Another Close Shave – Playing on Dec. 26 is difficult in the NHL, particularly for the road team. Clubs are taking the ice after two days off the ice altogether, something they haven’t experienced since September. And road clubs have to travel to the city of the game on game day instead of the customary day before.
Washington picked up a pair of hard-earned points with a 3-2 road win over the Hurricanes in Carolina on Sunday. The victory was the Caps’ second ever on the road on Dec. 26 and first since an 8-2 win over the Maple Leafs in Toronto in 1979. The Caps are now 12-10-3 all-time on Dec. 26 and are 2-4 in road games on that date.
“We didn’t have a very good morning skate,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “I wasn’t very happy with that. But the guys dug deep. They knew what was at stake. You’re either seven points out of a playoff spot or five points out of first place overall. Every game you have to be ready.”
Sunday’s game was Washington’s fifth one-goal affair in its last six contests. The Capitals are 2-1-2 in those games.
“I think we’re getting more and more confident,” says Caps defenseman Mike Green. “The two days wasn’t bad for us. I think it gave us a chance to recharge. The good thing about it was we didn’t stray away mentally from what we did well against Pittsburgh [on Thursday]. I felt like there were maybe three or four minutes of the game where we maybe had a lapse but other than that we played strong.”
Washington has now earned a point in four straight games (3-0-1) and five of its last six (4-1-1).
Tonight’s win gave the Caps a season’s sweep (3-0) of the three games played between the two clubs in Carolina. It’s the first time the Capitals have turned that trick since 1997-98, the Canes’ first season in Carolina.
Young Guns Blazing – Starting with a 3-0 loss to the Florida Panthers on Dec. 8 and running through a 5-1 win over New Jersey on Dec. 21, Washington went seven straight games without getting any goals from any of its “Young Guns:” Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Alexander Semin. The Caps were 2-4-1 in those seven games.
Green found the back of the net in Thursday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Penguins and Ovechkin supplied the game-winner tonight. Since the start of the 2007-08 season, the Capitals are now 152-49-28 in games in which at least one of the four scores a goal. They are 16-33-6 in games when none of the four lights the lamp.
Boudreau hopes the goal spurs some confidence in his captain.
“I hope it’s good,” says the Caps coach of Ovechkin’s goal. “You could see after that he had two or three good chances to score. He finally got a bounce that went in his direction.”
Switcheroo – The last time the Caps had a goalie come up lame during the morning skate, things didn’t go so well that night.
Back on Nov. 22 in New Jersey, Michal Neuvirth was scratched from a scheduled start after suffering a minor morning skate injury. Braden Holtby got the start on short notice, and he was nicked for three first-period goals as the Caps fell 5-0 to the lowly Devils in Newark.
On Sunday in Carolina, Neuvirth was the first goalie off the ice after the morning skate and Varlamov stayed out late. Neuvirth told the coaching staff he was unable to go, and Varlamov learned he’d be getting the net somewhere around noon on game day.
“Neuvy came down sore after the warm-up,” says Boudreau, “and Varly went in and you just knew he was chomping at the bit because Neuvy had played the last [four] games. I was expecting a good game from him.”
He got it.
The 22-year-old Russian calmly and efficiently turned aside all 16 shots he faced in the first. He finished with 33 saves and his fifth win of the season in Sunday’s victory over the Hurricanes.
Man Down – Shortly after scoring the game’s first goal, Caps center Mathieu Perreault absorbed a hard and heavy hit from Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason along the right wing wall in the Carolina zone. Having put his stick up to defend the blow, Perreault caught Gleason’s shoulder up high. The force of the blow combined with the position of the stick snapped Perreault’s shield in half and broke the pivot’s nose. He left the game and did not return, skating just 3:19 in five shifts on the night.
Perreault is listed as day-to-day. His availability for Tuesday’s game against Montreal and Saturday’s Winter Classic in Pittsburgh will depend upon how well he is able to breathe with a busted beak. With five goals in a dozen games with Washington this season, Perreault is tied for seventh on the club in goals.
Gleason was assessed a five-minute major for charging and a game misconduct.
Diminishing Returns – The Caps surrendered 16 shots on goal in the first period, a dozen in the second and just seven in the third.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears got back into action on Sunday at Giant Center against the Norfolk Admirals. Behind the 31-save efforts of goaltender Braden Holtby, the Bears skated off with a 3-1 victory.
Hershey drew first blood on a Zach Miskovic power play goal – his third of the season – at 8:13 of the first period. The Ads evened it up with a goal midway through the middle frame and the two teams headed to the third tied at 1-1.
Keith Aucoin netted his eighth of the season at 5:20, a marker that would prove to be the game-winner. Steve Pinizzotto tallied his sixth of the season into an empty net to seal the deal, and Holtby just missed getting one of his own late in the game.
The victory moves the fourth-place Bears to within a point of third-place Charlotte and within five points of second-place Norfolk in the AHL’s East Division standings.
By The Numbers – Green led the Caps with 29:43 in ice time and 21:26 in even-strength ice time … Scott Hannan logged a team-high 4:29 in shorthanded ice time … Steckel was the Caps’ top face-off man with 11 wins in 16 draws (69%) … Ovechkin led the Caps with eight shots on goal … Nicklas Backstrom fired nine times, but got just two on goal. He had five bids blocked and missed twice … Defensemen John Erskine and Karl Alzner tied for the team lead in hits with four each … Green and John Carlson tied for the team lead with four blocked shots each … Caps defenseman Tyler Sloan returned to the lineup for the first time since Dec. 4 against Atlanta. Sloan skated 10:02 on the night … Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu scored a third-period goal, the 100th of his NHL career … Hurricanes defenseman Joni Pitkanen logged 33:20 on the night, tops among all skaters on both sides … Gleason was the only Hurricanes skater not to record at least one shot on goal in the game.