Road Hockey – After losing five straight on the road for the first time in more than four years, the Capitals have now won consecutive contests on the road. Goaltender Michal Neuvirth made 26 stops – including 14 in the first period – to earn his first shutout of the season.
Neuvirth’s stellar netminding enabled Alex Ovechkin’s goal in the game’s 59th minute to stand up as the game-winner.
“[Nicklas Backstrom] gave a pass to [Marcus Johansson],” says Ovechkin of the game-winning tally at 18:46 of the third period, “and it was 2-on-2. I didn’t want to go to the net; I tried to be open and make a play to go to the center. [Johansson] gave me a pass and I shot right away. I didn’t see where the puck went, I just saw the right light. I was kind of happy.”
The sellout MTS Centre crowd that had booed Ovechkin every time he touched the puck all night was kind of unhappy, and suddenly silent.
More than anything, Washington needed a strong netminding performance. It got one from Neuvirth.
“He played real well,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter of Neuvirth. “We had some breakdowns defensively in our own end and he stood tall and made the big saves. He played well tonight.”
Neuvirth was sublime in the first when the Jets were frequently all over him. He cooled the Jets until Washington was slowly able to swing the pendulum of puck possession and attack-zone time away from its own end and into Winnipeg’s as the game wore on.
“It was a tight game,” notes Hunter. “In the third period I thought we were skating very well and played more in their end. Definitely Michal kept us in the game early and gave us some confidence.
“I thought we played well in the third. There were a few penalties in the third, so both of us had a chance. The power play didn’t come through, and one play ended up in the net.”
At one juncture late in the first period, Winnipeg owned a 14-5 advantage in shots on goal. From that point on, Washington tilted the ice in the other direction and outshot its hosts 23-12.
“Overall, it was one of the best road games we played all year,” says Caps left wing Jason Chimera. “We just stuck with our game plan. First period, Neuvy kept us in it. Second period, we played better. Third period, we played even better. I think it was a good game overall.”
With the win, Washington moves to 6-8 on the road this season. The Caps close out this two-game journey on Saturday when they face the Colorado Avalanche in Denver.
Road Warrior – Tonight’s shutout was the fifth of Neuvirth’s NHL career. Four of the five have come on the road.
In the last 11 seasons, Washington has had exactly three 1-0 road shutout wins. Neuvirth has authored two of them. The other on came in Pittsburgh this past Feb. 21.
The Caps had been 25th in the league in goals against coming into the game, and their goaltending tandem of Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun was getting chafed a good bit in the local and national hockey media.
Neuvirth was blissfully unaware of that.
“Actually,” says Neuvirth. “I didn’t even know we were getting chirped or anything like that. I don’t really follow the media. I just worry about myself and my game and like I said, it was a great team effort. We didn’t give them much in the third, and that’s the way we’ve got to play every game.”
As worried as some of the media types and fans seem to be about Washington’s goaltending, the duo’s teammates knew that one or the other or both would get it together eventually.
“They’re both proven goalies,” says Chimera. “It was only a matter of time before someone was going to step up and have a great game. Neuvy has done it for us in the past; we thought he could do it. He had a great game for us, especially in the first period when they were coming hard. Neuvy, I’m proud of the kid for the way he played tonight.”
Making Do With A Little – Going into tonight’s game against the Jets, you had the sense that a strong goaltending performance would be needed and that Washington might have to make do with very little in the way of offense.
The Jets were riding a five-game home-ice winning streak coming into Thursday’s contest, two victories shy of the franchise record. Winnipeg had allowed a combined total of just six goals in those five wins.
Big Game Hunting – Washington needed a win in regulation in order to hop over the Jets and into second place in the Southeast Division and make a bit of a move up the Eastern Conference standings ladder.
“We’ve got to get back up there, that’s for sure,” says Chimera. “We don’t like where we’re standing. I think maybe we’re back in eighth or seventh now or something like that, but we’ve got to keep on climbing. There’s an important game in Colorado coming up. These are the streaks you got to string like three or four [wins] together and keep on climbing. Those are the ones where you get back up there and get back where you should be.”
Thursday’s win lifts Washington into a four-way tie for seventh palce in the Eastern Conference standings with Buffalo, New Jersey and Montreal.
Scoreless After 40 – For just the second time in 30 games this season, Washington and its opponent played 40 minutes of scoreless hockey to start the game.
The only other time that occurred this season was in a 3-1 loss to the Predators in Nashville exactly one month ago, on Nov. 15.
Leading Role – Rookie Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov played in his 12th career NHL game on Thursday in Winnipeg. He logged 8:27 in first-period ice time, tops among all six Washington blueliners.
Orlov finished the night at 19:32, the most he has logged in any of his dozen games and the second time in succession that he has cracked the 19-minute mark.
Missed It By That Much – The Caps fired 28 shots on goal in Thursday’s game, and they also fired 37 shots that missed the mark. Washington had 19 shots blocked and 18 that missed the net.
Winnipeg had 26 shots on goal, but missed on 32 of its own shot attempts. The Jets had 14 shots blocked and 18 misses.
By The Numbers –John Carlson led the Caps with 23:18 in ice time … Chimera and Karl Alzner led the way with four shots on goal each for Washington … Chimera paced the Caps with four hits … Alzner led the Caps with three blocked shots … Jeff Halpern won nine of his 12 draws on the night (75%) … Blake Wheeler led the Jets with five hits … Ron Hainsey paced Winnipeg with five blocked shots.