Showing posts with label HENDRICKS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label HENDRICKS. Show all posts

by Cheryl Nichols

The 2010-2011 Southeast Division Champion Washington Capitals hosted the Florida Panthers for the last regular season game at the Verizon Center.  The Caps wrapped up Fan Appreciation Week with a 5-2 win over the Panthers.

The Caps jumped on Florida early with two power play goals in the first period, and made sure they stayed down, adding two more before garbage time late in the third.  Mike Knuble redirected a Brooks Laich pass for his 24th of the season to start the scoring.  Jason Chimera (10), Sean Collins (1), Matt Hendricks (9) and Alex Ovechkin (32) all tallied for the red.

With the win, the Capitals now have a four-point lead over the Philadelphia Flyers for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Caps can clinch the top spot in the East with a Philadelphia loss on Friday in Buffalo or by earning a single point in Saturday’s regular season finale in Florida.


While it wasn't too shocking to see that Alex Semin was scratched again after missing the last game, it was a bit of a surprise to see Jason Arnott and Scott Hannan scratched.  Caps Head Coach Bruce Boudreau did not ask them if they wanted to sit, he just thought that they needed to rest. He said after the game, "We still have to wait to see what’s at stake on Saturday before we start taking anything for granted. We are watching the scoreboards and seeing what’s going on."

The power play finally looks on track. The Caps have scored five power play goals in their last three games. Knuble and Chimera's goals both came on the power play goal in the first period of last night's game, when the Caps really took control against an overmatched Panthers squad playing out the string.

Sean Collins scored his first goal of the season -- his second career goal  -- in the second period assisted by Ovechkin. Collins' previous NHL goal was over two years on Jan. 1, 2009 against Tampa Bay and was also assisted by The Great Eight.  "I always want to be on the ice with him [Ovi]," Collins said.  "When I get the puck usually my first option is to look for Ovi."


All Photos 2011 © Cheryl Nichols Photography/Caps News Network. All Rights Reserved.
Semyon Varlamov made 31 saves and looked great in net, earning first star honors from the media.  Boudreau was asked about his confidence in this year's goalie situation going into the playoffs and he said, “We can put one of three guys in and I know we are going to get a good game. I’m not knocking anyone else, but that is the way I feel.”

In the clubhouse after the game, a couple of players expressed their thoughts about the playoffs.  Brooks Laich explained, “We’re prepared for Saturday’s game and after that, we’ll do a little scoreboard watching to find out who we’re going to play. Monday and Tuesday we’ll have some solid practices and ramp it up for Wednesday or Thursday, whenever it is.”  He went on to say, "“We feel [like] we have a very good hockey team. We’ve shown it in the past few years in the regular season, but now we have to take the next step and that’s playoff success.”


Brooks Laich stretching during pre-game warmups (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)
Are the Caps ready for the playoffs? Matt Hendricks believes yes. "“I think so. We had a real big hiccup in the first period. We gave up way too many opportunities, but we had Varly [Semyon Varlamov] in net and he did a great job keeping us in the game. After that, I think we took over and controlled it.” 

And about retaining the Eastern Conference title?  “That is definitely one of the long term goals we set out at the beginning of the season and to be this close with 60 minutes of hockey left, it’s worth going for.”

HOME SWEET HOME
Washington closes out the regular season home schedule with the best winning percentage on home ice (25-8-8) and the least home losses (8) in the NHL. The Caps have finished in the top three in home record in each of the past three seasons, pacing the league with a 30-5-6 record last year and finishing third in 2008-09 (29-9-3). Their 84 wins at home in the last three seasons are tops in the league during that span.

GREEN TO RETURN SATURDAY?

Defenseman Mike Green, who has missed 25 of the last 27 games with concussion-like symptoms, could return to the ice for Saturday's game in Florida.  He's cleared all the tests required by the NHL for his return per the league's protocol, but the Caps elected to keep him out of Wednesday's game. 

Getting the playmaker back on the blue line and power play should provide a boost to the team as they enter the playoffs.

