GAME 73 RE-CAP: Czech Mate

Posted by Dave Nichols | Saturday, March 19, 2011 | , , , , | 0 comments »

There are five elements of goaltending: 
1. Agility.
2. Glove.
3. Technique.
4. Head.
5. Health.
Michal Neuvirth used all of these elements to his advantage Friday night, shutting out the red-hot New Jersey Devils 3-0, giving them their second consecutive loss and just about killing any remaining hope for the team from the swamps to complete their dramatic comeback attempt for a playoff spot.

Neuvirth, who turned away all 33 shots faced last night, did most of the heavy lifting on defense himself, as the Devils were constantly in scoring position.  But it seemed like for every shot New Jersey got on net, they had an equal number that went wide, were deflected harmlessly away, simply misfired, or flat swung on and missed.

On the other end, the Capitals made good on three of 12 shooting; not great numbers if you're a three-point shooter in the NCAA tournament or a Washington National down at spring training, but tremendous for a hockey team.

Though I'm sure coach Bruce Boudreau would have preferred his team made things more difficult on Martin Brodeur (nine saves on 12 shots) overall,  it's hard to argue with the result.

Neuvirth, who looked a little rusty in Wednesday night's loss to Detroit, was anything but tonight.  From the very first shift of the game the Devils peppered him with shots, and he rose to each occasion. 

He made several remarkable catches with his glove hand, including Russian sniper Ilya Kovachuk on a breakaway with just under three minutes remaining, prompting the Devils most prolific scorer to slam his stick into the boards after the whistle in frustration.

As he's generally been all season long for the Caps, Neuvirth was their best player on the ice.

The young Czech netminder is solidifying his case to be the workhorse for Boudreau once the playoffs start in a matter of weeks.  I'm sure Semyon Varlamov is going to have a chance to play down the stretch, but Neuvirth has done everything asked of him and more.  His four shutouts are most for an individual for the Caps since the days of Godzilla and set a team rookie record.

As for the four elements above, Varly may have Neuvy beat on the first element when healthy, but Neuvirth tops all three of the Caps goalies on the depth chart on points two, three and four.  Someday Braden Holtby might enter the argument, but until he's channeled his quirkiness and led an AHL team to a championship, he'll have to be satisfied with being the third man in this trio of young, talented goaltenders.

It's time for Boudreau to hitch his wagon to his horse.

CAPS NOTES:  Mike Knuble had two goals and an assist, finishing a great fake-shot-slap-pass from John Carlson and making a beautiful wrist shot through an impressive clear and screen by Marcus Johansson. 

After the play, lip-readers were treated to Knuble patting the 20-year old rookie in the chest and saying "Good work kid."  The cross-ice pass from Ovechkin to Knuble was lovely, as was the defensive play Carlson (plus-2) made in his own end to shut the Devils' winger down, gather the puck, and spring Ovechkin up the boards.

Johansson was pointless, but finished the night plus-3, and really appears to be stepping up his game each night out.  Though he was only 3-of-11 in the dot.  I think we know what his point of emphasis is going to be over the off-season.

Jeff Schultz (plus-2) opened the scoring with a shot from the point through a screen that avoided Brodeur's glove.  It was his first goal of the season and first overall since Feb 11, 2010, a span of 81 games.

The penalty kill was again outstanding, going 3-for-3.  Particularly noteworthy was the four minute kill of a Matt Hendricks high stick that ended the second period and started the third in a 2-0 game.

Nicklas Backstrom returned from the hand injury that's sidelined him since March 7.  He centered Alexander Semin and Marco Sturm on the second line and went 13-for17 in the faceoff circle.

The Caps drew even with the Philadelphia Flyers, their next opponent next Tuesday, in points for the top seed in the Eastern Conference with 94, though the Flyers have three games in hand, including Saturday's game in Dallas against the Stars.