from his last goal.  Sloan's slapshot was his first ever goal at Verizon Center and the fourth of his NHL career. Three of them have come in November. "Yeah, I was excited. I haven't scored at Verizon [Center] yet. It was a great experience and it just happened to chip in tonight."

Sloan was part of the stellar defense tonight. “I thought the first was okay, it wasn’t great. But the second was tremendous; we just got to find a way to do a better job in the third period and continue to play like we do in the second period. We will learn, we will figure it out. I think everybody was happy overall with the whole effort tonight.”

Mike Green scored the second goal - a wrist shot with assists from Ovechkin and Backstrom.

Alex Semin continued his hot streak with a BEAUTIFUL shorthanded goal in the second period.  He ended up sliding on his belly on the ice, pounded the ice with his fist and smile from ear to ear. When asked about Semin's raised leverl of emotion after scoring, Boudreau said, "He's getting Americanized." (with laughter). "He loves to win. He loves to play."


The Caps were up 3-0 after two periods and Washington was clearly dominating the puck.  The Bruins pulled goalie Tim Thomas and replaced him with Tuukka Rask.  Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien wanted to change the momentum of the game.  "I understand," Thomas said. "Coach came and talked to me after the second period and told me what his thoughts were. And I said I understand and I agree."

Julien's strategy was working and all of a sudden the Bruins scored three unanswered goals and tied the Caps at three.  Bourdreau didn't think that Neuvirth looked good on the second and third goals.  "He might be a little tired. He's not used to playing under this kind of pressure."

So with about ten minutes remaining in a tie game against a tough team, Braden Holtby made his NHL debut.  It was a moment Holtby had thought about for twenty-one years. “Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. I was pretty shocked when [Coach] Bruce [Boudreau] told me, but it was kind of cool to go into a tight game. Definitely got the heart pumping, but [I’m] glad Johnny [John Carlson] could pull out a big shot for us and get the win.”

Holtby turned away all four shots he faced in the third period and was credited with the win. Holtby also received the hardhat after the game.


Photo 2010 © Cheryl Nichols Photography/
Capitals News Network. All Rights Reserved.

John Carlson got the game-winning goal with assists by Eric Fehr and Boyd Gordon and Alex Ovechkin got the empty-netter with :58 seconds left in the game. 

Mike Green expressed his thoughts on coach Bruce Boudreau making the goalie change. “I think so, yeah [he was trying to send a wake-up call to the whole team]. Maybe he was looking at what happen with them [Boston], they pulled their goalie and they were getting goals right away so, maybe he had a feeling or what not. It worked.”

Click here to see photos of pre-game warmups.

NOTES: 
  • Ovechkin extended his points streak to five games (4 goals, 5 assists).
  • Washington outshot Boston 39-18.
  • Washington became the first team this season to score three goals on Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas.
  • NEXT GAME: Sunday, November 7, 2010 at 5pm at Verizon Center hosting Philadelphia Flyers

RESULT:  Saturday night in Calgary, the Washington Capitals got a lead against a struggling, inferior team and buried them, on the road no less.  Wednesday night, in a 5-4 shootout win, it wasn't that simple.

The Caps (8-4-0-16, T-1 in SE) used a three goal blitz in the second period to seemingly take control over the Toronto Maple Leafs.  But instead of notching a fourth goal and taking the wind out of the Leafs' sails, the Caps let a poor and stuggling club back into it. 

Once Toronto got their second goal, they played like their hair was on fire, scoring three third period goals, taking a 4-3 lead at 7:17.

Good thing for Alexander Semin.

The Enigma was in full force last night.  He had two offensive zone stick fouls.  He had four shots on goal.  He scored the game-tying goal at 14:22.  He also scored the clinching goal in the shootout.



The game-tying power play goal was something of a mucker's goal, with the puck bouncing and pinballing in the crease.  But it was that kind of night for Semin, as he was much more involved in the play, going to the net and being a presence in the offensive zone most of the night. 

