No Place Like Home – The Caps kept their good home karma going with a 4-3 overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes in their 2011-12 season opener at Verizon Center on Saturday night.
Mike Green’s overtime power play goal pushed Washington to victory in a seesaw affair in which five of the seven goals were scored with one team having an advantage in its number of skaters on the ice.
Green’s drive from the right side dribbled through the pads of Carolina netminder Brian Boucher and wobbled into the cage. It came while Washington enjoyed a 4-on-3 advantage, courtesy of a Jussi Jokinen holding call in the extra session.
“I saw the guy scoot over to [Dennis Wideman],” relates Green, “and I knew that I had a lot of time to shoot the puck. I just had to find a spot. It kind of went off a guy’s shin pad and snuck through, but I just had to get the shot off.”
It was a fitting game-winner for an often sloppy and sometimes exciting game.
Much credit should be directed toward Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth, who made 28 saves to earn the victory. Neuvirth shut the Canes down at even strength all night, and made three of his best stops in overtime, setting the stage for Green’s heroics.
“It wasn’t an easy game to play,” says Neuvirth, “but I stayed positive the whole game. I believed that we could get the two points. It’s just such a great feeling that we start the season with a win.”
The victory is Washington’s 10th straight in home opener situations. The Capitals are 10-0-0 and have outscored their foes by a combined 48-21 in their last 10 home openers. The last time the Caps lost their home opener was on Oct. 6, 2000 when they suffered a 4-1 setback against the Los Angeles Kings.
Tonight’s season opener was the first at Verizon Center for Washington since Oct. 5, 2005 when the Caps downed the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 in the season opener and Alex Ovechkin’s NHL debut.
When The Spell Is Broken – Carolina’s Eric Staal scored Carolina’s first two goals of the game, netting both on the power play. The first of those tallies came at 12:16 of the second period to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
Staal’s first strike also ended a lengthy personal shutout streak for Neuvirth against Carolina.
Neuvirth had blanked the Canes for 114 minutes and 11 seconds before Staal’s extra-man strike. In three career starts against Carolina, Neuvirth has allowed eight goals to the Canes. Only one of the eight was scored in a five skaters vs. five skaters situation.
The Canes have nicked Neuvirth for three power play goals, two shorthanded strikes, one on a penalty shot, one with the opposing goalie pulled for an extra skater and one (from Chad Larose) at even strength.
Half A Dozen – Green’s overtime game-winner was the sixth of his NHL career. Prior to tonight, he had been tied for second on the Caps’ all-time list in regular season overtime goals with Peter Bondra and Kelly Miller (five each). Alex Ovechkin leads with 10.
Check, Mate – The Caps’ checking unit of Laich, Jason Chimera and Joel Ward did excellent work on Saturday against Carolina’s top trio of Staal, Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu.
The Canes’ top unit combined for 11 of the team’s 31 shots on goal, but managed just four at even strength, and none from inside of 30 feet. Four of Staal’s six shots came on the power play, and he had no shots on goal of any kind after his game-tying power play strike at the 18-second mark of the third.
Laich and Chimera each had a goal and Ward had an assist.
The Laich line did a good job of hemming Staal’s unit into its own end and forcing it t play defense for much of the night.
“A lot of those times, top lines don’t want to play in their own end,” says Chimera. “They want to be offensive and get going. We thought we did a great job. We are three big guys who try and keep the puck down low and create some chances for ourselves. We had some good chances; we felt good tonight. We played really good together and we never gave up much five-on-five, so that’s good.”
Staal was on the ice for each of Carolina’s three goals and each of the Caps’ first three tallies as well.
Razing Canes – The Capitals are now 7-0-3 in their last 10 regular season meetings against Carolina. The last time Carolina won against Washington in regulation was on Dec. 28, 2009 at Verizon Center. That’s the day Washington swapped then-captain Chris Clark and defenseman Milan Jurcina to Columbus for left wing Jason Chimera.
Two Man Trouble – For the second night in a row, the Hurricanes were forced to face down a lengthy 5-on-3 man disadvantage at a crucial juncture of a tie game. And for the second night in a row, the Canes surrendered the go-ahead goal in that situation.
On Friday night, Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lecavalier victimized the Canes for a 5-on-3 goal that proved to be the game-winner. Tonight, Brooks Laich scored a 5-on-3 tally for Washington to put the Caps up 3-2 with 3:45 left in regulation.
Carolina came back to tie it at 3-3 on Jokinen’s late strike, only to fall when Green did what Green does.
Kid Stuff – The Caps opened the 2011-12 season without a single rookie on their opening night roster. The last time Washington started out with no freshmen was in 2008-09. Karl Alzner ended up pacing all Caps rookies with 30 games played that season.
Carolina starts the season with three rookies on its roster, all of them first- or second-round draft choices. Center Zac Dalpe played 15 games for the Canes in 2010-11, but retains his rookie status. He was Carolina’s second-round (45th overall) choice in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
Nineteen-year-old blueliner Justin Faulk made his NHL debut on Friday against Tampa Bay. He was the Canes’ second-round choice (37th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Carolina also has 18-year-old rookie blueliner Ryan Murphy on its roster. Murphy was the team’s first-round pick (12th overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Canes GM Jim Rutherford considers Faulk a top four defender on his team right now. The freshman was minus-2 in 19:16 of work tonight, but he also led his team with five blocked shots and was on the ice in the waning seconds of a tie game late in regulation.
No Sophomore Slump – Canes forward Jeff Skinner won the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie in 2010-11, but he’s not resting on his laurels. With three assists in Saturday’s loss to the Caps, Skinner has now been involved in all four Carolina goals this season (one goal, three assists).
Caps Killer – Staal now has 22 goals and 50 points in 49 career games against the Capitals. He has 10 goals and 23 points in 25 career contests at Verizon Center.
By The Numbers – Nineteen years and one day after his NHL debut, Roman Hamrlik led the Caps in ice time, logging 23:18 in his Washington debut … Ovechkin led the Caps with 4:57 in power play ice time … Laich led the Caps with 3:13 in shorthanded ice time … Hamrlik and Jeff Halpern were the only two Caps not to record a shot on goal in Saturday’s opener … Troy Brouwer paced all players on both sides with six hits on the night … Mike Knuble led the Caps with four shots on goal … Nicklas Backstrom was Washington’s lone multiple-point man. He had two assists … Green’s game-winning shot came on his first shot on goal of the game. each of four previous bids had been blocked.
1 - 0 CAR
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 WSH