First Response – In each of their two previous games, the Washington Capitals had gone into the third period all even. In each of their two previous games, the Capitals surrendered three third-period goals on their way to a defeat.
The second of those losses, a 5-2 setback at the hands of the Dallas Stars on Tuesday at Verizon Center, led to a grueling and lengthy practice session for the Capitals. On Friday night in New Jersey, the Caps got their first chance to respond to the message coach Bruce Boudreau sent their way with Wednesday’s arduous practice session.
After spotting the Devils an early goal, the Caps found themselves in a familiar position, all even after 40 minutes of play. This time, they seized the game for themselves with a pair of third-period tallies. Washington bent but did not break defensively in the third, and the Capitals got out of Newark with a 3-1 win.
“I thought the first six minutes we didn’t get out of our zone too much,” says Boudreau of the game’s first period. “But the thing I liked was that [the Devils] didn’t get anything out of it. Sometimes you come out that hard and you either get two goals or you don’t get anything out of it. It’s hard to keep going at that pace.”
Alex Ovechkin’s second-period goal evened it up, bringing the moment of truth to bear in the third. With Jason Chimera still in the penalty box for 1:39 at the start of the third for a roughing minor incurred late in the second, the Caps had to hold off the New Jersey power play.
Washington killed the remainder of the Chimera infraction, but seconds later Mike Knuble was sent off for tripping. That’s when the game turned.
Troy Brouwer chipped the puck loose along the wall in the Washington end. Chimera collected the disc and chugged down the right wing wall, past virtually the entire Devils team. He used his speed to get past the defense, then he cut to the middle, waited for Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur to commit and then went further left before lifting the puck up over the prone New Jersey netminder for the Capitals’ first shorthanded goal of the season and a 2-1 lead.
Marcus Johansson supplied an insurance tally later, but Chimera’s strike stood up as the game-winner. The speedy Washington winger was confident that the Caps would kill the penalty that put the team on the spot to start the third.
“I knew we were going to kill that one,” says Chimera. “Guys buckled down on the PK tonight and it was really good. Lot of blocked shots and some timely saves by [Caps goalie Tomas] Vokoun, too. It was nice to get that kill, and it was nice to get a short-handed goal, too, obviously.”
Washington’s first shorthanded goal of the season couldn’t have come at a better time.
“You look through history – and I wouldn’t want to do the calculating – but when you score a shorthanded goal in a tight game,” says Boudreau, “that team almost always wins. It’s pretty amazing, the numbers of a momentum-changer that that can be.
Accountability – Caps winger Alexander Semin took an offensive zone hooking call in the first period, had just four second period shifts and spent the bulk of the second half of the contest glued to the Washington bench when Boudreau juggled the forward lines and shortened up his bench in an effort to get his charges going.
“I just thought a couple guys weren’t going and thought I had to change the lines around a little bit,” says the Caps bench boss when asked about his reasoning.
Boudreau was then asked why Semin sat for so long.
“He was one of the guys I shortened the bench with,” declares Boudreau. “He’s a great player and he’s a player we’re going to need [Saturday] night. But he took another penalty, and at the same time there were some plays where I thought he could have done a little bit more and he didn’t.
“[It was] one of those feelings. I’ve had him for four years now and he just didn’t look like he had it tonight. I hadn’t done that I don’t think to him before, but I just thought we had to shorten the bench to get guys in the game.”
Feeling The Rhythm – While Boudreau’s short bench left Semin and rookie Cody Eakin on the bench for the entirety of the third period, it also gave plenty of ice time to others.
Jeff Halpern skated a total of 10 shifts in the first two periods and then had 10 more in the third alone. Joel Ward had 11 shifts in the first 40 minutes and 10 in the final 20, as did Chimera.
“When you seem to roll over like that you get more rhythm,” says Chimera. “As anyone knows, when you play a little more you get to feel the puck a little more and you feel a little better out there. It’s one of the things that happens with a short bench.”
Ovechkin ended the night with 20:25 in ice time, just the fourth time in 14 games this season – and the second time in the last 12 games – that he has eclipsed the 20-minute mark in a game.
“When you play three lines in the game,” says the Caps’ captain, “your shift is shorter and you know you’re going to play every third shift. So you just keep your energy and play as hard as you can at that moment when you’re on the ice.”
“We went with basically 10 forwards and five defensemen the last half of the game,” notes Boudreau. “I thought this was a really important game for us, to come back after the loss on Tuesday. We were doing everything we could to win that game.”
