Twenty For From The Road – Washington finished up the front half of a six-game road swing with a 3-0 shutout win over the Devils in New Jersey on Friday night. The win was Washington’s 20th of the season on enemy ice, and the Capitals have now won 20 road games for four straight seasons for the first time in franchise history.
Michal Neuvirth stopped all 33 shots he faced in the Washington nets to earn his fourth shutout of the season, a single-season franchise mark for Capitals rookie netminders. Five of the shots he stopped came from New Jersey sniper Ilya Kovalchuk, including a one-on-one bid in the third.
“He’s got a pretty good shot,” says Neuvirth of Kovalchuk, “but every time I saw the shot. The guys made it easy on myself blocking shots and there wasn’t really traffic tonight, so I was seeing the puck pretty well. I think I saw every shot on the net tonight.”
Neuvirth got all the support he would require when a Jeff Schultz shot from the left point found its way through a tangle and into the back of the New Jersey net at 6:10 of the opening frame.
Mike Knuble added a pair of tallies, one in the second and one in the third period. He now has 19 goals on the season in his bid for an eighth consecutive season with 20 or more goals.
At one point in the second period, the Caps owned a 1-0 lead despite being outshot by an 18-3 margin. After 40 minutes of play, the Devils were outshooting the Capitals 20-8, but the visitors had a 2-0 lead.
“Today was kind of a boring game, I think,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin, who had a pair of assists and was – along with linemates Knuble and Marcus Johansson – a plus-3 in the game. “[Both] teams tried to play more solid defensively, but I think they had way more chances than us. [Knuble] played unbelievable and we used our chances to score three goals.”
The Devils have been desperately fighting for their playoff lives for the last couple months, Neuvirth dealt that bid a death blow tonight. With their loss to the Capitals, New Jersey has now lost consecutive contests for the first time in more than two months. The Devils have 11 games remaining, and their ceiling – if they were to run the table and win out – is just 92 points.
Winning 11 straight will be hard enough, but 92 points might not be enough to close the deal. In two of the five seasons since the lockout, 92 points hasn’t been enough to earn the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff berth.
Net Gain – Neuvirth went to the win column for the 23rd time this season and the first time since March 6 at Florida. He took a shot off his mask the next night and Tampa, and sat out the rest of that contest and the next four before returning to the crease on Wednesday in Detroit.
The Red Wings beat Neuvirth 3-2, getting the game-winner when Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg tucked a shot high to the short side on a third-period power play.
Neuvirth was excellent against New Jersey on Friday, earning his third win in as many starts against the Devils this season.
“He was pretty good,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “You could tell he wanted it. I think he was upset with the goal he let in for the third goal in Detroit. He’s a competitor. Let’s face it; early on he was the difference. Probably the whole game he was the difference.”
Neuvirth did some of his best work against Devils sniper Ilya Kovalchuk, who came into Friday’s contest with a dozen goals – including half a dozen game-winners – in his last 20 games.
“I think his confidence is up there,” says Boudreau of Neuvirth. “He knows he’s a good goaltender. I think this is additional. He just [bore] down. I thought it was going to be tough to get one by him once he made a couple [saves]. It was back-to-back-to-back saves in the second period, and I said, ‘They’re going to have trouble scoring and we might end up 1-0 here.”
With Neuvirth and Braden Holtby both playing well over their last several starts, and with Semyon Varlamov set to return after missing the last month with a lower body injury, the Caps have three capable goaltenders who would all love to have the honor of standing in the crease for the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series a few weeks hence.
“We’ll just keep going on,” says Boudreau. “Varly is going to get his chance next week and we’ll see where it goes.”
Special Stuff – New Jersey had four power play opportunities, but the caps clamped down on the penalty kill as they’ve done so often this season.
A power play goal ended the Caps’ nine-game winning streak in Detroit on Wednesday, but Washington got back in the win column by allowing just three power play shots on goal to the Devils in the eight minutes during which New Jersey owned the man advantage.
“I thought we were really good,” says Boudreau of his team’s penalty killing outfit. “It’s nothing new that we haven’t done all year, I think. They looked a little tired and frustrated when they weren’t scoring, but you get [Boyd] Gordon and [Brooks] Laich blocking shots all night long out there and the defense I thought did a real good job of screening out. It was good killing and I think that and the goaltending were the difference, because we didn’t have too many power plays, I think.”
Not unless you consider “zero” too many.
Whitewashington – The Capitals notched their seventh shutout of the season tonight, the most they’ve had in any single campaign since 1999-00 when they also had seven. The club record for shutouts in a single season is nine, set in 1995-96.
Shots Down – With just a dozen shots on goal for the game, the Caps were limited to what is by far their single-game low total for the season.
Prior to tonight’s game with the Devils, the Caps had 22 shots on goal twice this season, and that represented their single game low. They had 22 shots in a 2-1 loss to the Wild in Minnesota on Oct. 28 and 22 shots again in a 3-2 win over the Islanders on Long Island on Feb. 26.
