October 19 vs. Boston Bruins at Verizon Center
Time: 7:30 pm TV: Versus Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM
Boston Bruins (2-1-0)
Washington Capitals (4-1-0)
Washington puts its four-game winning streak on the line Wednesday when it hosts the Boston Bruins at Verizon Center. Since dropping their season-opening game to the Thrashers in Atlanta, the Capitals have reeled off four straight victories.
Most recently, the Caps took their first road win of the season, a 3-2 overtime triumph over the Predators in Nashville on Saturday night.
The Caps were outplayed in the first half of Saturday’s game against the Preds, but netminder Michal Neuvirth kept them in the contest. Neuvirth stopped 17 of 18 first period shots while he and his teammates weathered four straight Nashville power plays.
Neuvirth allowed only two goals; he was screened on the first and the second glanced off the skate of Washington defenseman Brian Fahey.
In five starts this season, Neuvirth has posted a 2.16 GAA and a .930 save pct. He has fashioned a .914 save pct. in the first period of those five starts, .929 in the second period, and a cool .955 in the third period and overtime.
After opening 2010-11 on injured reserve, Semyon Varlamov served as Neuvirth’s back-up for the first time this season on Saturday. As well as Neuvirth is playing right now, it may be difficult to give Varlamov a start until Neuvirth falters.
“I’m hoping he is going to play soon,” says Caps bench boss Bruce Boudreau of Varlamov. “But Neuvy is playing pretty well.”
Neuvirth is the first Caps goalie to start and go the distance in each of the team’s first five games since Olie Kolzig did so in 1999-00.
If he starts and goes the distance on Tuesday against the Bruins, Neuvirth will become the first goaltender in Washington’s 36-season NHL history to play every minute of each of the team’s first six games. Only one previous Washington netminder started each of the Caps’ first six games in a season. Kolzig started each of the first half dozen games of the 1998-99 campaign, but he did not finish all six.
“One of the biggest reasons we’ve been winning is our goaltending,” says defenseman Tom Poti. “He’s been unbelievable. I think it could have been five- or six-nothing after the first two periods the other night in Nashville. He’s been playing really well and masking a lot of the problems we’ve been having.”
Poti and Mike Green sat out Saturday’s game in Nashville, the first time both had been on the sidelines in the same game since Dec. 26, 2008. Poti practiced with the team on Monday and might be ready to return to the lineup against the B’s on Tuesday.
“I don’t know, we’ll see tomorrow,” says the veteran defenseman of his possible availability against Boston. “I’m going day-by-day right now.”
Washington hopes rookie defenseman John Carlson – who leads all NHL rookies with six points – will be able to play on Tuesday. Carlson led all Caps defensemen in ice time on Saturday in the absence of Poti and Green, and the rookie rearguard also tied for the team lead with four blocked shots. One of those blocked shots sent Carlson off limping, and he left Monday’s practice early as a result.
“He’s sore,” says Boudreau of Carlson. “He took a shot on his leg and he’s sore. We said, ‘we’re down in numbers right now so let’s not push it.’ We’ll wait till tomorrow and see how it feels.”
Fahey played his first NHL game for the Caps on Saturday but was returned to AHL Hershey a day later. Mike Green has already been ruled out of Tuesday’s tilt, so Fahey or another Bears blueliner could be getting called to the District if Poti and Carlson are unable to go.
The six defensemen dressed for the Nashville game entered the game with a total of 727 career games played. With 68 games worth of NHL experience, Tyler Sloan ranked third among Washington defensemen in experience in the game against the Preds, trailing only John Erskine and Jeff Schultz.
Having to kill so many penalties early in the game taxed the Caps’ penalty killing unit and its defense.
“It was a little tough,” says Sloan. “Sometimes you get power plays or penalty kills and maybe you miss your rotation when they send guys back out and you end up sitting for instead of two minutes on the power play, maybe three or four with the rotations.
“Playing with [Fahey] his first game maybe had something to do with it, too. We didn’t log as much [ice time] as the other guys but I thought everybody did a good job. The first period was a little hairy, but we settled down and turned it on.”
Nashville is the toughest foe the Caps have faced in their first five games, but Washington has yet to put together a full 60-minute effort in any of its five games. That is a problem that plagued the team last season, too.
“I’m surprised, yeah,” admits Boudreau. “I’d like to see one, too. I told them they’re winning on talent, not the way they’re playing. We’d like them to play a little bit better, and we’re going to have to. This is a tough week.
“In October, November, December there are no weak sisters because everybody believes they’re in the playoffs and everybody is fighting for it. Sometimes you get a soft game at the end of March or beginning of April with teams that are out of it or have run into so many injuries. But nobody has got a lot of injuries right now, for the most part. So you’re seeing the best lineups every night.”
Boston opened its 2010-11 regular season slate with a pair of games in Prague against the Phoenix Coyotes. The B’s split those games, dropping a 5-2 decision in the season opener with sophomore Tuukka Rask between the pipes.
Veteran Tim Thomas pitched a 3-0 shutout against the Desert Dogs the next night, and the Bruins authored a convincing 4-1 win over the Devils in New Jersey on Saturday night in their first game on North American ice this season. The Saturday win over the Devils was also achieved with Thomas in goal.
Boston fell into a 1-0 hole early in the second period against New Jersey, but rallied for four unanswered goals in just over 12 and a half minutes time.
The 36-year-old Thomas was the 2009 Vezina Trophy winner. He struggled last season, and it is believed the Bruins shopped him late last season and into the summer but could find no takers, largely because his contract comes with a $5 million cap hit for this season and the next two.
Thomas underwent off-season hip surgery, returning to action for the first time in a 4-1 pre-season loss against Washington on Sept. 29.
Boston’s biggest off-season move was the acquisition of right wing Nathan Horton in a deal with the Florida Panthers. Horton is the Bruins’ leading scorer in the early going; he has totaled three goals and five points in the team’s first three games. Horton has also authored Boston’s lone power play tally in the first three games.