Bearing Down – Two nights after halting their eight-game winless streak against the Senators in Ottawa, the Capitals put a 5-1 home ice hurting on the New Jersey Devils at Verizon Center Tuesday night. The win stopped a five-game winless skid at home (0-3-2) and was the Caps’ first win in the District since a 3-2 shootout triumph over Carolina on Nov. 28.
Washington’s win was fueled by contributions from several members of the 2010 Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears. Andrew Gordon had a goal and an assist, Jay Beagle had the game-winning goal, John Carlson had a goal and an assist and was plus-4, Karl Alzner was plus-3, and Michal Neuvirth was excellent between the pipes. Neuvirth made 35 saves to earn his 14th win of the season and his second in as many starts.
“I thought they all played great,” exudes Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “Beagle, Gordon, Carlson – was he plus four or plus five or something? They had lots of energy, they follow direction, they played with passion and enthusiasm. Usually, when you do that, no matter what league you’re in you’re going to have success. There’s reasons they’ve won two Cups in a row and have been in the finals four out of the last five years. Those are some of the main ones.”
Neuvirth stopped a dozen shots in the first and was beaten only by by Patrik Elias on a New Jersey power play at 4:56 of the second period. The 22-year-old Czech goalie is now 3-0 lifetime against the Devils and future Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur.
Tonight’s win puts the Caps back into the top spot in the Southeast Division standings. It’s the fourth straight day in which the division lead has changed hands.
The Caps earned their 20th win of the season, four games behind last season’s pace when the club set a single-season franchise mark with 54 wins.
Washington was outshot for the first time in its last 10 games.
Only two Devils skaters – Brian Rolston and Mattias Tedenby – escaped the evening without a minus next to their names.
“I think winning rejuvenates guys,” says Boudreau. “It’s been a much happier locker room the last couple of games, so that’s good.”
Bear Tracks – Just last week, Brooks Laich discussed what it was like for himself and fellow members of the 2006 Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears team – including Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, Tomas Fleischmann, Boyd Gordon and Eric Fehr – to start having success together at the next level so soon after winning the AHL championship.
Tonight, Gordon and some of his fellow 2010 Cup champs got that feeling.
“We go through the war together and of course the season,” says Gordon. “and you grow really close to guys. I’ve been playing with Beags for the better part of four years here now and we’ve all been to the summer camps prior to that so we’ve known each other for the better halves of our careers now.
“To see each other succeed and see each other at this level is something else. And to be able do it all together is even better. I think to go through those championship situations and to build and to grow as a team together, we know what it takes to win.
“When you’re successful at that American League level, I think it goes a long way to the level that you can play up here and in those key situations. As we get a little bit older and a little bit more experienced and a little bit more comfortable at this level, I think we’re just going to keep having that success. I hope it’s [as] part of this organization.”
Turnabout Is Fair Play – The last 19 times the Capitals have lost two or more games in a row they’ve responded by winning at least two games in succession.
Shuffling The Deck – Washington’s power play has struggled of late, and Caps captain Alex Ovechkin is still seeking his first home power play goal of the season nearly halfway (20 games) through the home slate.
In the first five years of his NHL career, Ovechkin averaged 18 power play goals per campaign.
Ovechkin has just two power play goals thus far this season, and they came 12 seconds apart in the same game, a 7-2 win over the Flames in Calgary on Oct. 30. He has now gone 25 games without scoring a power play goal, easily the longest such drought of his career. According to the good folks at japersrink.com, the Caps have now had 88 consecutive power play chances without a goal from No. 8.
With that in mind, Boudreau made some adjustments to his extra-man unit on Tuesday. He had Ovechkin parked in front of the New Jersey net instead of his customary spot on the left point from where he has done so much of his extra-man damage over the years.
“We were 0-for-5 on the power play [tonight],” says Boudreau, “so it didn’t work very good. But we haven’t had any success with him on the point lately, either.
“I’m just trying to move things and change things around. I thought if we got shots at the net, and he’s right there – he’s like a bull to move – maybe he could get a rebound or something, get an ugly goal that would jumpstart him. That was the thought process behind it.