Bang From The Blueline – A defenseman had a hand in each of Washington’s three goals, as Dennis Wideman, John Erskine and Karl Alzner each collected assists on the night. Capitals defensemen had now collected at least one point in each of the team’s first 14 games this season, and they’ve totaled 10 goals and 27 assists for 37 points in that span.
52 Pick-Up – Defenseman Mike Green was back in the lineup for the first time in nearly three weeks on Saturday, but his night was cut short because of a different ailment than the one that caused him to miss the team’s previous six games.
After absorbing a hit along the wall in the defensive zone from Devils forward Ryan Carter late in the first period, Green went gingerly to the bench. He took a shift or two early in the second, but wasn’t seen after that.
“It’s a different soreness,” says Boudreau. “At least it’s not the ankle, so that’s good news. He’s a little sore.”
Green finished the night with just 7:44 in ice time.
“It’s a day-to-day thing,” says Boudreau, “and not a three-week day-to-day thing. It’s an actual day-to-day thing.”
The Capitals are now 8-0 when Green is in the lineup and just 2-4 when he is not.
Twin City Twins – Caps forward Matt Hendricks – a native of the Twin Cities area in Minnesota – became a father for the first time on Thursday when wife Kim gave birth to twins. Mom and babies (Gunnar, a boy and Lennon, a girl) were reported to be doing well.
Hendricks was a bit worn down and frayed at the edges, but visibly happy as well. He did not accompany the team to New Jersey on Thursday, but his teammates learned the news of the new additions to the Capitals family as they arrived at the hotel on Thursday night.
“I feel fatigued, that’s for sure,” says the popular Caps forward. “I feel tired. But the guys did a tremendous job. It’s a big win. Tomas played great. A lot of guys played real well tonight. It was a gritty road win that we wanted. Now we can look forward to tomorrow.”
Hendricks missed Friday’s morning skate, then hopped a train to Newark in time to log 11:42 in ice time on Friday night against the Devils.
“It was very exciting and happy to share it with my teammates today with a big W,” beams Hendricks. “It’s been a whirlwind. I took a train up here this afternoon. It’s hard to explain. There are a lot of people out there who know what I mean, but it’s hard to explain with words.
Asked about the names he and his wife chose, Hendricks elaborated.
“My mother is 100 percent Swede,” he says. “Gunnar stands for, it’s a Scandanavian warrior. That’s the meaning behind that name. With Lennon, we’re both big fans of The Beatles and John Lennon. We liked it and it wasn’t very popular and it didn’t seem too over the top. I’ll give my wife all the credit on those.”
Teen-Age Kicks – Devils defenseman Adam Larsson victimized Vokoun for his first NHL goal at 13:06 of the first period. Larsson was New Jersey’s first pick (fourth overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. His first NHL tally came just a day before his 19th birthday.
Three Grand – New Jersey’s line of ex-Cap Dainius Zubrus (997 career NHL games), Patrik Elias (975) and Petr Sykora (949) features a trio of players who could each reach the 1000-games played plateau this season.
Special Delivery Devils – New Jersey killed off all four Washington power plays on the night and is now a perfect 30-for-30 in penalty killing on home ice. However, the Devils have now given up three shorthanded goals on the season, tied with Montreal for the most in the league.
Devils foes have scored more shorthanded goals (two) on New Jersey ice than power play goals (none).
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears hosted division rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Friday night at Giant Center, seeking their first home ice win over the Baby Pens in more than 18 months.
Hershey started strong but wound up on the short end of a 5-4 overtime decision.
Julien Brouillette (his second), Jacob Micflikier (his sixth), Keith Aucoin (his fourth) and Mattias Sjogren (his second) scored for the Bears while Patrick McNeill and Graham Mink each had two assists. Dany sabourin made 21 saves but absorbed the loss in the Hershey nets.
The 7-3-3 Bears are tied for second in the AHL’s East Division. Hershey hosts Bridgeport on Sunday.
By The Numbers – Washington had just eight shot attempts in the first period (six on net, two that missed). Three of the Caps’ six shots on net came in the final nine seconds of the first frame. The Capitals finished the night with just 30 shot tries (20 on net, five blocked, five misses) … Chimera led the way with four shots on goal … Brouwer paced the Caps with three hits … Nicklas Backstrom won 60 percent (12 of 20) of his face-offs on the night … Wideman skated 27:11 on the night, most for a Capital in any game thus far this season. He led the Caps with 5:28 in power play time while Brooks Laich skated 5:35 of the 10 minutes in which the Capitals were shorthanded … John Carlson led the Caps with 17:07 in even-strength ice time … Zach Parise led the Devils with six shots on goal … Carter led the Devils with six hits.