Young Guns Blazing the West – All four of Washington’s “Young Guns” – Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green – scored and had multiple-point games as the Caps blazed their way to a 7-2 win over the Flames in Calgary on Saturday night. All four Young Guns managed at least three points on the night as the Capitals came home with a 2-1 mark on the three-game tour.
“That’s us,” says Green of his team’s Saturday night performance in Calgary. “That’s us at our best, for sure. And now we need to keep playing like that throughout the season. We’re going to have our ups and downs, but it’s good for us to have a game like that we can build off.
“I think it was important that we came out and played strong tonight. Last game, we were really disappointed with our game. We didn’t get off to the start we wanted, but we stuck to the system and we played a consistent game and that’s what happens when we do that.
“Not only that, we had a power play that we actually capitalized on, and that got us momentum. Guys started believing and that’s why we played a solid 60 minutes.”
After the Caps fell into a 2-0 hole midway through the first period, the Capitals’ long-dormant power play shook off its slumber and went to work. On its second power play of the night, Washington needed just 23 seconds to strike. All five skaters touched the puck within just a few seconds, starting with Ovechkin’s tape-to-tape stretch pass from his own end to the offensive blueline. Backstrom finished it, roofing a perfect cross-crease pass from Green.
Backstrom’s goal was Washington’s first with the man advantage since Brooks Laich’s overtime game-winner in Nashville on Oct. 16.
“I think our power play worked good tonight,” says Calgary started off good the first period, but the second period we had some power play chances and we scored. We just turned it around.”
The goal sent the Caps to the room for the first intermission down just a goal at 2-1.
From that point on, it was all Washington.
After being outshot 16-8 in the first period, the Caps took the first 11 shots on goal in the second period, and held the Flames without a shot on net until past the midway point of the game.
Truth be told, Calgary did get off a couple of shots early in the second, but only because the Flames twice shot themselves in the foot in the first three minutes. First, the Flames were detected with too many men on the ice at 1:54. Then Flames penalty killer Curtis Glencross hauled Green down some 180 feet away from the Calgary net. As a result, the Capitals had a two-man advantage for 1:38.
Ovechkin scored with help from Green and Backstrom at 3:43. It took Ovechkin 11 games to notch his first power play goal of the season, but he would need only 12 seconds to net his second. Semin and Jason Chimera assisted on Ovechkin’s second power play strike, and suddenly the Caps had a 3-2 lead with all three tallies coming on the man advantage.
The two goals a dozen seconds apart are the fastest two goals of Ovechkin's NHL career. It was the third time in his career that the Caps' captain scored a pair of goals in the span of less than a minute. The last time he had done so was Oct. 15, 2009 against San Jose.
“We were just saying how we have to keep working and get the puck deep, get more shots on the net,” says Backstrom, when queried as to what the Caps talked about during the first intermission. “We got the power play chances right away at the beginning of the second period. That was our key, that we scored on them.”
The reeling Flames couldn’t recover. Mike Green finished a pretty passing sequence with his first of the season at 10:28, and 13 seconds later Calgary defenseman Cory Sarich tossed a wrist shot toward his own goal. The puck slipped behind beleaguered Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff to push the Washington advantage to 5-2. Matt Bradley was credited with his first of the season on Sarich’s gaffe.
Semin’s sixth of the season came at 13:55; it was Washington’s fifth goal in a span of 10:12.
David Steckel closed out the scoring with an impressive shorthanded penalty shot strike at 18:23.
“I think so,” says Backstrom, when asked if tonight’s game was the best the Caps have passed the puck around this season. “We talked that we have to work together to move the puck. That’s what we did last year. That’s good. We need to do that to have a chance to win against good teams like Calgary.”
“We’re getting more and more confident now with the puck,” says Green of the Caps’ passing prowess. “We’re starting to feel each other a lot better. If we can keep that up, we’re going to be dangerous. I think more importantly, we played great defensively. Other than the first two goals they scored right away, they didn’t have much after that. That’s why we had so many chances.”
Tonight’s win in Calgary marks the first time all four Young Guns have scored in the same game since a 5-2 over Atlanta on Feb. 5.
