Shaky Shutout – One of the many revealing moments of HBO’s wonderful “24/7” series that chronicled the Caps and the Pens in the weeks leading up to the Winter Classic came in episode three. That episode showed Penguins coach Dan Bylsma during the first intermission of the Dec. 23 game between the two teams. telling his team to get after Caps goalie Michael Neuvirth because he was “shaky.”
Was Neuvirth aware of that heading into his 3-0 shutout performance against the Penguins on Sunday at Verizon Center?
“Of course,” says Neuvirth. “I watched every episode, but this is hockey. It didn’t really bother me. But now I’m really happy that I shut them down. It’s even better for me right now.”
Neuvirth banked Bylsma’s comment. In today’s game against the Pens at Verizon Center, the 22-year-old Caps goalie made the most of his chance for revenge.
“Before the game,” says Neuvirth, “I remembered when he said that and I kind of looked at him during the warm up and told myself that I got to shut these guys out tonight.”
Neuvirth stopped all 22 pucks sent in his direction to pace the Caps to a 3-0 win over the rival Penguins on Super Bowl Sunday at Verizon Center, the second straight year the Caps have downed the Pens on Super Bowl Sunday.
Brooks Laich gave Neuvirth all the offense he would need with a goal at 18:22 of the first period. After some strong offensive zone work along with linemates Mathieu Perreault and Jay Beagle, Laich deposited a rebound of a John Erskine point shot behind Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
Marcus Johansson gave the Caps some breathing room with a brilliant individual effort on a shorthanded goal in the second, and Mike Knuble administered the final nail when he hammered in an empty-netter in the final minute of regulation.
Coming on the heels of the Caps’ 5-2 triumph in Tampa Bay on Friday, the win was Washington’s second in succession against a team ahead of it in the NHL’s Eastern Conference standings.
“We came back off the break and we didn’t think we played very good [in Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss] against Montreal,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “We know how tough our schedule is. We were on top of our game. When they [the Capitals] play that way and they’re committed, it’s a great team effort.”
For Neuvirth, Sunday’s shutout was his second of the season and the second of his NHL career. He now has 16 victories on the season.
Long Time Coming – Neuvirth’s shutout was the first by a Caps goalie against a Penguins team in the regular season in nearly two decades.
Don Beaupre last whitewashed the Penguins for Washington on Oct. 29, 1991 when the Caps blasted the defending Stanley Cup champion Pens 8-0 at the Igloo in Pittsburgh.
The last Capitals goalie to blank the Penguins in the District was Pete Peeters, who shutout Pittsburgh 8-0 at the Capital Centre on Jan. 2, 1989.
Penguin Killer – Knuble’s goal was the 30th of his career against Pittsburgh. That’s a dozen more than he has scored against any other team in the league.
Since joining the Capitals at the start of the 2009-10 season, Knuble has now scored a goal in seven straight games against the Penguins. He has an 11-game points streak against Pittsburgh.
Stepping Up – Caps defenseman Scott Hannan logged 24:01 in ice time in Sunday’s contest, his second-highest single-game total as a member of the Caps. He skated 27:09 in the Dec. 23 game against the Penguins at Verizon Center.
In both of those games, the Caps lost a key blueline cog to injury. Tom Poti left that Dec. 23 game early and Washington lost Mike Green in the waning moments of Sunday’s game against the Pens.
Coming into today’s game, Green ranked third in the NHL in average ice time pre game at 26:08 per contest. He trails only San Jose’s Dan Boyle (26:56) and Chicago’s Duncan Keith (26:42) on that list.
Hannan filled the void left in Green’s absence quite nicely on Sunday, skating 20:39 of even-strength ice time to lead all skaters on both sides. Hannan was plus-2 on the day with a pair of blocked shots.
Green skated only 7:10 on Sunday. Hannan was on the ice for more than half of the third period (10:13).
Big Bad John – Caps defenseman John Erskine assisted on Laich’s game-winning tally to earn his first point since he had an assist in the Winter Classic game against the Penguins on Jan. 1.