CAPS NEWS NETWORKS THREE STARS

3. Semyon Varlamov.  31 saves on 33 shots.  The two goals came late and at extra-strength.  Saved everything he should have.  Looked lke he was moving around fine.
2. Brooks Laich.  Two assists, plus-2.  He had his wheels going tonight and dominated in the dot, winning 9-of-12.  He's a center.
1. Alex Ovechkin. Goal, two assists, plus-2.  His playmaking of late has been beyond superb.  The pass he made to Collins was like he had eyes in the back of his head..

Hendy Re-Signs: Winners and Losers

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, February 23, 2011 | , , , , , | 0 comments »

Forward Matt Hendricks signed a two-year contract extension with the Washington Capitals today, worth a reported $1.6 million.  We evaluate the winners and losers!

WINNERS

Matt Hendricks, obviously.  The two-year extension finally gives the 29-year old something he's never had in his playing career: stability.

GM George McPhee.  He locks up a player that has become part of the heart and soul of this team, and signals to the rest of the organization that hard work can and will pay off if you perform on a nightly basis.

Caps Fans.  You can all run out and get your #26 shirseys now!

LOSERS

Matt Hendricks.  He will now have to continue to get pounded every other night, a skill he picked up later in life in order to prolong his career and make him more valuable to a playoff team's thrid or fourth line.

Matt Bradley.  Essentially, McPhee just locked Hendricks up to provide the same skill set Bradley -- a more expensive and three years older player --  performs.

D.J. King.  The Capitals are proving that they don't need a heavyweight on this team as constructed.  It's just not that much part of the game anymore.

Matt Bradley and Matt Hendricks will both tell you they aren't the most gifted players in the Washington Capitals dressing room.  That's not to say they aren't capable of chipping with a goal now and then, but the two have combined for 71 goals over 13 NHL seasons, so it's not their offense that's keeping them in the league.

Rather, it's their intensity, their emotion, their willingness to stick their nose into a scrap to bring what hockey's lexicon calls "energy."  Basically, it boils down to a simple idea that when the team needs someone to mix it up, be an agitator or get physically involved in order to inspire their teammates, one -- or both -- will step up, as they did Friday night, setting the tone for a 5-2 win over the division leading Tampa Bay Lightning.

Neither are what you would call an NHL "Heavyweight", someone who dresses with the sole intent on fighting another team's top fighter.  That role on this team is filled by D.J. King, who has dressed for just 12 games and gotten in four fights.  Realistically, with today's rules that position is slowly getting phased out.

But the need still exists on occasion for someone to drop 'em, and it's a role that Bradley has filled for several seasons.  Hendricks, in just his second full season at the age of 29, has adjusted his game a bit and realized that he needed to add more of that element to his game in order to make sure he sticks around with the big club.

In the first period of Friday's game, maybe the pivotal play of the entire evening was Hendricks crashing the crease of Tampa goalie Dwayne Roloson and perhaps, throwing the veteran off his game a bit.  It wasn't a deliberate "running", where a skater tries to take out the goalie, but Hendricks made enough contact that Roloson took exception, and punched Hendricks several times with his blocker pad, earning both men penalties.

So Matt, did you make contact with Roloson on purpose to get things started?

"Part of my game is obviously going to the net hard," Hendricks said Saturday after a spirited Caps practice.  "But we've got good coaches around here and good scouting reports and they've watched [Roloson] in his last few games and he does retaliate. If you get in his crease, if you make contact with him he's not a happy camper. So I knew if I got to the net -- I wasn't trying to end up on top of him -- just trying to make him a little upset. It is what it is. I think I got in his head a bit and I think it helped our team."

But you had to know if you mess with another team's goalie you'd have to answer the bell, right?

"It's all part of the game. It's the code, right? Isn't that what they call it?" Hendricks replied.  Sure enough, on Hendricks' next shift Tampa's resident agitator Steve Downie took up the cause to stand up for his goalie.

But to Hendricks, it was definitely worth the effort. 