Double Nickel – Schultz’s goal was his first of the season and his first in a span of 82 games in which he has played, dating back to Feb. 11, 2010 when he tallied against the Senators in Ottawa.
It was also his first-ever game-winning goal in the NHL. Schultz’s only other game-winning goal at the professional level came on Jan. 21, 2007 for the AHL Hershey Bears in a win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Schultz had a strong game overall, registering two shots on goal and a pair of hits to go along with a plus-2 in 20:09 of work.
O From The D – A defenseman was involved in each of the Capitals’ three goals tonight, and the Caps have now had a blueliner involved in each of the last five goals they’ve scored and nine of the last dozen goals they’ve netted.
How Low Can You Go? – The Capitals had just two shots on goal in the first period of Friday’s game at New Jersey. That’s the fewest shots they’ve recorded in any of the 219 periods of hockey they’ve played this season.
Local Boy Makes Good – Playing in front of the home folks in the state of New Jersey where he grew up, Caps defenseman John Carlson made a sublime slap pass to set up Knuble’s first goal of the night. Carlson finished the night with two assists and a plus-2 in 22:54 of work.
“He’s a very smart player,” says Knuble of Carlson. “He crept in there, and Ovi hit him with a great pass. He picks his head up, and I was able to go back door there, and he really faked like he was shooting and slipped it across the crease.
“It was a great, heads-up play by John.”
Carlson now has 32 points (six goals, 26 assists) on the season. He passed Leif Svensson (31 points in 1977-78) for third place on the Caps all-time ledger for points by a rookie defensemen. Carlson now trails only Greg Theberge (37 points in 1981-82) and Robert Picard (37 points in 1977-78) on that list.
“Blue Moon” Ovechkin – Ovechkin did not record a shot on goal in Friday’s game. It was the first time this season he’s been held without a shot and the first time since a Jan. 19, 2010 game against the Red Wings at Verizon Center.
Tonight’s game marked just the fourth time in his 469 career NHL games that Ovechkin did not record a shot on goal. The Capitals are 3-0-1 in those contests.
No Power – The Capitals did not have a power play opportunity in tonight’s game. This is the second time this season the Capitals went through a game without getting a power play opportunity; the first time was a 3-2 overtime loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia on Jan. 18.
Washington has had two or fewer power play chances in 26 of its 73 games (35.6%) this season.
Not So Close – Tonight’s game was the fourth and final meeting between the Capitals and the Devils. With its three-goal winning margin at night’s end, tonight’s game was also the closest of the three contests.
Washington defeated the Devils 7-2 in the Caps’ home opener on Oct. 9 and the Devils returned the favor in their barn with a 5-0 shutout of the Caps on Nov. 22. Washington downed the Devils 5-1 at verizon Center on Dec. 21.
Not Up To The Task – One of the biggest signs of erosion in the great Martin Brodeur is that the Devils’ goaltender is no longer effective when playing both ends of a back-to-back set of games.
After tonight, Brodeur is now 2-7-1 with a 3.59 GAA and an .859 save pct. in the second of back-to-back games when he gets the start on both nights.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears hit the road for a Friday night contest against the Springfield Falcons. The Bears left town with a 5-1 victory.
Andrew Kozek and Brian Willsie each scored twice to pace the Bears’ attack, and Kyle Greentree added a late tally as well. Nolan Schaefer made 29 stops for Hershey to earn the victory in goal.
The Bears are second in the AHL’s East Division, seven points in back of first-place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Hershey leads third-place Charlotte by six points and fourth-place Norfolk by seven.
Hershey heads home for a Saturday night date with the Portland Pirates.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays were in Toledo a night after fashioning a 5-1 win over the Wings in Kalamazoo.
Goaltender Shane Owen made 35 saves to earn his second win in as many nights. He is now 9-5-1-2 with the Rays this season.
The Stingrays are running second in the ECHL’s South Division, nine points behind front-running Greenville and five points in front of third-place Florida.
Next, the Stingrays head to Wheeling to take on the Nailers in their third game in as many nights on Saturday.
By The Numbers – Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman notched his 30th assist of the season, marking the second time in his career he has reached that plateau … The Devils attempted 50 shots (33 on goal, eight blocked and nine misses) to just 21 for the Capitals (12 on goal, six blocked and three misses) … Knuble accounted for a third (four of 12) of the Capitals total shots on goal for the game … Brian Rolston and Kovalchuk paced the Devils with five shots on goal each … A pair of forwards (Boyd Gordon and Brooks Laich) led the Caps with two blocked shots each. Caps defensemen accounted for only three of the team’s eight blocked shots … Nicklas Backstrom showed no lingering effects from his thumb injury, winning 13 of 17 draws (76%) to lead all face-off men on both sides … Devils center Adam Mair was a late addition to the lineup when ex-Cap David Steckel was scratched because of an upper body ailment. Mair led the Devils with five hits in just 9:44 of work … New Jersey was charged with a whopping total of 15 giveaways on the night to just two for Washington.
1 - 0 WSH
2 - 0 WSH
3 - 0 WSH
Delay of game
Hi stick - double minor