“When he scored his goal on the power play, there aren’t too many guys in the National Hockey League that have hands like that – that can put it there that quickly," coach Bruce Boudreau said after the game.

In fact, all four of the Capitals goals were scored from in close, and Boudreau acknowledged the effort post-game as well. 

Another aspect that has been missing most of the season from the Capitals attack has been a strong presence from the third line.

Boyd Gordon, Jason Chimera and Matt Bradley not only combined for Chimera's third goal of the season, but regardless if it was Bradley or Eric Fehr on the line, the grinders were effective digging the puck off the boards, providing a physical presence, and buzzing rookie goalie Jonas Gustavsson whenever they were on the ice.

video
(Video D. Nichols/Caps News Network)

Much like the Capitals season at large, this game wasn't pretty.  There was some really good.  There was some pretty bad.  And again, there was strong goaltending, despite the four goals against.

Mike Green, who scored his second goal of the season on a nifty backdoor pass from Semin, spoke freely about the performance of his young goaltender thus far this season.

“He’s incredible. I don’t want to pump him too much but he’s been outstanding for us. As a defenseman I feel so comfortable with him behind us. There’s already a mutual bond that we feel even though he’s only been here a short period of time.”

The Caps dug down and found enough in the third period and in the shootout to scratch out a win against a team they really should have buried when they had them down.  It's become a familiar refrain in this campaign, but it sure beats losing these games.

As they proved in the win over Calgary, they are capable of dominating a team.  Until they find a way to show that instinct on a more consistant basis, they'll have to find satifaction in winning ugly as well.

THE GOOD:  The third line.  Chimera's goal was a direct result of three things:  getting the puck in deep (Bradley), winning a physical battle in the corner (Gordon), and driving to the net (Chimera).  For a hockey connoisseur, it was as pretty as anything Ovechkin, Semin or Green could have put together.

video
(Video D. Nichols/Caps News Network)

THE BAD:  Jeff Schultz.  He had a lousy night.  He doesn't have many of them, so if your best stay-at-home defenseman has a bad game in win you have to take it.  He was minus-2 on the night (Green was minus-3) and just couldn't get out of his own way tonight.

THE UGLY:  D.J. King.  Was a minus-2 in just eight shifts.  Had a turnover that led directly to a goal.  Got beat up in his fight.  You have to commend GM George McPhee for indentifying what he thought was a need in the off-season and going out and filling it.  It just might have been with the wrong guy.

THE STATS:  Green (2) from Semin (6) and Ovechkin (7) at 6:05 of 2nd (PP).  Chimera (3) from Gordon (2) and Bradley (1) at 10:35 of 2nd.  Fleischmann (4) from Carlson (6) and Laich (4) at 11:28 of 2nd.  Semin (7) from Laich (5) and Ovechkin (8) at 14:22 of 3rd.  SO:  Ovechkin; Semin.

NEXT GAME:  Friday at 7:00 pm against the Boston Bruins at Verizon Center.

CAPS NEWS NETWORK THREE STARS

3.  Jason Chimera.  Nice goal, brought the speed all night.  Plus-1.
2.  Karl Alzner.  The dude was in the right place at the right time all night long.  He and John Carlson were the only D-man with plus ratings on the night.
1.  Alexander Semin.  We'll forget, for a moment, the two offensive zone stick fouls.  But The Enigma was the best player for the Caps tonight.  Good pressure, full effort, and even did a little crease-camping for show. 

Alexander Semin scores winner in shootout. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)


Tomas Fleischmann lost his stick. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)

Michal Neuvith makes one of his 24 saves. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)
D.J. King had a rough go of it with Colton Orr. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)





CAPS GAME NIGHT, GAME 12: The Falling Leafs in DC

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, November 03, 2010 | , , | 0 comments »

Toronto Maple Leafs (5-5-1-11, 3rd NE) v. Washington Capitals (7-4-0-14, 2nd SE)
7:00 pm  Verizon Center, Washington DC
___________________________________________________

The Toronto Maple Leafs, perhaps the second most storied franchise in all of hockey, got off to a tremedous start this season, winning their first four games.  But since that streak was broken in a 4-3 overtime loss to the New York Islanders, the Leafs have lost six out of seven, falling faster than the leaves on the trees as temperatures start to feel like hockey season in America's Hockey Capital.

