A Different First – Throughout the 2009-10 season, the Capitals have been one of the league’s best first-period teams. The Caps have routinely outshot and outscored teams in the game’s first frame this season, and that early dominance was a big part of the team’s first-half success.
On Saturday night in Atlanta, the Caps struggled territorially in the first 20 minutes, but still managed to emerge with a 3-0 lead. They rode that early advantage to an 8-1 triumph over the Thrashers.
Despite getting outshot by 18-6 in the game’s first 20 minutes, Washington got an even-strength goal (from Mike Knuble), a shorthanded goal (from Alexander Semin) and a power play goal (from Nicklas Backstrom) in the first. The Capitals added another in the second and four in the third to cruise to an easy win.
Michal Neuvirth made 38 saves – 18 of them in the first – to help the Caps to the win.
“I think we should be honest about what happened in the first,” says Knuble. “If Neuvy is not sharp right out of the gate it’s a whole different game. You see the score and it looks like it was completely one-sided but that wasn’t the case. He made some good saves in the beginning.
“Games go like that sometimes, but you need your goalie when a team wakes up a little bit. The first 10 minutes were hectic, maybe even more than the first 10 minutes. He held us in there and then our offense got the breaks. We capitalized on any good chance.”
Prior to tonight’s game, the Caps had held a 452-403 first-period advantage in shots on goal. The Thrashers had been outshot by a combined 489-388 in the first.
Changing The Script – Tonight marked the third time in as many visits to Atlanta in 2009-10 that Washington charged out to a three-goal lead. The plucky Thrashers did not go away the first two times the Caps visited; both of those games ended with Washington clinging to a one-goal margin.
Tonight, the Caps administered the knockout blow when Semin scored his second of the game at 6:58 of the third. That goal gave Washington a 5-1 lead.
“After the second period,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “we talked about that if you looked at their scoring, their third period is by far their best period. They’re almost outscoring the opposition by 2-1 [in the third]. But I think when we got the first goal in the third period, that was a heartbreaker for them. As much as they wanted to, I don’t think they had the energy to fight to come back all the way after that.”
Atlanta went into Saturday night’s game with a 56-32 advantage in third-period goals this season. The Caps outscored Atlanta 4-0 in the third period tonight.
Finished Here – The Caps and Thrashers have gone head-to-head three times this season, with all three of the games coming in Atlanta. The two teams have three games left against one another, all in Washington. This season marks the first time the Caps and Thrashers have ever split the season series so that all the games in one building were played before the first one in the other.
Washington won all three games against the Thrashers in Atlanta this season, marking the first time ever the Caps have posted a perfect mark in every game they’ve played against the Thrashers here.
Swiftest To Sixty – Saturday night’s win pushed the Caps to 60 points on the season, making the 2009-10 Caps the fastest team in franchise history to reach that plateau. This year’s club got to 60 in 44 games while the 1985-86 Caps needed 45 games to get to 60 points.
Climbing The Ladder – Saturday’s victory pushed Bruce Boudreau’s record as the Caps’ coach to 114-52-21 in 187 games.
The win moves Boudreau into fourth place on Washington’s all-time coaching wins list, one ahead of Jim Schoenfeld. Schoenfeld won 113 of the 249 Caps games he coached.
Boudreau is now 49 victories behind Terry Murray for third place on that list.
Streaking – With his first-period assist on Knuble’s first goal of the night, Caps defenseman Tom Poti recorded a helper for the fifth straight game, establishing a personal high for most consecutive games with a helper.
Later in the game, Poti added a second assist and also scored his first goal of the season.
Road Killing – Washington entered Saturday’s game with a 74.4% penalty kill rate on the road this season, the second-worst mark in the NHL. The Caps went 3-for-3 while shorthanded against the Thrashers on Saturday.
The Capitals have allowed just nine power play goals in 20 home games this season. They’ve surrendered 23 power play goals in 24 road contests.
Blueline Bonanza – In each of Washington’s last four goals in Thursday’s 5-2 win over Ottawa and each of its first five goals tonight, a defenseman had a hand in the scoring. That gave the Caps a run of nine straight goals with offensive involvement from the defense.
Caps blueliners totaled a goal and seven assists in Saturday’s win over Atlanta. For the season, Washington defensemen have combined for 17 goals and 80 assists, although Tyler Sloan’s two goals came while he was playing on the wing.
With 97 points this season, Caps defensemen have a good shot at eclipsing the 151 points they put up last season. That total was the most of any Washington blueline corps since the 1997-98 Stanley Cup final team combined for 151 points from the blueline.