Saturday Night Special – Caps netminder Michal Neuvirth has a remarkable record on Saturday nights, not just this season but for the length of his brief NHL career. This season, he is a perfect 4-0 with a 2.22 GAA and a .932 save pct. in four Saturday night starts.
In 11 career Saturday night starts, Neuvirth is now 9-2 with a 2.18 GAA and a .931 save pct. Half of his 18 career wins have come on Saturday nights.
Neuvirth was totally unaware of any Saturday night special run he has put together.
“I have no idea,” he says. “What do you guys mean? What kind of record do I have?”
Informed of his Saturday night dominance, the 22-year-old netminder was unimpressed.
“Oh yeah?,” came the calm reply. “I don’t really care if I play Saturday or Monday. I am just trying to prepare for every game. That was a big win. They really came hard in the first period. They got two lucky bounces, but after that we were all over them.”
Both goals Neuvirth allowed came on deflections. He was tremendous during a Calgary power play that began 28 seconds after the Flames took a 2-0 lead. The Caps were operating with little room for error at that stage of the game, but they ended up spending the entire two minutes of the penalty kill in their own end.
Neuvirth came up big. He swallowed up four Flames shots, not allowing any rebounds to the Calgary-sweatered forwards who cast their shadow over the blue paint of the crease and enabling his weary penalty killing teammates to get off and change.
“No rebounds,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “And he kept getting face-offs. Our tired guys were allowed to come back [to the bench] and we were allowed to make changes. That’s what he does, is he controls rebounds. He’s got a great vision of the game, and knows when to slow it down and when to speed it up. Well beyond his years.”
“That’s what everybody expects from me, not letting those rebounds,” says Neuvirth. “That’s a big key for us, to get two whistles during that penalty kill. I think I did a pretty good job.”
Neuvirth has logged 558:34 on the ice this season, sixth most among all NHL goaltenders. His 2.15 GAA and his .926 save pct. are better than all five of the goalies who have played more minutes than him.
Shuffling the Deck – Boudreau changed up all four forward lines and made Eric Fehr and Mathieu Perreault healthy scratches, the first time this season that both players have had that designation. Brian Fahey stepped in and played in his second NHL game on the blueline for the injured Tyler Sloan.
The power play accounted for three goals and the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin trio chipped in with a pair. The other goals came on Sarich’s folly and Steckel’s penalty shot, so three of Boudreau’s newly cobbled units did not contribute to the scoresheet.
That doesn’t mean they weren’t effective.
The Chimera-Boyd Gordon-Bradley unit played a thorny game all night, and the Caps are now 5-0 with Gordon in the lineup and 2-4 when he doesn’t play. A native of nearby Red Deer, Alberta, Gordon skated 16:28 against the Flames, 5:09 of it while Washington was shorthanded. It was the most ice he has seen since logging 16:57 in a Mar. 14, 2009 game against Carolina.
Chimera’s speed and Bradley’s physicality (four hits) nicely supplemented Gordon’s work in the middle.
Steckel skated 4:03 while the Caps were a man down. Linemates D.J. King and Matt Hendricks each got just over nine minutes of ice; that’s the most King has seen as a Cap. Hendricks fought with Calgary’s Tim Jackman at a point when Washington was trailing 2-0.
“I just thought once the power play started going, the guys were feeding off that,” says Boudreau. “I thought everybody did their job and played well and played hard. I think we gave them 11 shots after the first period. It was a rocky beginning and a great end.”
From Power Outage to Power Surge – Washington had been without a power play goal in five straight games (0-for-16), its longest drought since going 0-for-18 over a six-game stretch from Jan. 28-Feb. 8, 2008.
Ovechkin’s 10-game power play goal drought was his longest since he went a dozen games without an extra-man marker from Dec. 26, 2009 to Jan. 19, 2010.
In going 3-for-4 on the power play in Saturday’s game against the Flames, the Caps climbed to 16.7% on the season, good for 14th in the NHL.
October Flame Fest – Tonight’s game marked the third straight visit the Caps have made to the Saddledome in October. Washington dropped a 2-1 decision here on Oct. 21, 2008 and earned a 4-2 in Calgary four years ago tonight, on Oct. 30, 2006.
