"They don't like us. We don't like them.  That's the way it should be." -- Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau

THE RESULT:  The Washington Capitals dominated their arch-rivals on defense, shutting out the formerly high-scoring Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Super Bowl Sunday.  It was Washington's eighth straight win on "Super Sunday" and improves their career line to 14-3-1 on the big day.

Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth made 22 saves for his second shut out of the season and forwards Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson and Mike Knuble each scored to lead the Caps to victory.

Neuvirth didn't forget comments Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma made about him during HBO's 24/7 leading up to the Winter Classic, calling the rookie goaltender "shaky."  

“Of course," Neuvirth said.  "I watched every episode, but this is hockey. It didn’t really bother me. But now I’m really happy that I shut them down. It’s even better for me right now.”

"Before the game, I remembered when he said that and I kind of looked at him during the warm up and told myself that I got to shut these guys out tonight.”

The Capitals dominated the suddenly offensively struggling Penguins on defense, clogging up the passing lanes, shutting down their power play, and blocking 18 shots.

"That's all about commitment," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said.  "A commitment to winning.  It's what it is.  You block shots, you get in the way, one of your teammates goes down another one picks it up."

But the real stories of this game ended up being nothing about the game, and more the extra-curriculars that always seem to be associated with the Caps and the Pens.

In what can only be described as two acts of cowardice, the Penguins looked to get retribution for the New Year's Day collision between David Steckel and Sidney Crosby. 

The play, which was ruled by the league office to be incidental contact, could very well have left Crosby with a concussion, though Pittsburgh team doctors allowed him to return not only to that game, but play in the next one as well until an innocuous hit by Tampa Bay's Victor Hedman sent Crosby to the dressing room. 

Crosby has not returned to the ice since.

The Penguins have incessantly discussed in the media how they though Steckel's hit was dirty and intentional, and since this was the next occasion for the two teams to face each other, it was logical that either Matt Cooke, Michael Rupp or Deryk Engelland -- Pittsburgh's tough guys -- would mix it up with Steckel early in the game, get it out of the way, and play the hockey game.

That didn't turn out to be the case.

Instead, Bylsma waited until the 7:52 mark of the third period of a close game to send out Tim Wallace, just recalled from AHL Wilkes-Barre, to challenge Steckel -- the league's top faceoff specialist -- at an offensive-zone draw for the Caps.

It was Wallace's first game of the season for the Penguins and he had skated just seven shifts to that point in the game.

"I certainly thought he did a good job of stepping up and fighting Steckel," Bylsma said, as if Steckel was the one that initiated the clearly staged bout. 

Then, when asked if he was surprised that Wallace -- a player that has 27 goals in the minors this season and wasn't even on the roster for the Winter Classic -- took up the role, Bylsma referenced the Crosby incident again saying, "We all watched the game I think, whether we were there or on TV."

As if that wasn't bad enough, with less than four minutes left in the game with Alex Ovechkin trying to get the puck out of the Caps end, veteran cheap-shot artist Matt Cooke ran Ovechkin, intentionally sticking his knee out as the Great Eight sped by, sending Ovechkin down in a heap, and immediately raised his hands in the air with his palms up as if to ask, "What did I do?"

Ovechkin bounced up and he and Nick Backstrom descended on Cooke, both getting shots in to Cooke's head before the ensuing scrum.  Cooke was awarded just a two minute tripping call, when it very easily could have been a kneeing major or game disqualification.

"I just tracked the puck and he tried to cut back on me," Cooke said. "We clipped skates."

Said Bylsma: "I didn't think much contact was made. Maybe their skates get wound up together."

Take a look at this replay and you decide whether their skates made any contact. 

Remember, Cooke is the player that blind-sided Marc Savard of Boston, ruining Savard's career.

Matt Bradley was willing to take up the cause against Cooke when the winger left the penalty box, but according to Bradley, Cooke declined.  "He made his choice, he went to the bench and that's fine and all.  But he would have done the same thing if it was the other way around.  He runs at our best player, we're gonna retaliate."

