October 21 vs. Boston Bruins at TD Garden
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Caps Report/Pre-Cap podcast at 2 p.m.
Washington Capitals (4-2-0) Boston Bruins (3-1-0)
The 2010-11 NHL season opened two weeks ago, but the globetrotting Boston Bruins are just getting around to hosting their home opener on Thursday. The Capitals will be in Beantown to supply the opposition on Thursday, two nights after the B’s administered a 3-1 defeat to the Capitals at Verizon Center.
The Caps put together one of their more consistent, 60-minute efforts of the season against the Bruins on Tuesday. Washington recorded a single-game season high with 36 shots on goal and a single-game season low with just 21 shots against. While the Caps outplayed and outchanced the Bruins, Boston made the most of its limited opportunities and grabbed an early 2-0 lead.
Forced to play catch-up, the Capitals manufactured plenty of chances but were able to solve B’s goalie Tim Thomas just once. Washington’s four-game winning steak came to a halt.
“We had lots of chances in the third period when it got a little desperate [Tuesday] but we’ve just got to be desperate for 60 minutes,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “I thought [Tuesday’s] game we played pretty well as good as we’ve played all year if you look at what we limited in scoring chances, shots on goal differential and all of those things. Sometimes it doesn’t go your way.”
After starting each of the season’s first six games, goaltender Michal Neuvirth left Tuesday’s game midway through the first period with flu symptoms. Although the rookie made it through practice on Wednesday, he says he is still not feeling up to par.
Netminder Semyon Varlamov suffered a lower body injury during training camp and opened the season on injured reserve. He was activated last weekend, and he made his 2010-11 debut Tuesday night, getting 45 minutes in relief of Neuvirth.
The relief outing was Varlamov’s first action since he turned in a spotless 30 minutes (making 20 saves) in the team’s first pre-season contest of the fall on Sept. 22 at Columbus.
Varlamov stopped 13 of the 14 shots he faced on Tuesday against the Bruins. He was slated to get his first start of the season against the B’s on Thursday in Boston, anyway.
During the off-season, many questioned Washington’s wisdom in going into the season with a pair of 22-year-old netminders, given that the Caps are a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. But the respective résumés of Neuvirth and Varlamov are solid, if short.
Neuvirth is now 15-7 with a 2.72 GAA and a .912 save pct. in 28 career appearances (25 starts). Varlamov is 19-4-7 with a 2.49 GAA and a .911 save pct in 33 games (28 starts).
If there is an issue with Washington’s youthful tandem, it’s related to the health issues both goalies have had in their brief North American careers. The Caps haven’t had both of them healthy ad ready to play in the last month, but they hope to have them both healthy and playing well once Neuvirth is past his bout with the flu.
“I guess if both goaltenders are playing well, we’ll probably just rotate them until it doesn’t happen,” says Boudreau. “When you start getting into November, you’re getting into an awful lot of games and an awful lot of travel. It would be a complete luxury if you had two goalies that are going to play good.
“Eventually it will work its way out where somebody is going to take control. That will be a great, tough question to answer two months from now.”
In addition to good goaltending, the Caps have gotten perfect penalty killing in the early going of 2010-11. Through six games, the Capitals have killed off all 25 of the opposition’s manpower advantage opportunities.
Washington has been a man down for a total of 46:45 (including 1:22 during which it was two men short) in its first six games, and it has successfully stopped all 29 of its opponents’ power play shots on goal during that span.
Only one team in the post-expansion era – the 2008-09 Minnesota Wild – started a season by going through the first seven games without a single shorthanded blemish. The Wild were 22-for-22 during their seven-game run two years ago.
“It’s come at a good time,” says Caps defenseman Tom Poti, now in his fourth season as a staple of the team’s penalty killing outfit. “We’re struggling to score a little bit. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is we’re taking away the other team’s points [on the penalty kill].
“Last year it was kind of a shooting gallery out there. We had everyone down low and left the point guys open. They used to just take bombs away, and when teams take shots like that and get pucks through it’s a mess down low with that extra forward they have. Our forwards are doing a really good job up high by not letting those guys make plays and take shots.”
Thursday’s Bruins home opener figures to feature some pomp and pageantry, and the home folks will be happy to welcome their 3-1 hockey team back to its own barn. Poti and his teammates believe they can keep up with whatever the Bruins bring if they play like they did in Tuesday’s loss to Boston back in the District.
“Usually a team’s home opener they come out hard and try to put on a pretty good show for their fans,” says the Massachusetts-born defenseman. “It’s a game where we have to be ready. If we come with the same effort we did [Tuesday] night, I think we’ll be successful.”