Eleven years ago tonight, the Caps played the Flames to a 0-0 tie in Calgary, one of just two scoreless ties in Washington’s franchise history.
O From The D – Green’s second period goal was just the second by a Capitals defenseman this season and the first since John Carlson beat New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur in the first period of Washington’s 7-2 victory over the Devils at Verizon Center on Oct. 9.
Leading Men – Tonight’s game marked the first time the Caps have led by as many as four goals in a road game this season, and it was the first time they led by as many as four since that aforementioned victory over the Devils three weeks ago.
Sniper – Steckel’s penalty shot goal was the second in as many tries for the Caps this season. Ovechkin beat New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur on a penalty shot in the Oct. 9 game.
While Ovechkin has had several previous penalty shot opportunities, the same cannot be said for Steckel. The Caps center says tonight’s was the first penalty shot of his hockey career at any level.
Coming down on a breakaway on Flames goalie Henrik Karlsson, Steckel was repeatedly hacked from behind until he finally went down.
Did he think he was going to get a penalty shot?
“Well, I was hoping,” says Steckel. “Because the five or seven hooks that I took to the neck, I was like, ‘I better not be skating all the way down just so I can go to the bench and watch other guys score.’ When I saw [the referee] point to center, I was relieved. And tired.”
Steckel received some counsel from Boudreau before going to center ice to carry the puck in on Karlsson.
“Bruce didn’t give me time to think,” says Steckel, “which was a good thing. He told me to go low blocker. I was worried I was going to lose the puck when I was skating in. I looked, but he was taking away that side of the net, he went down and I just roofed it.”
Boudreau was asked what he said to his center prior to the penalty shot bid.
“I told him to go low,” muses Boudreau. “And he went up top. Go figure. Just do the opposite of what the coach says. But the [goalie] flopped, went right down. Stecks held onto it long enough. I told him I wanted him to pull it, because then the goalie has to make the move one way or the other. And he made the right read and went up top.”
Mik And Mo – Glencross scored Calgary’s second goal at 11:05 of the first with help from Brendan Mikkelson and Brendan Morrison. Both Brendans have Capitals ties.
Mikkelson is the son of defenseman Bill Mikkelson, a member of the original expansion Capitals of 1974-75. Morrison spent all of 2009-10 with the Caps, scoring a dozen goals and totaling 42 points.
With 10 points (three goals, seven assists) this season, Morrison is Calgary’s leading scorer.
Busy Hands – Jackman’s fight for the Flames was his fourth in the last seven days.
Down On The Farm – One night after a 4-3 overtime win over the Crunch in Syracuse, the AHL Hershey Bears headed home to host the Baby Pens of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Saturday night at Giant Center.
Things did not go well for the home club. Hershey fell, 6-2.
Keith Aucoin started the scoring for the Bears at the 49-second mark of the first frame, extending his season-opening scoring streak (four goals, 12 assists) to nine straight games in the process. But that was as good as it got for the Bears on Saturday.
Hershey went on to surrender five unanswered goals before Bears defenseman Zach Miskovic broke the spell with his first of the season at 8:05 of the third period.
Starting goaltender Dany Sabourin allowed three goals on seven shots in just 9:51 of work, and Todd Ford was nicked for three goals on 16 shots in relief.
Hershey hosts Manchester at Giant Center at 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Postgame Quotebook – Green on Ovechkin: “He gets grumpy when he doesn’t score, so it was good for him to get a couple. And then [it was] good to see him play a great defensive game after he had those two goals. In the past maybe we’ve been too aggressive and they’ve come back and maybe scored a couple more that were unnecessary. It was good to see him play like that.”
By The Numbers – Washington blocked 18 shots to Calgary’s seven. John Carlson led the way for the Caps with five blocks … Laich led all Caps’ forwards in ice time with 20:19 on the night … The Capitals have now been outscored 12-5 in the first period of games this season … Chimera’s assist on Ovechkin’s second goal was his first power play point as a member of the Capitals.
Deflected shot -