Asked whether he would consider moving Ovechkin to the half wall on the power play, Boudreau was noncommittal.
“I don’t know,” says the Caps’ bench boss. “We’ll get back to the drawing board tomorrow because our power play has been our lifeblood, and it’s been non-existent for the last 12 games.”
First! – Gordon’s first NHL goal came in his eighth NHL game and just two days shy of the second anniversary of his NHL debut. It also came against a future Hall of Fame goaltender, and was a beautiful goal.
Gordon was the beneficiary of a terrific pass from teammate Marcus Johansson, who outraced his man to the puck and threaded a perfect pass to his fellow rookie. Driving the net, Gordon also used his speed to get a stick on the puck and beat Brodeur.
So happy was Gordon that he planted a kiss on Johansson’s helmet on the bench after the goal. Which begged the question from one reporter: when’s the last time you kissed a teammate?
“I was on the Kiss Cam in Hershey a couple times and I laid one on Kyle Wilson’s helmet,” laughs a jubilant Gordon.
Gordon becomes the first Caps-drafted player chosen in the seventh round or later to score an NHL goal since Richard Zednik, who was a 10th-round pick in 1994. Gordon is the sixth member of the 2004 draft class to record an NHL point for Washington.
Gordon’s Hershey teammate Keith Aucoin also scored his first NHL goal against Brodeur, as did former Capitals forward Fleischmann.
Second That – After netting three second-period goals on Sunday in Ottawa, the Caps tallied four times in the middle frame on Tuesday against New Jersey.
Washington’s four-goal outburst in a single period was its first since it scored four in the second period of a 6-0 win over the Lightning on Nov. 26.
The Caps have outscored the opposition 9-1 after the first intermission of their last three games.
Tonight’s five-goal output against the Devils is the first time the Caps have scored more than three times in a game without benefit of an empty-netter since that Nov. 26 game vs. Tampa Bay.
200 Club –Jason Chimera’s goal tonight was his fifth of the season and it was also the 200th point of his NHL career.
Chimera, who had not scored since Nov. 20 against the Flyers, has two of his five goals this season against Brodeur.
Six Hundo For Hannan – Tonight was the 600th NHL game for Caps defenseman Scott Hannan since the start of the 2002-03 season. Only Tampa Bay forward Martin St. Louis (604) and Minnesota forward Andrew Brunette (603) have played more NHL games over that span.
Bad Break For Brads – Caps right wing Matt Bradley absorbed a hard hit from Devils’ defenseman Anton Volchenkov to make a play on Beagle’s goal, collecting the secondary assist in the process. It was a costly goal for the Caps and Bradley; he suffered a broken finger and will miss the next 2-4 weeks.
“On the goal there,” recounts Beagle, “Brads makes a great play, takes a big hit to get it deep and then [David Steckel] makes a great pass. We had a lot of good chances and it’s fun to play.”
Bradley, a former Penguin, will miss the Winter Classic.
The loss of Bradley opens the door a bit for Beagle and/or Gordon, one or both of which could earn a longer look after the expiration of the NHL’s holiday roster freeze on Dec. 27.
Road Killed – The Devils dropped their ninth consecutive game on the road, the third longest streak in franchise history. New Jersey has previously lost 10 and 12 in a row on the road, with both of those streaks coming in 1983.
The Devils have scored a dozen goals in losing those nine games.
By The Numbers – Ovechkin fired 10 shots toward the net tonight, getting just one on goal. Three were blocked and six missed the mark … The Caps had more shots that did not go on goal (31) than they had shots on goal (28) … Steckel won seven of nine (78%) draws on the night. He leads the NHL in that department at 63.1% on the season … A dozen different players earned points for the Capitals tonight, including only three of the top six forwards … Ovechkin led the team with four hits … Only one New Jersey skater logged as much as 20 minutes on the night. Defenseman Henrik Tallinder played 21:09 … Tonight’s game was No. 1,099 in the NHL for Brodeur.