"I thought we needed a little boost of energy and a little bit to get the guys going and get in [Roloson's] head a little bit. He'd shut us out the last two times. Just tried to get him to lose a little bit of focus and I think going to him hard all night -- everybody -- really, really helped, especially on Ovi's power play goal with Knuble up front working hard, him and [Tampa D Victor] Hedman kinda scrapping a little bit in the crease. Just getting him off his game."

Bradley, recently returning from a broken finger, fought with Tampa's tough guy Adam Hall later in the period.  Was he concerned about re-injuring the finger in a fight so soon upon return?  "You have to test it sometime.  Better sooner than later.  It feels great."

Coach Bruce Boudreau spoke a bit about the energy Hendricks and Bradley brought to the team.  "I thought it was important that they did what they did.  I think it showed Tampa that we weren't there just to go through the motions like we did the previous game that we lost 3-0.  So it got everybody up on the bench."

"You know, there's a time and a place for a good scrap and I thought those two were right on."

There are guys on the team that while they might be willing, just aren't equipped to play that sort of game -- center Mathieu Perreault being one of them.  He spoke about the necessity of having players to mix it up on the team.  

"That's what we need from these guys.  We want them to bring energy and and stand up for their teammates and this is what they've done.  Even Mike Knuble on the Ovechkin goal on the power play he's right in there in Roloson's kitchen all power play and then [Roloson] got rattled and then Ovi scored so this is what we've got to keep doing more." 

Neither Hendricks or Bradley picked up a point in the 5-2 win, but their efforts went a long way in providing spark and opening up ice space for the skilled players to do what they do.

It's a tough job, night in and night out willing to get punched in the face for the sake of "energy."  But it's a vital role being a player that can contribute both with their hockey sticks and with their fists when need be.

"We've got to figure out ways to get to that net and find some dirty, ugly goals." --Matt Hendricks, who was the only Capital player to take that advice to heart.
Caps console goalie Braden Holtby after 2-1shootout loss. (C.Nichols/CapsNewsNetwork)

THE RESULT:  The Washington Capitals allowed a depleted, offensive-starved New York Rangers team to come into their building with their back-up goalie and steal two points, as Washington lost their seventh straight extra-time game, 2-1 in a shootout that never should have happened.

Washington has taken a point in five straight games, going 3-0-2, but this one should have been in the win column.  The Caps tried to sit on a lead and failed to seize any of the opportunities provided to them and allowed a beaten team to score a fluky goal and send the game to overtime.

Very simply, the Caps played not to lose in the third period.  They sat back on defense and watched the Rangers get off ten shots to their measly six, most in the frantic last two minutes of regulation, after New York tied the game at one at 13:19.

It was an ugly goal, one that Marian Gaborik, the credited goal scorer, didn't even see.  Brian Boyle lofted a floater to the low slot from the point, and the puck hit Gaborik in the arm, and in the motion of turning the puck deflected off Gaborik, and perhaps Caps defenseman Karl Alzner's stick, and past a confused Braden Holtby.


The goal went to review, but with the call on the ice of "goal", it was very difficult to overrule.  Gaborik certainly did nothing on purpose to direct the puck toward the net, and it appears it never hit his stick, which was above his waist.  Gaborik didn't know what happened, as he was the last man on the ice to realize that a goal had been scored.

“It was a lucky bounce,” Matt Hendricks said. “A fluke goal on their part.  But they had been getting pretty close. They had a lot of shots. They were outplaying us in the attack zone.”

It's fitting that the deciding goal in this game would be scored in such a fashion, because it's the type of goal the Caps just aren't getting right now.

"You've heard the old cliche 'defense is your best offense' and it is," Hendricks continued.  "If you're playing well in the defensive zone you're going to force them to make mistakes, force them to turn pucks over and then you've got to use it to your benefit.  You've got to be ready to go and take the opportunities."

But the Caps squandered most of the opportunities they were presented last night. 

They managed just 17 shots on goal in regulation.  Read that again.  Just 17 shots on goal in regulation.  Alex Ovechkin had six and Hendricks had four.  That means that 16 other skaters combined for seven shots in regulation.

