Four Straight – With the Capitals playing the front end of back-to-back games and the Wild playing the back side of consecutive contests, home-standing Washington came away with a 3-1 win over Minnesota at Verizon Center on Friday night. The win is Washington’s fourth in a row; the Caps are now 10-1-3 in their last 14 games.
For the first time in eight games, the Capitals failed to notch the game’s first goal. Minnesota’s Cal Clutterbuck scored early in the second to stake the visitors to a 1-0 lead. But the Caps would not trail for long.
With the Wild’s Antti Miettinen off for tripping, Caps defenseman Mike Green scored a power play goal at 5:39 of the second, tallying just 4:08 after Clutterbuck’s initial strike. Although the Caps dominated play for the latter half of the first and all of the second period, infrequently used back-up goaltender Josh Harding kept the Wild in the game.
The Caps took a lead in the third when Mathieu Perreault dished a feed to Brian Pothier in the offensive zone and the Washington blueliner fired a wrister high into the far corner of the cage while Eric Fehr helped provide a screen in front.
Washington netminder Semyon Varlamov stopped all 14 shots he faced in the third and 29 of 30 on the night as the Caps shut the door entirely in the third period, something they have not been able to do with frequency this season. The Capitals have held the opposition scoreless in the third just five times in 19 games this season, and Friday night’s third period donut was the team’s first in six games.
“That’s real important for us,” says Pothier of improving third-period performance. “As a team, it’s one of the things we had been struggling with. And it’s really important this time of year to start really making a commitment to holding leads and 2-1 going into the third, we have to shut down teams. That’s the sign of a great team. We’ve been good all year. But if we want to take that next step, that’s the time we need to shut them down.”
Brooks Laich added an empty-net goal in the game’s waning seconds to ice the Caps’ victory.
Varlamov has stopped 55 of 57 shots in his last two appearances. He is now 11-1-1 lifetime during the regular season.
Painful Loss – Caps right wing Mike Knuble suffered a broken finger on his left hand late in the second when he was tripped and launched into the Wild goal by a Minnesota defender during a Washington power play.
The broken digit will require surgery and Knuble will be lost for 3-4 weeks. The durable Knuble had played in all 82 games in four of the last five seasons.
Shot Disparity – Minnesota came out quickly, outshooting the Caps 7-1 in the game’s first 9:25. The Caps weathered that storm, and then wore out the weary Wild the rest of the way.
Washington outshot Minnesota 32-9 from midway through the first until Pothier netted what proved to be the game-winner at the two-minute mark of the final frame.
O From the D – Coming into Friday night’s game, Caps defensemen had combined to score just four goals (not including the two scored by natural blueliner Tyler Sloan while he was playing on the wing) in the season’s first 18 games. With goals from Green and Pothier on Friday, Washington bumped that number upwards by 50 percent.
Hot Hands – The three players who combined on Friday night’s game-winner have all held the hot hand of late.
Pothier has two goals and five points and is plus-7 in his last four games.
Perreault has a goal and four points in five games and is plus-5 during that span despite sparse and dwindling ice time. He has averaged just 10:36 a night in his five games with Washington, and has been under 10 minutes in each of the last two games. Perreault logged 9:05 on Friday, the least he has played in any game since coming to the NHL. Although Washington was down to 11 forwards after losing Knuble in the first, Perreault skated just three shifts in the second period of Friday’s game, drawing one of Washington’s three power plays on the night on one of his middle-frame twirls.
Fehr has two goals and four points and is plus-3 in his last four games despite limited ice time.
Flash Fire – Tomas Fleischmann extended his career-high scoring streak to seven games (six goals, three assists) with a helper on Green’s power play tally.
It Starts With One – Green set a Capitals record for defensemen with 18 power play goals last season. He recorded his first extra-man goal of 2009-10 on Friday against the Wild. With 16 points (three goals, 13 assists) on the season, Green is third in the league among defensemen.
