Burn Before Watching – Both the Washington Capitals and the Atlanta Thrashers were playing the second of back-to-back games and also for the third time in four nights on Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center. The result was an ugly, often sloppily played contest that concluded in a 6-4 Washington win.
They don’t ask “how,” they ask “how many.”
The Capitals led 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 but kept letting the plucky Thrashers peck their way back into the game. Forty minutes into today’s game, the score was knotted at 4-4 and each team had poured 20 shots on goal.
Washington surrendered three goals – including one shorthanded strike – in the second period.
“It wasn’t very good,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau of his team’s performance in the second period. “We made mental mistakes. It was ugly, but the good thing is they righted the ship. We talked about not wanting to beat teams 6-4. We want to shut teams down.”
John Erskine’s blueline bomb at 13:11 of the third pushed the Caps in front to stay and proved to be the game-winner.
Erskine’s goal was his second this week, and his first in front of the home folks in nearly three years (since Jan. 19, 2008). It was the second game-winner of his NHL career and his first since opening night of the 2007-08 season (Oct. 5, 2007) against … wait for it … the Thrashers in Atlanta.
Michal Neuvirth was victimized for some fluky goals against, but he hung tough and kept the Thrashers at bay for the game’s final 31 minutes. He made 23 saves to record his 11th win of the season.
“It was a little bit much for us,” says Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay. “We scored in our own net, knock a puck out of the air that ends up in our net. [Then] off the back glass, we get one. There were some funny goals, but I much prefer it when we are on the good end of the funny.”
The win gives Washington at least a point in eight straight games (7-0-1) and runs its home record to 9-1 on the season.
Role Reversal – For the majority of the still young 2010-11 season, the Caps have struggled in the first periods of games and have feasted in the second stanzas.
Going into Saturday night’s skirmish with the Sabres in Buffalo, the Caps had been outscored 17-7 in the first period this season and had outscored the opposition by a 25-10 margin in the middle frame.
In their two games this weekend, the Caps have outscored foes 4-1 in the first and have been outscored 5-1 in the second.
With three goals in the first tonight against Atlanta, the Caps enjoyed their first multiple-goal first period of the season.
Blueline Bonanza – After contributing a modest one goal and 11 points to the Washington offensive cause in the team’s first 10 games of the season, the Capitals’ defensive corps has gone all Paul Coffey here in November.
The Caps’ seven defensemen have combined to put up 11 goals and 29 points in the team’s last eight games. Defensemen have had a hand in 10 of Washington’s last 14 goals in the team’s last three games.
“I don’t know if it’s contagious or what,” says Tyler Sloan, who had two assists on Sunday, “but the forwards are doing a good job of giving us the puck and we are able to get shots through. I don’t know what it is, but we are going to continue to do it.”
Washington went 6-4 in its first 10 games of 2010-11; it is 7-0-1 in its last eight contests.
At its current pace, the 2010-11 blueline corps is on track to record 55 goals and 182 points. And now, for some historical perspective.
Last season, all Washington defensemen combined to total 37 goals and 180 points. The team’s blueline point total in 2009-10 was its highest since 1993-94.
Caps defensemen scored a total of 48 goals in 2001-02, the highest total the club has managed since its rearguards netted 49 in 1995-96. The last time Washington defensemen combined to score 50 or more goals in a season was in 1993-94 when they totaled 59.
The Caps’ club record for most combined goals in a season by defensemen is 94, set in 1992-93. Kevin Hatcher led the way with 34 that season, followed by Al Iafrate (25) and Sylvain Cote (21). It’s the only time in NHL history that a single team has had three defensemen with 20 or more goals in a season.
Ten different blueliners skated for Washington in 1992-93, and together they amassed a whopping 264 points.
Mo Better Mo Power – Seven different Capitals (and your humble and lovable senior writer) have sprouted Movember Mustaches in support of prostate cancer. Those seven skaters – including five defensemen – have combined for 11 goals, 14 assists and 25 points in the seven games of Movember.
Oh, and by the way, the Caps are 6-0-1 in those seven games. A Movember mustache man has supplied the game-winning tally in four of those six games.
Erskine’s Movember mustache momentum has him contemplating the possibility of keeping the lip warmer beyond this month.
“Yeah, the ‘stache has been good luck this month,” he says. “I talked to the wife and I might be keeping it for a while.”
Bout Time – Erskine’s fight with Atlanta’s Eric Boulton was one of the best bouts of the season to date. The two threw several haymaking bombs each, and both fighters took as good as they got. Erskine landed more hard blows, so we’ll give the nod to him in this one.
Washington has totaled 14 fighting majors in its first 18 games this season. The Caps combined for 20 fighting majors in 82 games in the 2009-10 regular season.
Circle Stuff – In Thursday’s 6-3 win over the Lightning, Caps center David Steckel became the first Washington pivot in more than five years to win 20 draws (he was 20-for-29) in a game.
Today, Steckel nearly turned the trick again. He won 19 of 23 (83%). He has won at least 57% of his face-offs in six straight games, and has soared up to 63% on the season, second in the NHL. Buffalo’s Paul Gaustad leads with 63.6%.
Happy Birthday – To Bryan “Bugsy” Watson, born on this day in 1942. Watson, who last played in the NHL with the Capitals in 1978-79, amassed 2,212 career penalty minutes in 878 games in the league. His playing career dates back to the days of the Original Six, and when Watson retired, the 5-foot-9, 175-pound native of Bancroft, Ont. was the league’s all-time career leader in penalty minutes.
Happy birthday also to Caps television play-by-play man Joe Beninati, one of the best in the business and one of the hardest working men in the biz.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears concluded a busy weekend with a Sunday afternoon home game against the Binghamton Senators. The Bears won an 8-3 laugher.
Hershey hung a half dozen unanswered goals on the Baby Sens in the first and added another in the second to roll up a 7-0 lead. At one point, Hershey had more goals (seven) than the Senators had shots (six).
Binghamton came back to score a pair in the middle stanza. Each team scored once in the third.
Andrew Gordon, Brian Willsie and Kyle Greentree each scored twice for the Bears. Steve Pinizzotto and Lawrence Nycholat added single markers. Hershey center Mathieu Perreault had half a dozen assists, falling a single helper shy of the single-game club record.
Gordon and Willsie each had four points and were plus-4 on the night. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov made 21 saves to earn his first win of the season at any level.
Hershey has another busy weekend coming up. The Bears visit the Senators in Binghamton on Friday before returning home to host the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Saturday and the Hartford Wolfpack/Connecticut Whale on Sunday.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays also finished up a rugged weekend schedule on Sunday. After losing in Elmira on Friday and in Reading on Saturday, the Stingrays played again in Reading on Sunday.
The Stingrays dropped their third game of the weekend, falling by a 3-2 score and dropping to the basement of the South Division with a 3-7-1-0 record.
By The Numbers – Alzner skated 19:53 for the game, so the Caps narrowly missed having four homegrown first-round defensemen skate 20 minutes or more on the night. Green led the way at 24:03, Carlson skated 23:35 and Schultz 21:28 … Green led the Caps with six shots on goal and six blocked shots … A dozen different Capitals players recorded points in Sunday’s win over Atlanta … Semin pushed his scoring streak to eight straight games (eight goals, seven assists).