Four-Point Weekend – For the second time in three weekends, the Caps have taken a perfect four points out of a weekend home—and-road set of back-to-back games. With Sunday’s 2-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center, the Caps have solidified their hold on eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
With 13 games remaining, the Capitals hold a four-point lead over the Winnipeg Jets and the Buffalo Sabres, the two teams currently tied for ninth in the conference. The Caps have two game remaining with the Jets – including a contest in Winnipeg this Friday night – and one with the Sabres.
“Really big 48 hours,” says Caps center Brooks Laich. “Good win [in Boston Saturday] and we carried it right over into today. Maybe we got lucky with the schedule and [the Maple Leafs] are tired and have to travel, but really, really big 48 hours for us.”
After grabbing a lead in the first on Laich’s 14th goal of the season, the Caps stifled the Leafs the rest of the way. Washington netminder Michal Neuvirth faced just 23 shots, the second fewest he has faced in his seven career NHL whitewashes. Neuvirth’s teammates combined to block nearly as many shots (21) as he saved.
“We didn’t really give them anything,” says Caps center Mathieu Perreault, who supplied a key insurance tally in the first minute of the third period. “They had a few chances, but nothing crazy. I think we kept them to the outside a lot and we took their speed away. They’ve got a lot of speed and we took that away from them.”
Washington is now 6-2-1 in its last nine games. The Caps’ season mark is 35-28-6, matching their high-water mark for the season. The last time the Caps had seven more wins than regulation losses was after a 3-2 shootout loss to the Jets at Verizon Center on Feb. 9.
Short Stuff – Laich’s shorthanded goal in the first period against the Leafs was the third for Washington this season and the first by someone not named Jason Chimera. Laich’s shorthanded strike is the ninth of his NHL career and his first since Oct. 9, 2010 when he scored a shorty in the Caps’ 2010-11 home opener against New Jersey.
After returning home from the Capitals’ win at Boston on Saturday, Laich did some pre-scouting of the Leafs. He watched Toronto’s home game against the Flyers on Saturday night.
Laich noted that rookie Toronto blueliner Jake Gardiner – the NHL’s leading scorer among rookie defensemen – doesn’t always check his blind spot when he leaves a drop pass on the Toronto power play.
The Caps center exploited that intelligence, swooping in to scoop up Gardiner’s errant drop pass and putting the puck behind Toronto netminder Jonas Gustavsson to give the Caps all the offense they would require on this day.
“[Caps forward Jason Chimera] was right beside me,” says Laich, “but then he went for a change. So I switched to the left side and then Gardiner started skating it up. He didn’t look at me, and I was beside him. I thought he was going to just dump [the puck into the attack zone] but he dropped it and I was able to make a play off of it.”
Laich has now scored at least one shorthanded goal in each of the last six seasons.
On Saturday in Boston, Laich’s power-play goal was the game-winner in a 4-3 win over the Bruins. On Sunday against the Leafs, Laich’s shorthanded goal was the game-winner.
The 100 Club – Neuvirth appeared in the 100th game of his NHL career on Sunday against the Maple Leafs. He recorded his 10th win of the season, the 48th of his NHL career and he also notched his third shutout of the season and the seventh of his NHL career.
“I’ve got to give credit to my teammates,” says Neuvirth. “They did an outstanding job. It wasn’t a hard game for me.”
Today’s whitewash was just the second of Neuvirth’s seven lifetime to come on home ice. He blanked the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 at Verizon Center on Feb. 6, 2011.
Blackjack – The Caps are now 21-0-0 in games in which they’ve led after the second period this season.
Few Draws Needed – The Capitals and Leafs played a stretch of 7:01 in the middle of the second period without a whistle. There were only nine face-offs in the second period altogether; at 28 minutes it was the fastest frame of hockey played at Verizon Center this season.
There are three television timeouts per period normally, but there were only two in the second period of Sunday’s Caps-Leafs game.
The entire game was played in a snappy 2:11, and there were just 39 face-offs during the contest.
Ex-Caps Coaching Carousel – When the Caps dismissed Bruce Boudreau as their coach on Nov. 28, it set off an interesting ride on the NHL’s coaching carousel.
Ex-Caps captain replaced Boudreau behind the Washington bench, and a couple days later, ex-Caps coach Boudreau replaced ex-Caps assistant coach Randy Carlyle as the head coach of the Anaheim Ducks.
Earlier this month, ex-Caps assistant coach Carlyle replaced ex-Caps coach Ron Wilson behind the Maple Leafs’ bench. Wilson was the Caps’ head coach and Hunter was the Caps’ captain in the spring of 1998 when Washington made the lone Stanley Cup final appearance of its franchise history.
To tie it all up in a neat little knot, Boudreau, Carlyle and Wilson were all teammates on the 1976-77 Dallas Blackhawks of the old Central Hockey League. The three were also Maple Leafs teammates starting in 1977-78. The late Roger Neilsen coached both the Dallas and Toronto teams with each of those three future NHL head coaches.
Drawing Blanks – Today’s game marked Toronto’s second shutout loss in as many games. The Leafs are now without a goal in their last 157 minutes and 24 seconds of hockey, dating back to Carl Gunnarsson’s goal in the second period of a 3-2 loss to the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
“Are we sacrificing risk hockey for offense?” asks Carlyle. “Yeah, I would agree with that. I believe that when teams play better defense, usually the offense comes around. We are starving for offense right now. We need a bounce to go our way. It’s not like we are not creating quality scoring chances; we are creating them.”
Fallen Leafs – Toronto is all but dead in the water in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. The Leafs have won two of their last 16 games (2-12-2) and they’ve been outscored by a combined total of 56-33 in those 16 contests.
With 13 games remaining, the Maple Leafs’ maximum number of points they can amass is now at 94.
Down On The Farm – The ECHL South Carolina Stingrays concluded a busy weekend with a Sunday matinee match against the Cincinnati Cyclones. The Stingrays won 3-1 to salvage two points from a weekend in which they played three games.
Daniel Koger, Matt Scherer and Billy Ryan scored for the Stingrays to support the 27-save efforts of Philipp Grubauer in the South Carolina cage.
The 34-24-4-2 Stingrays are third in the ECHL’s South Division, nine points behind front-running Gwinnett.
By The Numbers – Dennis Wideman was Washington’s only 20-minute man on Sunday. He skated a team high 25:43 … Wideman also led the Caps with four hits and four blocked shots … Matt Hendricks led the Capitals with four shots on net.