Managing the Minutes –Tyler Sloan led all Capitals with 21:19 in ice time on Friday. Despite losing Knuble for the night late in the first period, the Caps’ bench braintrust managed the team’s ice time very well in the front end of back-to-back games.
Four defensemen (Sloan, Tom Poti, Green and Pothier) finished the night within less than two minutes of one another and if you add John Erskine to the mix, five blueliners finished within 3:09 of each other in ice time.
Alexander Semin led all Washington forwards with 21:07 in ice time. Laich (20:23) and Brendan Morrison (20:20) were both over 20 minutes as well.
Having a total of just six minor penalties whistled on the night – none in the third period – helped make the task of apportioning ice time less complicated.
Double Up – Washington has 52 even-strength goals on the season, the most in the NHL. Minnesota has half that amount.
Familiar Face – Pothier and Wild head coach Todd Richards were teammates on the 2000-01 Turner Cup champion Orlando Solar Bears of the now defunct International Hockey League.
Pothier, then 23, is a decade younger than Richards. Both were blueliners for the Solar Bears that ousted the Chicago Wolves (coached by John Anderson, now the bench boss of the Atlanta Thrashers) in five games in the last Turner Cup final series ever. The league disbanded after that season.
For what it’s worth, one of Pothier’s occasional defense partners here in D.C. also played in the IHL that season. John Erskine played for the Utah Grizzlies that season, and his total of 284 PIM was third in the league behind Orlando’s Darcy Hordichuk (369) and Grand Rapids’ Chris Neil (354).
This Date In NHL History – Newly enshrined Hockey Hall of Famer Brett Hull notched the first of his 741 career NHL goals on this date in 1986 for the Calgary Flames in a game against the Hartford Whalers.
Caps Killer – Clutterbuck scored twice when Washington visited St. Paul to take on the Wild last November. He now has three goals in two career games against the Caps.
By The Numbers – The Caps won 17 of 24 (71%) of the second period face-offs in Friday’s game … Only two Capitals (Knuble and defenseman Shaone Morrisonn) did not register a shot on goal tonight … David Steckel was 15-for-18 (83%) in the face-off circle.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears began the weekend atop the league’s East Division standings and at home hosting the Norfolk Admirals at the Giant Center. The Bears prevailed, 5-3.
With Michal Neuvirth minding the twine for the Bears, Hershey fell behind early. Norfolk’s Blair Jones scored at 1:09 of the first to give the visitors an quick 1-0 lead. The Bears when went on a scoring spree, netting four unanswered goals over a span of a period and a half.
Keith Aucoin scored the Bears’ first goal – his seventh of the season – with help from Karl Alzner and Alexandre Giroux at 9:06 of the first period. Giroux scored his eighth of the season, an unassisted marker at 7:19 of the second, to give the Bears a 2-1 advantage. Hershey pushed its cushion to 3-1 on Oskar Osala’s sixth of the season midway through the second, Jay Beagle and Darren Reid assisting. Andrew Joudrey’s third goal of 2009-10 came late in the middle frame with Aucoin and Bryan Helmer earning the assists.
The Admirals made it interesting with a pair of goals in the third, but Hershey iced it on Steve Pinizzotto’s empty-netter in the final second. Neuvirth picked up the lone assist on the insurance tally. The Bears’ goaltender made 26 saves to push his record to 5-3 on the season.
The win runs the Bears’ record to 12-5 on the season. Hershey holds a four-point bulge over second place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL’s East Division. The Bears host the Baby Pens at Giant Center on Saturday night.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays dropped a 3-2 shootout decision on the road in Gwinnett on Friday. Matt Fornataro and Michael Dubuc scored for the Rays and Braden Holtby made 33 saves in a losing effort.
At 8-2-1-3, the Stingrays still lead Gwinnett by six points in the ECHL’s South Division standings.
The Stingrays host Charlotte on Saturday at North Charleston Coliseum.