Four-Point Weekend – Heading into Saturday night’s game with the Maple Leafs in Toronto, the Capitals had gone nearly six weeks between consecutive victories. With a home ice win over the Canadiens on Friday night, the Caps had a chance to put together consecutive wins for the first time since they reeled off three straight from Jan. 11-15.
Not only that, they had a chance to break a tie for ninth-place between themselves and the Leafs for ninth-place in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Caps started swiftly, scoring twice in the first four minutes and adding two more tallies in the second to take a 4-0 lead. Washington held on for a 4-2 victory over the Leafs and a desperately needed four-point weekend.
Marcus Johansson’s wraparound goal gave the Caps a 1-0 lead just 32 seconds into the first and Alexander Semin’s swipe and snipe made it 2-0 at 3:46 of the first.
Jeff Halpern and Keith Aucoin scored in the second to give the Caps some necessary breathing room.
“Two huge wins for us,” says Halpern of the Capitals’ weekend performance. “It was a disappointing week for sure. I thought we played well [Friday] night and I thought we played well for two periods tonight. I think it’s the nature of the game, you end up sitting back. But obviously we want to do a much better job of being able to shut teams down with the lead.
The weekend wins move the Caps two points ahead of the Leafs and into sole possession of ninth place in the Eastern Conference. Washington trails Florida and Winnipeg by a point for the top spot in the Southeast Division standings. The Caps have played two fewer games than Winnipeg and two more games than the Panthers.
The Caps have two games left with Winnipeg (one at home and one on the road) and one with Florida (at home).
Net Decision – Less than two weeks ago, Neuvirth started and lost against the Rangers in New York in the first of back-to-back games. Tomas Vokoun was slated to start that day, but he came down with the flu and was unavailable for both that game and the home ice match-up with the San Jose Sharks the next day.
Neuvirth dropped a 3-2 decision to New York, but rather than go back to him against the Sharks, the Caps elected to recall Braden Holtby from AHL Hershey to take on San Jose. Holtby and the Caps lost that game, and a healthy Vokoun started each of Washington’s next four contests.
Neuvirth relieved Vokoun in the last two of those four straight starts and started Friday night’s game against the Habs, his first starting assignment since the aforementioned New York game on Feb. 12.
Tonight against the Leafs, the Caps’ brass had no qualms about going with Neuvirth for the second time in as many nights. Their confidence in him was rewarded, as he stopped 28 of 30 Toronto shots to earn his eighth win of the season.
“He played well tonight,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter. “He made the big stops when he had to, and that’s what you need from your goaltending.”
Coming into Saturday night’s game against the Leafs at Air Canada Centre, Neuvirth was 1-1 with a 4.15 GAA and an .838 save pct. in three career appearances (two starts) against Toronto on the road.
Saturday’s game marked the first time this season that Neuvirth has started both ends of games on back-to-back nights.
A Rare Luxury – Tonight’s game marked the first time in six road games that Washington scored a goal in the first period. It was also the first time in six games – and just the fifth time in 32 road games this season – that Washington held a lead at the conclusion of the first period of road game.
“That’s big,” says Hunter, “especially on the road for us. We’ve been getting behind early and it’s hard to come back in this league. It just proves a point again, we’ve got to have a good first [period] and good things will happen.”
Washington’s two-goal output in the first matched its most goals in the first period of a road game this season; tonight was the fourth time the Caps have scored two goals in the first period of a road game and the first time they had done so since a 3-0 win over the Habs in Montreal on Jan. 18.
In 20 of their 32 road games this season, the Caps have failed to score in the first frame.
The Caps are 20-6-3 when they score the game’s first goal this season. They are 16-1-1 when leading after the first period and 19-0-0 when leading after the second frame in 2011-12.
Yo, Canada – Washington is now 11-5-1 in games against Canadian teams this season. The Capitals are 10-1-1 in their last dozen games against Canadian clubs, and they’ve outscored their foes from the north by a combined total of 38-22 during those dozen games.
Sweep City – Tonight’s game marked the second time this season the Capitals have swept both ends of a back-to-back set of games. Washington defeated Buffalo at home on Dec. 30 and Columbus on the road the next night.
