Happy Homestand – Washington eked out a 2-1 win over the New York Islanders on Wednesday to finish off its first homestand of the season with a perfect 3-0 mark.
The Capitals fell behind early in the first, rallied to tie late in the second and won it on a power play goal late in the third.
Washington was somewhat sloppy defensively in the early going; it allowed three high quality chances in the first 3:14 of the game, each on a pass from behind the net to a player stationed in front and between the hash marks.
Caps defenseman John Carlson got in the way of the first one, a backhand bid by the Isles’ Matt Moulson. Washington goalie Michal Neuvirth stopped the second one, a wrister from Josh Bailey.
The third time was the charm for the Fishermen. Nino Niederreiter beat Neuvirth with a wrist shot for his first NHL goal (more on that later) at 3:14 of the first to stake the visitors to a 1-0 lead.
Washington was unable to draw even until late in the second Nicklas Backstrom made a strip in the neutral zone and passed to Alex Ovechkin crossing the New York line. Ovechkin slid a shot through New York netminder Dwayne Roloson at the 18:19 mark to make it a 1-1 game.
Washington was again scrambly in its own end early in the third, and the Isles – who entered tonight’s game on the good side of a 35-13 third-period shot differential in their two games this season – kept the pressure on the Caps’ youthful blueline corps. Neuvirth was up to all challenges.
With just over four minutes remaining, the Isles’ Blake Comeau took an ill-advised offensive zone roughing call when he hammered Caps’ defenseman Tyler Sloan into the boards behind the Washington net.
The struggling Caps power play went back to basics and cashed in on the opportunity. Alexander Semin threaded a pass from the left half-wall to Carlson at the right point. Carlson slid the puck to Ovechkin at center point, and the Caps’ captain launched a blast that clicked off Backstrom’s toe and into the net with 3:39 remaining in regulation.
“We are working hard and finally it is working,” says Ovechkin of the power play. “First two periods when we have a power play, it was a little frustrating but still we had chances like [Mike Green] hits the post and Brooks [Laich] missed a great opportunity to score a goal, but finally it works and we scored a goal and win the game.”
After Tuesday’s practice, Boudreau played it typically coy as to whether he would actually stick with those units for puck drop of Wednesday’s game against the Islanders.
“It was more of a practice thing,” Boudreau told reporters on Tuesday afternoon. “I put the wrong [practice jersey] colors down on the sheet and didn’t change it because I wanted to see what it looked like. I don’t forsee any changes. I just wanted to play with it in my head.’
He ended up doing more than that; Backstrom took the opening face-off between Laich and Semin.
Neither of the two newly cobbled lines had much jam in the first, and the Caps’ bench boss put things back in order soon after a Washington power play ended early in the second period.
“We’ve been playing with each other for three years now,” says Backstrom of his chemistry with Ovechkin. “We should know where we are.”
Neuvy’s Night – Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth became the first Washington netminder since Olie Kolzig in 2005-06 to start and go the distance in each of the first four games of the season.
Neuvirth gave up an early goal to Niederreiter, and then he shut the door tightly the rest of the way.
“They were really working hard,” says Neuvirth. “It wasn’t an easy game tonight. They got the first goal in five minutes or something.”
With the game even at 1-1 late in the third, he made a key stop on the Isles’ Matt Moulson, denying him on a breakaway bid.
“I was just trying to stay patient,” says Neuvirth. “That was a big save for us.”
Neuvirth made another key stop just after that one, poke-checking New York’s Michael Grabner after the winger had used his speed to cut around Carlson and move toward the middle of the ice.
Neuvirth has allowed only two third-period goals in his four starts, and he has allowed just one in the Caps’ last three games.
“It’s all about confidence,” says the 22-year-old Czech native. “Everybody says you get more confident with every minute on the ice. It’s been great. It’s been a tough week, but I’m feeling great and I’m pretty happy with the effort. Three wins in a row, it means a lot to me.”
The last Caps goalie to start and go the distance in five straight games at the start of the season? That was also Kolzig, but you’ve got to go all the way back to 1999-00 for that modest accomplishment.
Neuvirth is now 11-2 lifetime at Verizon Center, where he has won 10 straight decisions. He leads the league with three wins (3-1), and he now has a 2.22 GAA and a .924 save pct. on the young season.
Can’t Keep A Good Man Down – Backstrom opened this season by going pointless in the Caps’ first three games, matching his longest spell without a point in 2009-10. The smooth center picked up his first point of the season with a primary helper on Ovechkin’s fourth goal of the season at 18:19 of the second.
Backstrom notched his first multi-point game of the season with the game-winning goal late in the third.
“Once [Backstrom] got the assist I just knew he was going to get more,” says Boudreau, “because he never stops at just one once he gets a little bit of a roll going.”
First Fight – Caps left wing D.J. King made his Washington debut tonight. He dropped the gloves with New York’s Trevor Gillies in his first shift as a Capital. Prior to tonight, King and Gillies had never fought before at any level.
Washington has had five fighting majors in its first four games of 2010-11 after accruing just 20 fighting majors in 82 regular season games in 2009-10.
Still Perfect – The Caps killed off all three New York power plays on the night and the Washington penalty-killing outfit is now 15-for-15 on the season. The Caps have now gone four games without allowing a power play goal. That’s a modest achievement they were unable to achieve at any point in 2009-10.
Missed It By That Much – The Islanders launched 61 shots to the Capitals’ 48 on the night, but only 24 of New York’s went on goal. The Isles had 22 shots blocked and they missed altogether with 15 other tries.
El Niño – At 18 years and 35 days, Niederreiter is the youngest player in the NHL this season. The Islanders’ first choice (fifth overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Niederraiter became the youngest member of the Islanders ever to score a goal and the fourth youngest to do so in the league since the 1967 expansion.
Since 1967, the only younger goal scorers than Niederreiter are Chicago’s Grant Mulvey (18 years and 32 days) on Oct. 19, 1974, Pittsburgh’s Jordan Staal (18 years and 32 days) on Oct. 12, 2006 and San Jose’s Patrick Marleau (18 years and 34 days) on Oct. 19, 1997.
By The Numbers – Green led the Caps in ice time (23:44), power play ice time (5:27) and shots on goal (four) … John Erskine led the Caps with five blocked shots. Jeff Schultz and Carlson each had four. Washington’s six defensemen accounted for 18 of the Caps’ total of 22 blocked shots on the night … New York’s Zenon Konopka won 16 of 20 (80%) face-offs on the night … The Caps were 26-for-63 (41%) in the circle on the night. Washington slipped to 24th in the league in that department.