Four Straight – It wasn’t pretty, but the Capitals came out of Nashville with a 3-2 overtime win over the Predators, their fourth consecutive win after an opening night loss in Atlanta. Brooks Laich’s power play goal closed out the Preds, but Michal Neuvirth’s spectacular 37-save performance in goal kept the Caps within striking distance.
Down 2-0 after the game’s first 26 minutes, the Capitals began to turn the tide shortly therafter. Facing a rookie goalie who was starting for the third time in four nights and a Nashville team that was playing its third game in four nights, the Caps slowly wore down their hosts before administering the death blow at 1:44 of the extra session.
“Bruce had a talk with us in between periods and pretty much gave it to us a little bit,” says Caps defenseman John Erskine. “We just tried to pick our game up. They were outworking us the whole first period. I think the last 30 minutes or so and especially the last 20 we showed that we wanted the game and we came out with a good outcome.
“He gave us a good butt-kick and guys answered.”
Alexander Semin’s power play goal cut the Nashville lead to 2-1 at 4:33 of the third. A few minutes later, a tremendous shift by the Caps’ fourth line of Matt Hendricks, David Steckel and Boyd Gordon set the tone for what was to come. The trio dominated the Preds down low, and the Caps’ top line followed with another similar shift.
“It was a great energy shift, and they did a great job from it,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “I just told Matt, ‘That was the shift there,’ when he got pulled off and [Nashville defenseman Ryan] Suter had him in a headlock and I thought that was the shift that turned the tide.”
Then, after a television timeout, Boudreau kept his top unit out for another shift. The Jason Chimera-Marcus Johansson-Eric Fehr line came out and again spent most of its shift in the attack zone and put some pressure on the Preds with its speed.
“Then Chimera’s line came out and he was skating in the third period and driving wide and beating guys,” says Boudreau. “And then Semin had the breakaway.
“You could feel the tide turning. They outplayed us so bad the first 27, 28 minutes of the game. When you look up and you go, ‘Holy crap, we’re only down a goal at this stage, or two goals, you’ve still got a chance.”
That set the table for Laich, who then came out with linemates Semin and Tomas Fleischmann.
Laich did some grind work to get the puck, keep it, and move it to the front. Fleischmann’s one-timer found its way past rookie Nashville netminder Anders Lindback to even the game at 2-2 with 7:46 left in regulation.
“I was just trying to apply as much pressure on a lost draw,” recalls Laich, “try and get in on their [defense]. I was able to steal the puck and take it out front. It was not a pretty goal. Flash just banged it in. It was at the time a big goal for us.”
Neuvirth needed to make a couple more key stops, and both teams missed out on some prime chances in the final minutes of regulation.
Early in the overtime session, Ovechkin drew a tripping call on Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter. Boudreau called his timeout so he could keep his to players on the ice.
“In overtime, Bruce draws it up on the board and I know what my job is," says Laich, "it’s to go to the net. Ovi said, when we were going out there, he told me not to tip it if he shoots. If he shoots, he is going to shoot to score and not to tip it because it’s going to go in.
“I decided to tip it. He just hit my stick. I was turning, spinning and it hit my stick. It may be a bit of a fluky goal, but we’ll take it.”
Neuvirth’s Night – Neuvirth’s netminding heroics started early. He stoned Nashville’s Steve Sullivan on a breakaway bid some 10 seconds after the opening face-off.
Neuvirth has made more saves in a game than the 37 he recorded in Nashville, but he may not have authored a better performance in his brief NHL career. He let in two goals, but was screened on the first and saw the other deflect past him off a teammate's skate.
“It’s tough to say,” says the 22-year-old netminder when asked if he thought this was his best game. “But it’s a huge win for us. We didn’t really play good hockey in the first two periods. We were kind of sloppy. But we got a lucky goal and after that we were a different team. After [Semin] scored, I had a feeling we still had a chance.”
Since being pulled in consecutive starts on Jan. 12-13 against Tampa Bay and Florida, Neuvirth is now 8-1 with a 1.93 GAA and a .942 save pct. in 11 games (10 starts).
Oh, and sandwiched somewhere in between all that NHL work, Neuvirth went 14-4 with a 2.07 GAA and a .920 save pct. in the 2010 Calder Cup playoffs.
“Neuvy, for he second game in a row is the storyline,” declares Laich. “After he gives up the second goal, he shuts the door and doesn’t give up any more. Which is a great sign for a young goaltender, to be calm when he is under siege. I think they had 30 shots after two periods. That’s a lot of shots to give up.
“He’s playing really well,” says Laich. “Michal’s playing really well out there. He’s making the big saves, he’s given us a chance to win and like I said, he’s the storyline the last two games.”
Much has been made of Neuvirth’s great record at Verizon Center where he is 11-2 with a 2.12 GAA and a .930 save pct. lifetime. Coming into Saturday night’s game against the Predators, Neuvirth was 3-4 with a 3.62 GAA and an .886 save pct. lifetime on the road.