Erskine’s assist was his seventh of the season, matching a single-season career high. It was his 10th point, establishing a career best.
Team Effort – Ten different Capitals were credited with blocked shots in the game as Washington combined for a total of 18 on the afternoon. In one third-period sequence, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom blocked successive Pittsburgh shots.
Washington is now 17-1-3 this season in games in which it blocks 16 or more shots.
Short Stuff – Johansson’s shorthanded goal was the first of his NHL career and the first by a Caps rookie since Ovechkin scored a shorthanded goal against Ottawa on March 2, 2006. That was one of three shorthanded goals Ovechkin scored as an NHL freshman.
The 300 Club – Backstrom skated in his 300th career NHL game on Sunday.
Super Sunday – The Caps’ nearly annual tradition of hosting an afternoon game on Super Bowl Sunday started in 1988. With today’s win, the Caps are now 14-3-1 in Super Sunday games. They’ve won eight straight Super Sunday games since moving downtown to the Verizon Center in 1997.
That's The Way the Cookie Crumbles – Although most reasonable people seem to believe that Caps center David Steckel’s collision with Pens’ captain Sidney Crosby late in the second period of the Jan. 1 Winter Classic was exactly that, a collision, the Pens still felt compelled to make Steckel answer for his "actions."
Tim Wallace – who has 23 pro fights to Steckel’s seven – challenged the Caps’ pivot midway through the third, and Steckel accepted. This was after Pens center Michael Rupp (60 career pro fights) challenged Steckel earlier.
Later in the game, Pens forward Matt Cooke hit Ovechkin knee on knee, receiving a tripping minor in the process. Cooke left the penalty box and made a beeline for the bench, where he safely remained for the small portion of the game that remained. On his way to the safe haven, Caps right wing Matt Bradley tried to get Cooke to go, but the Pens winger was having none of it.
Bradley wisely did not pursue the matter any further. With fewer than five minutes left in the game, he would have incurred an automatic suspension and a $10,000 fine for instigating a fight in the final five minutes of the game.
Hot Goalie – Fleury came into Sunday afternoon’s game on a hot streak, having won each of his previous six starts. He forged a 1.64 GAA and a .947 save pct. in those six games.
Fleury started his regular season career with a 7-0 record, a 1.98 GAA and a .939 save pct. in his first seven starts against the Capitals. Since then however, he is just 2-5-2 with a 3.80 GAA and an .897 save pct. in his last 10 starts against Washington. Each of his two wins over the Caps in those last 10 starts came in the shootout. Fleury’s last regulation win over Washington came on March 9, 2008 at Verizon Center.
"We'll be looking forward to that game first," Cooke said. "We'll get a win in there, and then we'll be cheering on the Steelers, that's for sure."
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears concluded a prosperous weekend with a 5-1 win over the Manitoba Moose at Giant Center. The Bears picked up five of a possible six points in playing three games in as many nights this weekend.
Five different Bears scored in support of Todd Ford’s 17-save effort in the Hershey nets. Brian Willsie (his 22nd), Boyd Kane (14th), Zach Miskovic (7th), Kyle Greentree (19th) and Aaron Rome (8th) scored for the Bears.
Hershey moved to within six points of front-running Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL’s East Division. The Bears still have one game in hand on the Baby Pens. Hershey will be back in action on Wednesday when it travels to Manchester to face the Monarchs.
By The Numbers – With the shutout on Sunday, the Caps have now allowed an average of 2.39 goals per game, third fewest among Eastern Conference clubs and fifth fewest in the NHL … Caps rookie defenseman John Carlson led all skaters on both sides with 27:46 in ice time. Carlson has averaged 22:07 per game this season, trailing only Anaheim’s Cam Fowler (22:28) among fellow freshman blueliners … Laich has goals in consecutive games for the first time since he tallied in the first two games of the season … Matt Hendricks led all skaters on both sides with five hits … Hendricks and Backstrom led the Caps with three blocked shots each … The Caps schooled the Pens in the face-off circle, winning 32 of 49 (65%) draws on the afternoon. Backstrom led the way with 14 of 17 (82%).