Boudreau was irate after the game about both incidents.

"It was Matt Cooke. Need we say more? It's not like it's his first rodeo," Boudreau said. "He's done it to everybody and then he goes to the ref and says: 'What did I do?' He knows damn well what he did. There's no doubt in my mind that he's good at it and he knows how to do it. He knows how to pick this stuff. We as a league, we still buy into this [idea] that, 'Oh it was an accidental thing.'"

As for the Wallace-Steckel duel, Boudreau said, "I've coached [Steckel] for eight years and he's never done it once," Boudreau said. "So if they want to use [the New Year's Day collision] as a motivating tool, go ahead. But they send out a guy they called up [to fight]. And Mike Rupp, who is a fighter, knowing Dave never fought, challenging him. To me, it was crap."

It's a real shame a tense, well played game by both teams should end up being remembered for these two incidents instead of the hard work the Capitals did on defense, or the redemptive shut out from Neuvirth, or the beautiful backhanded, short-handed goal from Johansson, or even Laich's second goal in as many games from "The Bakery."

Instead, we're left to dwell on these two cowardly acts and the potential for further retribution down the road. 

THE GOOD: Play by the second and third line centers.  Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson both had very solid games Sunday.  Perreault did tremendous work on Laich's goal, picking the pocket of a Penguins defenseman and feeding John Erskine for a shot from the point that Laich cleaned up on the rebound.

Johansson was a presence on the perfect penalty kill, and his goal was a pretty as it gets.  Marc-Andre Fleury never flinched, so Johansson let the shot go at the precise time when Fleury's defenseman was screening him, and Steckel cutting to the net at the same time might also have distracted the Penguins goalie.

THE BAD: Mike Green took a puck to the side of his head on a shot by Brooks Orpik as time expired on the first period.  He did not return.  After the game he spoke to the media and said he had a headache, but other than that he was fine. 

He had several stitches in his right ear and still had a little blood on the side of his face and neck.  Boudreau called him day-to-day, but I'd be surprised if he wasn't in Tuesday's lineup.

Mike Knuble took a stick to the face late, opening a cut on his right cheek that will probably take a couple of stitches as well.  The refs ruled that Knuble got his with a "follow through", according to Boudreau, and no penalty was called on the play.  Knuble stayed in the game and got his revenge with an empty net goal.

Knuble has scored a goal in all seven of his career games with the Capitals against Pittsburgh.

THE UGLY: Matt Cooke's kneeing of Ovechkin -- and his lame defense by both him and his coach -- are gutless and inexcusable.  Those types of plays are what keeps the NHL a fringe sport.  The "wink-wink" of his defense is pathetic and cowardly.  Do not expect discipline from the league on an obviously intentional play to injure.

THE STATS: Brooks Laich (11) from John Erskine (7) and Mathieu Perreault (6) at 18:22 of 1st.  Marcus Johansson (7) from Jeff Schultz (7) at 3:58 of 2nd (SH).  Mike Knuble (13) from Matt Hendricks (9) at 19:16 of 3rd (EN).

NEXT GAME: Tuesday, Feb. 8 at 7:00 pm against San Jose Sharks at Verizon Center.


3. Matt Hendricks.  Gets the nod for team D with three blocked shots. 
2.  Marcus Johansson.  Played one of his best games of the year.  We've seen in flashes how good he's going to be.
1.  Michal Neuvirth. Shaky on the first couple of shots, but settled in real well.  Second and third handled the few scoring chances Pittsburgh had with ease.

***Thanks to Alex Caudina from WTOP Radio for audio of visiting coach's press conference.

All Photos 2010 © Cheryl Nichols Photography/
Caps News Network. All Rights Reserved.


  1. GO // February 7, 2011 at 8:23 AM  

    Wow -- Cooke should be banned from hockey. Its unvbelievable that he continues to to pull that shit.