Brooks Laich had one shot on goal.  Mike Green had one. Mike Knuble had one.  Mathieu Perreault had zero.  The fourth line had zero combined.

That's squandering any opportunity you've been presented.

Coach Bruce Boudreau certainly noticed.  "We’ve been passing up shots to create plays. I thought there were four or five times when the defenseman or forward had it, we’d fake a shot, we had a good direct line and we’d pass it up. You score your goals by shooting the puck and going to the net.”

The Caps seemed to take some momentum from a second period goal by Hendricks, his second in as many games.  Marcus Johansson found Hendricks cutting to the far post and hit him perfectly in stride from the opposite point.  All Hendricks had to do was get his stick on it to tip it past Rangers goalie Martin Biron (23 saves).

But in the third period, the Caps came out and tried to suffocate the Rangers, content to sit on the lead and play not to lose, instead of seizing the opportunity to pounce on a wounded opponent. 

Ovechkin described the third period philosophy.  "We just get the lead and we try to make safe game and avoid mistakes. But they score a goal on a lucky bounce, it hits the glove and goes in the net. So, we can do nothing."

It says a lot about the state of the Capitals right now that the most exciting offensive player in hockey is talking about playing a "safe game" instead of going for victory.

Instead of celebrating a hard-earned victory at home, the Caps leave Verizon Center for a quick trip to Atlanta with the bitter taste of shootout defeat in their mouths. After seemingly taking a step forward on the recently concluded road trip, settling for a point in a shootout loss to a backup goalie sends them back to square one.

THE GOOD:  Marcus Johansson's pass to Matt Hendricks, cutting to the far post, was a thing of absolute beauty.  It's plays like that where you can see the young pivot is going to be making a living in this game for a long time.

It's also the type of play we used to see a lot from another Swedish center.

THE BAD: Boudreau is grasping at so many straws on the power play right now, he gave the Gordon-Steckel-King line 28 seconds of power play time.  Under no circumstances is that the right thing to do.

The Capitals went 0-for-2 on the power play, registering just a single shot on goal in four minutes.

THE UGLY: On three separate occasions last night, players that had the puck with speed entering the offensive zone deferred to Ovechkin at the blue line, leading to turnovers.  Twice Nick Backstrom, who was otherwise invisible against the Rangers, crossed the blue line with speed, only to dump it to the double-covered Ovechkin.  Chimera was guilty of it too.

If you have speed at the blue line, carry the puck to the circles and look for Ovi in the slot, or dump and chase.  STOP GOING BACKWARDS IN THE OFFENSIVE ZONE!

Rant over.

THE STATS:  Matt Hendricks (7) from Marcus Johansson (6) and Scott Hannan (7) at 1:27 of 2nd.  Holtby: L, 28 saves on 29 shots (.966).

NEXT GAME: Wednesday at Atlanta Thrashers at 7:00 pm. Last game before All-Star break.

CAPS NEWS NETWORK THREE STARS

3. Braden Holtby.  Again, just one goal in regulation.  And the player that "scored" it didn't even realize it.  The quirky kid netminder has given up three goals in three games.
2. Alex Ovechkin.  Really, he was the best player on the ice tonight, he just didn't produce any points.  Six shots, another five blocked or missed.  Speed game is coming back.  He was asked post-game if he felt more confident in himself and he replied "The Old Ovi"?  Yes, please.
1. Matt Hendricks.  Goal in regulation.  Get this -- going to the net!  Goal in the shootout.  Four shots, three hits, plus-1.  What's not to love?


Holtby victimized in the shootout. (C.Nichols/CapsNewsNetwork)

GAME 49 RE-CAP: OVECHTRICK!

Posted by Dave Nichols | Saturday, January 22, 2011 | , , , , | 2 comments »

THE RESULT:  The Washington Capitals rose to the occasion of "Hockey Night in Canada", with their superstar recording his first hat trick of the season en route to a 4-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Center.

The Caps third baby goalie, Braden Holtby, was spectacular, making several "how did he do that" saves and kept his team in the game until they were able to break out in the third period.