The Caps’ 22-year-old netminder seems to enjoy playing on Saturday nights. In nine career starts in Saturday games, Neuvirth is now 7-2 with a 2.07 GAA and a .934 save pct.
Missing Men – Despite missing the final 5:42 of Washington’s 2-1 win over the New York Islanders on Wednesday night, defenseman Mike Green entered Saturday night’s NHL action sixth in the NHL in average ice time per game with 27:11 a night. Last season Green (25:28) and Tom Poti (21:24) led the Capitals’ defensemen in average ice time per game.
In 2008-09, Green (25:45) and Poti (21:08) were also the top two among Washington blueliners in average ice time.
Last season, either Green or Poti (or both) was in the Capitals’ lineup for all 82 games. In 2008-09, there were eight games in which both Green and Poti were out of the Washington lineup. The Capitals went 5-3 in those games, allowing an average of 2.5 goals per game in those eight contests.
For the record, the Caps allowed an average of 2.93 goals per game during the 82-game regular season in 2008-09.
Special Delivery – The Capitals killed five straight Nashville power plays at the start of the game, beginning with a Laich tripping minor just 24 seconds into the game. Washington killed off all six Preds’ power play chances on the night, and the Capitals are now a perfect 21-for-21 on the penalty kill through the first five games of the season.
“We kind of dug ourselves a hole there with all the penalties we got,” says Erskine. “Neuvy stood on his head. It was tough, but our PK did well.”
The Caps scored just two power play goals in the season’s first four games, but the second of those came late in the third against the Islanders and was the game-winner in Wednesday’s 2-1 win over New York.
On Saturday against the Preds, the Caps didn’t play well enough to draw any power play chances until midway through the second period. Alexander Semin’s power play goal at 4:33 of the third drew the Caps within one; it came on Washington’s fourth extra-man chance of the night.
Laich’s game-winner came on the Caps’ fifth power play try. Washington finished 2-for-5 with the extra man in the game, and the Capitals are now 4-for-22 (18.1%) on the power play this season.
Identicals – Entering Saturday night’s game with Nashville, Ovechkin had four goals, three assists and seven points on the season. He also had four goals, three assists and seven points lifetime against the Predators.
In an amazing coincidence, Ovechkin still has the same 2010-11 seasonal numbers (four goals and four assists for eight points) as he does lifetime against Nashville even after the conclusion of tonight’s game.
Road Tripped, Not Quite – The Capitals’ late comeback in Nashville enabled them to avoid losing consecutive road games in regulation for the first time since losses at San Jose and Los Angeles on Dec. 30, 2009 and Jan. 2, 2010, respectively.
Washington has not lost each of its first two road games of the season in regulation since 2005-06 when it dropped the first two on the road at Atlanta and Carolina, getting outscored 15-3 in the process.
First For Fahey – Caps defenseman Brian Fahey played in his first NHL game on Saturday, more than 10 years after being drafted in the fourth round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by the Colorado Avalanche. Now an eighth-year pro, Fahey skated 9:50 and was minus-2 in 15 shifts. He was credited with one hit and skated 1:32 while the Capitals were on the power play.
Postgame Quotebook -- Laich on the game: “They are a very fast skating team. I thought they did a good job of pressuring us for the first 30 minutes. Midway through the second, we changed it around and started taking it to them.
“The [defense] were just moving the pucks up the walls and as wingers the first 30 minutes we hadn’t done a good job of getting pucks out of our zone and winning those battles. We started to do that and started to tilt the ice a little bit. And then in the third period I think we just took over.”
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears did some hosting and some hoisting tonight. The Bears hosted their 2010-11 home opener against the Rochester Americans on Saturday. Before the game, the Bears received their 2010 championship rings and they hoisted their 11th Calder Cup banner to the rafters at Giant Center.
Veteran winger Brian Willsie – in his second tour of duty with the Bears – got Hershey started with a power play goal at 5:40 of the first period. That was as good as it got for the home team.
Rochester netted three unanswered goals – including one by ex-Caps center Michael Nylander – to take a 3-1 lead. Andrew Gordon’s third-period goal pulled the Bears to within one, but they fell short by a 3-2 count.
Dany Sabourin was tagged with the loss in goal, stopping 16 of 19 in his Hershey debut.
The 2-1-1 Bears are now idle until Friday when they visit the Baby Pens in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
By The Numbers – Neuvirth faced 18 shots in the first, a dozen in the second, eight in the third and one in overtime … John Carlson led all Caps defensemen with 24:14 in ice time, a single-game career high for him. Jeff Schultz skated 24:03, Karl Alzner logged 22:57 and John Erskine played 21:58 … Carlson and Alzner led the way with four blocked shots each … Alzner led all Washington blueliners with 4:29 in shorthanded ice time … Fleischmann was 1-for-12 and Marcus Johansson was 1-for-7 in the face-off circle.
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