The Caps are 6-3-1 in the first game of back-to-backs this season and they are 3-6-1 in the second half of contests on consecutive nights.
Hot Hands – Semin remains the Caps’ hottest offensive weapon. He now has 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) in his last 31 games.
On The Board – Aucoin recorded his first NHL point of the season with an assist on Johansson’s goal in the first frame. Aucoin netted his first goal of the season in the second. Saturday’s contest was Aucoin’s eighth in the NHL this season.
Aucoin now has 28 points (nine goals, 19 assists) in 83 career NHL games.
The 300 Club – Caps right wing Troy Brouwer skated in the 300th game of his NHL career here tonight at Air Canada Centre. Brouwer played in his first NHL game on Dec. 23, 2006 with the Chicago Blackhawks in Denver against the Avalanche.
The 100 Club – Caps center Mathieu Perreault played in the 100th game of his NHL career night in Toronto. Perreault’s first NHL game came on Nov. 4, 2009 at New Jersey.
Birthday Boy – Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz celebrated his 26th birthday on Saturday, doing so in the same barn in which he netted his first NHL goal back on Oct. 29, 2007.
Tonight, Schultz skated 21:40, he blocked two shots and finished with a plus-1. The ice time total was six seconds off his highest of the season, a 21:46 workload against the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Oct. 13 in the Capitals’ third game of the season.
Tonight marked the third time in 39 games played this season that Schultz exceeded the 20-minute mark in a game.
Déjà Vu – For the second consecutive game, the Maple Leafs fell into a 1-0 hole at the 32-second mark of the first period. San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau put his team on top here on Thursday night in a 2-1 San Jose win over the Leafs.
Milestone Coming – Ex-Caps bench boss Ron Wilson now runs the Leafs bench, and tonight he coached in the 1,399th game of his NHL career against one of his former employers.
Wilson is now one game shy of matching longtime NHL bench boss Pat Quinn (1,400 games) for fourth on the NHL’s all-time games coached ledger.
Scotty Bowman (2,141) tops that list followed by Al Arbour (1,607), Dick Irvin (1,449) and Quinn.
Anniversary – The Maple Leafs honored the 50th anniversary of their 1962 Stanley Cup-winning team with a moving video tribute followed by the on-ice introduction of 10 members of that championship team: team captain George Armstrong, Bob Baun, Johnny Bower, Dick Duff, Larry Hillman, Red Kelly, John MacMillan, Bob Nevin, Bob Pulford and Eddie Shack.
During warm-ups prior to Saturday’s game with the Capitals, The Maple Leafs wore white vintage 1962 sweaters adorned with the names of the players from that 1962 championship team.
In the middle of the second period, a video display honored those members of the 1962 Leafs team and organization who have passed away.
That 1962 club was the first of four Stanley Cup championship clubs from Toronto in the 1960s. The Leafs also claimed the coveted chalice in 1963, 1964 and 1967.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears hosted East Division rival Norfolk on Saturday at Giant Center. The Bears suffered a 4-3 loss to the Admirals.
Matt Pope, Chris Bourque and Kyle Greentree scored for Hershey while Holtby made 17 saves in a losing effort.
Hershey is third in the AHL’s East Division, six points behind Norfolk.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays hosted South Division-leading Gwinnett on Saturday night at North Charleston Coliseum.
Maxime Lacroix’s hat trick led the Stingrays to a 5-2 win over the Gladiators. Trent Campbell and Chris Higgins also scored for South Carolina. Philipp Grubauer made 25 saves to record his 20th win of the season.
The Stingrays are now in third place in the ECHL’s South Division, seven points behind Gwinnett. South Carolina hosts the Gladiators again on Sunday afternoon.
By The Numbers – Johansson has scored the game’s first goal four times this season. Only Alex Ovechkin (six) has scored the game’s first goal more frequently among Capitals this season … Ovechkin and Semin led the Caps with five shots on goal each … Dennis Wideman, Brooks Laich and Jay Beagle led the Caps with three hits each … John Carlson led the Capitals with five blocked shots.