Alex Ovechkin really wanted this one.  Not only did he score three times, but he also had three blocks, including one late in the third period where he laid out on the ice to knock down a shot from the high slot.

Ovi's first goal was a redirect of a shot from Jeff Schultz from the point.  Later, he victimized J.S. Giguere from in close after getting clobbered by defenseman Luke Schenn.  To cap his trick, he beat Tomas Kaberle down the boards and dumped the puck into an open net to seal the win.

In between, Matt Hendricks turned hard work into a pretty goal.  On a defensive zone face off, he was able to tip the puck between Toronto's defensemen and race up the ice in on Giguere, where he made an exaggerated pump-fake to get Giguere down on the ice, then Hendricks slipped the puck on the backhand past the fallen goalie.

Earlier in the night he'd gotten his nose rearranged in a tussle with Leafs Mike Brown, but that didn't keep Hendricks from missing a shift -- he played with a plug in his nostril to keep it from bleeding.

Holtby was the big story most of the night.  He made 35 saves, allowing just a bang-bang goal to Tim Brent.  But he made two huge kick saves early in the game, and robbed Mikhail Grabovski with the glove late in the third.

Taking the win on "Hockey Night in Canada" must be extra-special for Holtby.  The youngster gave up five goals twice in November and was disappointed with his play.  He went back to Hershey and was stellar, recovering his confidence.  He has now won back-to-back games with Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov nursing injuries.

This team has as good of a stable of good, young, athletic goaltenders as anyone in the league.  It's a luxury to be able to recall a player of Holtby's talent when an injury pops up.

So the Caps come home taking five of six points available on the three-game roadie.  The games with the Islanders and Leafs were must games, and the Capitals were up to the task.  They needed those points in the standings, and what's more, they needed to prove to themselves they still knew how to win.

THE GOOD: Ovi is scoring. Enough said.

THE BAD:  Well, this game started pretty slow.  Don't judge me, I'm in a good mood.

THE UGLY: I'm going to pass on handing out an ugly.  Just a solid win as the third straight game on the road.

THE STATS: Alex Ovechkin (17) from Jeff Schultz (6) and Nick Backstrom (33) at 14:27 of 1st.  Alex Ovechkin (18) from Mike Green (14) and Jason Chimera (10) at 1:12 of 3rd.  Matt Hendricks (6) unassisted at 8:14 of 3rd.  Alex Ovechkin (19) from Nick Backstrom (34) and John Carlson (16) at 19:36 of 3rd (EN).

NEXT GAME: Monday v. New York Rangers at Verizon Center at 7:00 pm.

CAPS NEWS NETWORK THREE STARS

3. Matt Hendricks.  Broken nose in a fight?  No big deal.  He'll just score a pump-fake breakaway goal.
2. Braden Holtby.  Was simply magnificent.  He kept the Caps in the game with several ridiculous saves.
1. Alex Ovechkin.  His hat trick is huge.  He's using his outside speed and physicality inside.

"It's not like a secret." Bruce Boudreau, on getting goals around the net.

THE RESULT: In an all too familiar refrain, the Washington Capitals found themselves trailing after two periods of play, on the road against the Eastern Conference leading Philadelphia Flyers.

In 40 seconds worth of hard work in the third, the Caps tied the game up and looked to be carrying all the momentum into overtime.

But another blown defensive assignment led to an uncontested shot, and the Flyers took the two points they probably felt was theirs all along.  Salvaging one point on the road against the top team in the East was little solice to the Capitals last night after clawing their way back in it, only to have their guts ripped out again.

It's Washington's sixth straight loss in overtime games.

The Caps played in the third period like they are capable, flying around the ice, getting quality shots on net, and finishing when the opportunity presented itself.  Both goals, by Mike Knuble and Alex Ovechkin, were from within five feet of the goal.

Unfortunately, that effort was missing from the first 45 minutes or so of this game.

The Caps once again came out flat, surrendering a goal just 1:31 in, as Jeff Carter got behind the defense, wrapped around the goal and snuck one in past Michal Neuvirth. Neuvy looked out of sorts through much of the first period, and left the game at intermission.  Coach Bruce Boudreau called him "day-today" with a lower body injury.