To make matters worse, Toronto has been shut out in two of their last three games.

Toronto is led in scoring by wingers Phil Kessel and Clarke MacArthur, with seven goals apiece.  No other skater has more than two, and therein lies the problem.

"Well, it's dried up a lot," general manager Brian Burke described his squad's offensive drought. "Obviously, we're having trouble putting the puck in the net right now. I have nothing pending that might solve that. We're going to have to solve it internally for now."

Another handicap facing the Leafs tonight is their captain, Dion Phaneuf, will miss the game (and likely many more) with a laceration of his leg, incurred Tuesday night against Ottawa in the second period after getting tied up with Ottawa's Peter Regin along the boards.

Tonight's matchup, the first of four between conference rivals, pits the struggling Leaf offense against one of the hottest goalies in the league, Michal Neuvirth for the Capitals.  The 22-year old Czech goalie is tied for the league lead with seven wins, and his 2.15 goals-against average ranks second among goaltenders with 10 or more starts.

Neuvirth was named October's rookie of the month, becoming just the third goaltender in franchise history to earn the award, joining Bob Mason (Dec. 1984) and Jim Carey (March 1995) with the honors.

Neuvirth made 27 saves in Washington's 7-2 win over Calgary on Saturday -- the eighth time he's allowed two goals or less as a starter in 2010, cementing his hold on the No. 1 goalie spot over Semyon Varlamov, who has struggled this season with groin injuries.  Varlamov is expected to back up Neuvirth tonight.

The Caps broke out in a big way Saturday, getting big numbers from the re-vamped top line of Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.  All three had at least one goal and multi-point games in the breakout against Calgary. 

And the Caps power play, which has been ineffective all season, hit on three attempts with the extra-man, including one sequence where Ovechkin scored on a one-timer on a 5-on-3, then 12 seconds later did the same on the resulting 5-on-4 on the same set play.

Mike Green has returned to his regular patrol on the Caps blueline, even if his shoulder is still not 100 percent.  Green has been on the ice for just one goal against all season full-strength, which underlies his importance to the Caps.  But the defensive corps is still depleted, as Tom Poti and Tyler Sloan will both be inactive for tonight's game.  Brian Fahey was recalled once again from AHL Hershey and will dress for the affair.

The Capitals have a nice little homestand, with consecutive games against Toronto, Boston and Pihladelphia, to continue to progress offensively while staying strong in the areas that have them in the position they are now, namely goaltending and the penalty kill.
___________________________________________________

LEADERS

TOR:  LW Clarke MacArthur (7-3-10, +4), Phil Kessel (7-2-9, even), G Jean-Sebastien Gigure (4-3-1, 2.38, .905)
WAS:   LW Alex Ovechkin (7-6-13, +2), Alexander Semin (6-5-11, +5), G Michal Neuvirth (7-3-0, 2.15, .926)

INJURIES

TOR:  D Dion Phaneuf (leg-OUT), RW Colby Armstrong (finger-OUT)
WAS:  D Tom Poti (LBI-OUT), D Tyler Sloan (hip-OUT), C Marcus Johansson (hip-QUE), G Semyon Varlamov (groin-QUE)

STATS

TOR: GF/G: 2.27 (29th); GA/G: 2.36 (10th); PP: 12.8% (23rd); PK: 81.1% (21st); FO: 52.4% (7th)
WAS:  GF/G: 3.09 (7th); GA/G: 2.27 (T-4); PP: 16.7% (T-14th); PK: 90.2% (4th); FO: 49.8% (17th)

**Quotes in this story were pulled from various sources, including NHL.com and AP

THE RESULT:  The Caps have been waiting for a game like this.

Shaking off a sluggish first period, the Washington Capitals scored six times in the second stanza, en route to routing the Calgary Flames 7-2, before 19,289 in the Saddledome on Hockey Night in Canada.

