Vokey Dokey –Tomas Vokoun made good on his third bid for his 17th win of the season on Wednesday, blanking the Pittsburgh Penguins for the 46th whitewash of his NHL career, tying him with Hockey Hall of Famer Ken Dryden for 26th on the NHL’s all-time shutout list. Making his seventh straight start for the Capitals, Vokoun was rock solid steady all night long, stopping all 30 shots fired in his direction.
Jason Chimera supplied Vokoun with all the offense he would require late in the first frame.
Washington winger Joel Ward chipped the puck off the stick of Penguins center Evgeni Malkin just inside the Washington line, and it rolled into neutral ice where Caps center Jeff Halpern collected it. He barreled down the right wing wall while Chimera drove the center lane, and Halpern hit him perfectly in stride – eluding a Zbynek Michalek check – just as the speedy winger reached the top of the circles. Chimera did the rest, firing the puck past Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to give the Caps a 1-0 lead at 15:25 of the first.
Pittsburgh had a greater territorial advantage, more consistent puck possession and more and better scoring chances for the first 40 minutes. The Caps white-knuckled their way to the second intermission, then came out with fire in the third.
“The second period we sat back way too much,” admits Chimera. “The third period we kind of went at them a bit and it worked out better for us. We got a lot more chances and kept it in their end.”
For the better part of the first half of the third, Washington buzzed the Pittsburgh net and dominated play. Alexander Semin missed an open net and Matt Hendricks fired a shot off the goalpost, denying Vokoun some breathing room that he didn’t require in the end.
“We had some great chances in the third period,” says Vokoun. “We played a not very good game in L.A. [on Monday] and this is a good bounce back. [We played a] tight checking game.
“The score says it all. Our effort was much better today.”
In three starts against the Penguins this season, Vokoun is 2-1 with a 1.31 GAA and a .962 save pct.
“Great game by Vokey,” says Chimera. “It was just an unbelievable performance. He made some huge saves for us down the stretch.”
Get Started, Start A Fire – Playing just two nights after an all-night flight home from Los Angeles, the Caps were a shade on the sluggish side early in this one, but they got an early boost of energy when Hendricks dropped the gloves with Pittsburgh’s Craig Adams at the 2:19 mark of the first.
Hendricks won the bout, juicing up the capacity crowd and giving his teammates a needed lift.
“I think Hendy with the great fight,” begins Chimera, “he sparked us big time. It’s always important to get the first goal. These teams pay such a great defense so it’s hard to score. Halpy made a great play [on the goal] but Hendy got it started for us with the fight.”
Just as importantly, Hendricks wisely refused Pittsburgh’s Arron Asham’s offer to drop the mitts again in the third. With the Caps clinging to a 1-0 lead and owning all the momentum in the contest at that point, there was nothing to be gained by Hendricks fighting at that juncture.
History shows that 80 percent or more of Hendricks’ fights come when Washington is trailing or when the game is tied.
“We had the one-goal lead there,” says Hendricks of not fighting Asham. “He’s a little bit higher on the old notch or on the weight belt for me. I think that’s when our line actually picked up its play, with that shift. It worked out to our benefit.”
Kid Stuff – Caps defenseman Tomas Kundratek made his NHL debut on Wednesday against the Penguins. He logged 11:09 in ice time on 16 shifts, all of it at even strength.
The scoresheet credits Kundratek with one shot on goal, one giveaway and one blocked shot.
Kundratek logged nearly half of his ice time total for the night in the first period when he skated 5:25. He received only three shifts in the third as Hunter shortened his bench to protect the Capitals’ slim lead.
“It was such a huge game,” says Kundratek of his NHL debut. “It was a battle in the corner every time. We handled it pretty well.”
Climbing The Ladder – Washington moved even with Pittsburgh into a tie for eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings. Having played one less game than the Penguins, the Caps are now the official occupant of eighth place in the league.
Just as importantly as the two points they earned with Wednesday’s win are the point or points they kept the Penguins from gaining in the process.
“Every one [of the points] you lose at this time of year,” says Caps winger Mike Knuble, “it gets harder and harder to scrape up these points. These points are just going to be incredibly valuable down the line.”
We’re Halfway There – Wednesday’s game leaves the Caps with a 22-17-2 mark at the halfway point of the season for a total of 46 points. It’s Washington’s lowest first-half point total since 2007-08 when the Caps had just 37 points at the midway mark of the campaign.
Streak Sustained – Pittsburgh didn’t get a single power play in Wednesday’s game, so the Capitals’ streak of consecutive successful penalty killing missions on home ice remains intact. The Caps have not allowed a power play goal in their last 10 home games, going 26-for-26 on the penalty kill in that span.
Physicality Alley – There were a total of 79 bodychecks thrown in this game, 40 from the Penguins and 39 from the Capitals. A dozen different Penguins and 15 different Capitals got in on the hitting action.
Six Pack – For the Penguins, the loss was their sixth in succession. They’ve been outscored 19-6 in those half dozen games.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears were on the road in Charlotte on Wednesday, and they skated off with a 3-2 shootout win.
Keith Aucoin netted his ninth of the season and Jacob Micflikier tallied his 14th to account for the Bears’ scoring Dany Sabourin stopped 37 of the 39 shots he faced in regulation to record his 10th win of the season.
The 22-8-4-3 Bears now hold a six-point lead over Norfolk and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL’s East Division.
Hershey is unbeaten in regulation in its last eight (6-0-1-1).
By The Numbers – Troy Brouwer tied a Caps single-game season high with 11 hits … The Caps blocked 20 or more shots for the sixth time in their last seven games, finishing the night with a total of 21 … Dennis Wideman led the Caps with 25:21 in ice time … Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with 3:07 in power play time and four shots on goal … Roman Hamrlik led the Caps with four blocked shots … There were only 45 face-offs in tonight’s game, and Washington won 25 of them (56%) … Halpern won 10 of 12 draws (83%) … Brooks Orpik led the Penguins with 27:12 in ice time … Malkin led the Pens with six shots on net … Adams led the Pens with eight hits, collecting them in just 10:13 of work … Pittsburgh had just six blocked shots on the night.
1 - 0 WSH
Interference on goalkeeper