Philly scored again in the second, as Claude Giroux was allowed to waltz though the crease uncontested, take a pass from the corner, shoot, collect his rebound, and shoot again after Semyon Varlamov was already down.

But the Caps rallied in the third, with Knuble tipping in a shot from Marcus Johansson that hit the right post and died, and Ovechkin got just enough of a puck he played with his hand to slip it by Sergei Bobrovsky.  Ovi's goal, his 16th of the season, stood after video replay.

But in OT, Johansson got caught too low in his own zone during four-on-four hockey, and Andrej Meszaros blasted a shot that eluded Varlamov for the game winner just 1:07 into extra time.

The team's captain was as introspective as he's been all season long in the locker room following the bitter loss.  "All the guys in this room understand. If we work hard and we use our skill nobody can stop us."

"Right now you can see in our first two periods, the second period we probably only put four shots on net, six shots on net.  It's not our game.  We have to go to the net, find our rebound, crash the nets, make some hits -- you know, be angry."

Ovechkin was then asked why the team couldn't do that in the first two periods. He drew a deep breath, and said,  "That's the question.  Next game is gonna be a big game for us, I think. We have to be ready right away and I hope we're gonna be ready.  I know we're gonna be ready."

You can see it for yourself below, courtesy of Caps.com's Caps 365.


This team needs to figure out why they can't get out of the gate.  Last season, the Caps led the league in first period goals.  This season: dead last so far.

The Caps lead the league in come-from-behind wins this season, but getting behind every night is more than a nuisance.  It is taking a lot out of them, and forcing their best players into more minutes.  It's certainly not the way a coach wants to script things.

The Caps have a day off, then face the Islanders on Thursday and Toronto on Saturday.  As of right now, they stand 14th and 12th in the conference.  The Islanders are minus-40 in goal differential, Toronto minus-18. 

These are both games the Caps HAVE TO HAVE.  Period.  Anything less is unacceptable.

THE GOOD: Two goals from five feet out.  One of them was by Ovechkin.  Hope everyone learned a lesson.

THE BAD: Despite the one brilliant move that set up Knuble's goal, Marcus Johansson did not have a very good night.  He was on the ice for all three Philly goals, and was caught too deep in OT to guard his man, who scored the game-winner. Also, the rookie was just 3-for-9 on faceoffs.

I think most people fail to remember the Caps, through conscious decision and now injury, are playing every night with six rookies in the lineup.

THE UGLY: D.J. King took just seven shifts and played just 4:24, getting his fight with Jody Shelly out of the way early.  He spent more time in the box than on the ice.  He's only doing the job his coach put him out there for, but if that's all his coach wants him for, it seems like he really is not the right fit for this team.

Again, I have all the respect in the world for King.  He busts his ass every day at practice, and hasn't said word one about not getting a sweater.  None of this is his fault.  But he just doesn't figure into Boudreau's game plan, and is eating a roster space -- and cap room.

Also, something else to watch: David Steckel took just 11 shifts and played just 7:00 minutes. He also lost five of his seven draws and took a hooking penalty, the only minor given out to either team on the evening.

THE STATS: Mike Knuble (11) from Marcus Johansson (5) at 7:58 of 3rd.  Alex Ovechkin (16) from Nicklas Backstrom (31) and Jason Chimera (9) at 8:38 of 3rd.  Michal Neuvirth (7-for-8 saves).  Semyon Varlamov (L, 20-of-22 saves).

NEXT GAME: Thursday at New York Islanders at 7:00 pm.

CAPS NEWS NETWORK THREE STARS

3. Matt Hendricks.  Three shots, five hits and a blocked shot.  Sandpaper.
2. Semyon Varlamov.  Made several excellent saves, none more important than on his own player, as a shot ricocheted off Mike Green, sending Varly sprawling to keep the game tied late in the third.
1. Alex Ovechkin. Played perhaps his best period of hockey in two months in the third period. Find that energy in the first Thursday night and the Islanders will crumble.

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.