Double Nickel – Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz had his second strong game in Atlanta this season. Schultz skated a season-high 26:10, picked up a pair of assists and was plus-5 on the night.
Earlier this season, Schultz had a goal and two assists and was plus-3 here. He has a goal and five points and is plus-8 in three games at Philips Arena this season.
“I don’t know what it is,” says the big Caps blueliner. “It all started last game. I’d just like to keep it going.”
Goals Are Our Business, And Business Is Good – The Caps have scored four or more goals in each of the three games they’ve played against Atlanta this season. Washington has scored four or more goals in 10 of its last 11 meetings with the Thrashers, dating back to the last two meetings between the two teams in 2007-08.
Multiple Men – Semin’s two-goal night was his seventh such effort of the season and his second in the last three games. Knuble’s two-goal game was his second of the season. Nine different Capitals have now combined for 31 two-goal games in the team’s 44 games this season, but no Cap has managed a hat trick yet.
Double-Digit Dudes – With a pair of goals on Saturday, Knuble now has 10 on the season. He becomes the ninth Capital to reach the double-digit level in goals. Jason Chimera (nine) and Matt Bradley (seven) are both knocking on the double-digit door.
Banged Up – Caps defenseman John Erskine took just one shift totaling 25 seconds in the third period of Saturday’s game. He left the game at that point and finished with just 9:50 in ice time for the night.
Not A Peep – Thanks to some strong saves from Neuvirth, the Caps kept Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk off the scoresheet on Saturday. The Atlanta sniper had seven shots on goal, but was held without a point for the third straight game. Kovalchuk had not gone more than two games without a point all season.
Kovalchuk’s 52 career points against the Capitals are fifth most of any active player in the NHL.
Mr. White – Atlanta’s lone goal tonight came off the stick of Todd White. White’s goal was his fourth of the season and it ended a personal 33-game drought. His last previous goal – on Oct. 29 at Philips Arena – also came at Washington’s expense.
Happy Birthday – To Caps bench boss Boudreau, born on Jan. 9, 1955.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears made the long trek to Winnipeg for a weekend set with the Manitoba Moose in a rematch of last spring’s Calder Cup finalists. Bears goalie Braden Holtby made 30 saves to help Hershey to a 2-1 win over the Moose in the first of the two weekend games on Friday night.
For the second time in as many nights, Holtby went up against Manitoba goaltender Cory Schneider on Saturday night.
The Bears got on the board first courtesy of Andrew Gordon’s 18th goal of the season midway through the first period. Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux supplied the helpers.
Manitoba nicked Holtby for a pair of second-period strikes, but the Bears roared back in the third. Chris Bourque scored his ninth of the season at 1:20 of the third – getting help from Karl Alzner and Mathieu Perreault – to even the score at 2-2. With 3:20 remaining in regulation, Hershey’s Kyle Wilson scored his 11th of the season with a single assist from Boyd Kane. Wilson’s tally proved to be the game-winner in Hershey’s 12th straight triumph, as the Bears established a new franchise standard for consecutive wins.
Holtby finished with 33 saves and was named the game’s No. 2 star. He is now 11-1-1 with a 1.45 GAA and a .950 save pct. Holtby has won nine straight starts, and he has allowed two or fewer goals in 12 of his 13 starts with Hershey this season.
Hershey is now 29-8-0-2 on the season and it holds a 14-point lead over second-place Albany in the AHL’s East Division. The Bears are off until Wednesday when their four-game road trip continues with a visit to Norfolk.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Hurricanes visited Gwinnett on Saturday night and suffered a 6-5 overtime setback at the hands of the Gladiators. Keith Johnson had a pair of goals and Trent Campbell was plus-4 with four assists in a losing cause for the Rays.
At 25-8-2-4, the Stingrays hold a 16-point lead over Charlotte and Florida in the ECHL’s South Division standings.
By The Numbers – Schultz with a whopping 9:56 in first-period ice time. That’s almost two minutes more than Mike Green (8:10) got in the first. Schultz finished the night with 26:10 to Green's 22:05 ... Sixteen of Washington's 18 skaters collected at least a point and 17 of 18 recorded a shot on goal in Saturday's game.
1 - 0 WSH
2 - 0 WSH
3 - 0 WSH
4 - 0 WSH
4 - 1 WSH
5 - 1 WSH
6 - 1 WSH
7 - 1 WSH
8 - 1 WSH