Nothing vs. Neuvirth – Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth continued his brilliant early season play on Wednesday, pitching a 3-0 shutout – the first whitewash of his NHL career – against the Hurricanes in Carolina’s home opener.
Neuvirth made 29 saves in running his record to 6-2 on the season; he is tied for the league lead in that department with Montreal’s Carey Price.
As is usually the case in a shutout win, there were more heroes than just the goaltender. That tenet held especially true for the Capitals in Wednesday’s game, as all 18 skaters helped Neuvirth to record his first NHL goose egg.
“I thought that was easily our most complete game by everybody,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “You get contributions by the fourth line, the penalty killing, and I thought the goaltending was great. Everybody did a good job.”
Matt Bradley’s return to the lineup after a two-week absence helped spark the fourth line, and that unit scored what would prove to be the game-winner. Bradley chipped in with five hits on the night.
“I think everyone contributed tonight,” says Hendricks. “You might not see it on the scoresheet, but guys were blocking shots. I saw Jason Chimera out there blocking a big one late in the third period. Guys don’t always have to show up on the scoresheet to help a team win.
“And what can you say about Neuvy? He played outstanding.”
Neuvirth made seven stops during Carolina’s five power play opportunities on the night, the biggest being a glove save on Canes captain Eric Staal just as a Hurricanes power play expired in the second period.
“I think we played a great game as a team,” says Neuvirth. “For the first time we did everything right and it’s a big two points on the road. The shutout is just an unexpected bonus for myself. But I’m happy with the two points.”
So are his teammates. The defense was strong in front of the Caps’ goalie, blocking 16 shots and clearing the odd rebound as required.
“Carolina is really fast,” notes Boudreau. “We’ve struggled with our defensemen a little bit this year, but I thought it was the best game for about three of them of the year. They kept it simple, they did easy things, cleared it. We blocked a lot of shots, it seemed to me. I haven’t seen the numbers yet, but for our team we blocked a lot of shots in front of Neuvy, too.”
Neuvirth’s save pct. swelled to .929 on the season and his GAA shrunk to 2.18. Eight goaltenders in the league have played more minutes than Neuvirth this season, but the 22-year-old Czech native has a lower GAA and a higher save pct. than all eight of them.
“It’s been a big opportunity for me,” says Neuvirth. “I’m trying my best and I just keep working harder in practices. I’m just going game-by-game and not looking ahead too far.”
Defenseman Mike Green was available for a full night’s work for the first time in two weeks, and his presence in the lineup undoubtedly had a positive effect on the other five defensemen, many of whom pulled extra duty in the Norris nominee’s absence.
“I think it’s imperative that we play like that every night,” says Green. “Maybe we didn’t score five or six goals, but the whole game we were up one goal and we played consistently. Then they got frustrated and we were able to put two more in. Even if we win by one, 1-0, that’s a great game for us.”
First! – In addition to the first shutout of Neuvirth’s NHL career, there were a number of other notable firsts in the Caps’ 3-0 win over the Hurricanes on Wednesday.
Washington’s first goal of the night came at 10:47 of the first period. John Erskine got a point shot on goal, and the rebound kicked out in front. Caps center David Steckel collided with Carolina goaltender Cam Ward, and the Caps’ center deftly slid the puck to Matt Hendricks as he was going to the ice as a result of that collision. Hendricks deposited the puck into a vacant net for a 1-0 Washington lead.
The goal was Hendricks’ first as a member of the Capitals. It was the first assist of the season for both Steckel and Erskine.
The goal was also the first in the first period of a game for the Capitals since an Oct. 11 contest against the Ottawa Senators.
Nicklas Backstrom’s shorthanded empty-netter in the game’s final minute was the first shorthanded goal of the smooth center’s career.
The Game-Winner – Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice believes the Caps’ first goal should have been waived off because Steckel impeded Ward from making the save.
It was definitely a tough call, and one that could have gone either way. Here’s how Steckel saw the play.
“I saw the pass go up to the point,” he says, “and honestly I didn’t look once where Cam Ward was. I was looking straight at the point. I went straight to the net. I didn’t even see him; I was going for the tip. I was looking for the puck after it got past their first defenseman there in front of me. I just saw [Ward] lying there and figured I’d throw it back at the net.”
It’s Been A While – Backstrom’s first goal was a key insurance tally marked the first time that Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and Mike Knuble had all been on the ice for a Washington goal since the second period of the Caps’ Oct. 13 win over the Islanders at Verizon Center.
That was two weeks ago.
“I was really happy to see that,” says Boudreau, “for Nicky to get a goal and Ovi to get an assist. Because you see them pressing and you see them cheating a little bit trying to get the offensive goal. Maybe that will bring them back to playing like they normally can.”
Home Openers – NHL teams went 17-7-6 in their home openers this season. Southeast Division teams were 4-1, with Carolina’s Wednesday loss the lone blemish.
Postgame Quotebook – Boudreau, when asked what the Caps’ goaltending split might have been to this point in the season if Semyon Varlamov had not suffered an injury: “Don’t know. They probably would have started off equal. And then like anything else, eventually somebody comes to the fore. But you know, Wally Pipp missed one game at first base and you know what happened there.”
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