The Caps (7-4-0-14) shook the rust off their power play, scoring three straight man-advantage goals, erasing a 2-0 first period defecit that could have been even larger were it not for the continued stellar play of rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth.

But Washington's skaters finally were able to take the pressure off Neuvirth (27 saves on 29 shots), continuing to light the lamp after finally taking the lead.

Coach Bruce Boudreau changed his lines around again tonight, moving Alexander Semin up to the top line, and the change paid dividends.  All three forwards had at least one goal, with Alex Ovechkin scoring twice in a span of 12 seconds, just two seconds longer than Stephen Leach needed to set the Caps record for fastest two goals from one player, 20 years ago next month.

Defenseman Mike Green had his best game of the season, with his first goal and two assists.  He played more of his game and was not as tentative as he has been since returning to the line up three games ago from his shoulder injury.

It was clearly his most complete game of the season.

Even fourth line grinders Matt Bradley and David Steckel got into the act.  Bradley got credit for a goal when Calgary defenseman Cory Sarich knocked the puck off Bradley's stick into his own net, and Steckel was awarded a penalty shot on a short-handed breakaway when he was hauled down from defenseman Mark Giordano. 

Steckel buried it for his first goal of the year off the normally Mikka Kiprusoff (21 saves on 27 shots).

It wasn't all offense for the Capitals, though it was nice to see all the goals.  The penalty kill was perfect again, going six-for-six a man down.

The slow first period, where the Caps were outshot 16-8, kept this one from being called a "60-minute" game, something that so far has escaped the Capitals this season.  But the speed and efficiency of Washington's goal-scoring prowess in the second period was impressive to watch. 

The last couple of games it's been tough to watch the Caps hit posts and fire wide and generally look uninterested and unimaginitive.  Funny how one 20 minute burst of domination can change your outlook on a team.  This is what we expected to see out of the Capitals this season. 

Hopefully this dominant display woke something up in every player that wears the Capitals logo on their chest.

THE GOOD:  Scoring six goals in a period is big, but seeing the power play convert three opportunities, including scoring on a 5-on-3 and the resulting 5-on-4 12 seconds later has to be a relief to all of American's Hcokey Capital.

THE BAD:  Six more minor penalties.  They didn't come back to haunt the Caps, but they are really playing with fire relying on the kill to continue it's stellar play.

THE UGLY:  The only real ugly was the Caps' start, getting down by two goals again -- and it could have been more.  Last season the first period was a strong suit for the Caps, but so far in this campaign the opening 20 minutes have been nothing but trouble.  Thankfully Neuvirth was up to the task once again.

THE STATS:  Nicklas Backstrom (4) from Mike Green (3) and Brooks Laich (3) at 15:22 of 1st (PP).  Alex Ovechkin (6) from Green (4) and Backstrom (4) at 3:43 of 2nd (PP).  Ovechkin (7) from Alexander Semin (4) and Jason Chimera (2) at 3:55 of 2nd (PP).  Green (1) from Semin (4) and Backstrom (5) at 10:28 of 2nd.  Matt Bradley (unassisted) at 10:41 of 2nd.  Semin (6) from Ovechkin (6) and Backstrom (6) at 13:33 of 2nd.  David Steckel (penalty shot) at 18:23 of 2nd.

NEXT GAME:  Wednesday, Nov. 3 at 7:00 pm against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center.

CAPS NOTES:  Boyd Gordon returned to the lineup.  He took a delay of game penalty and skated 25 shifts for 16:28 TOI, including 5:09 shorthanded.  Eric Fehr and Mattieau Perrault were healthy scratches.

CAPS NEWS NETWORK THREE STARS

3.  Nicklas Backstrom.  Goal and three assists.  Super Swede has his best game of the season.
2.  Mike Green.  First goal of the season and two helpers.  Starting to look like he feels better.
1.  Alex Ovechkin.  Two power play goals when the contest was still in doubt and a helper on Semin's marker.