There's no question that the Capitals have had their share of ugly games this year. For the first time all season, though, this one was ugly because they wanted (and probably needed) it to be. The key to a good road game is to take the crowd out of it early; that's even more crucial when facing a team at their home opener. And it's even more crucial when said home opener is taking place three weeks into the season, after returning from the world's longest road trip.
A lot of it came down to the Caps, to a man, buying into the type of play needed to do just that - disrupt the flow, take away space and basically avoid the high-flying style that both teams thrive under. It was probably the closest thing to a full 60-minute effort as this team has put together this season, and that alone would be enough reason to celebrate the win. Turns out that was just the icing on the cake in this one, though, as the Caps pack up two points thanks in large part to some major help between the pipes
Ten more notes on the game:
- Michal Neuvirth. Michal. Flipping. Neuvirth. Is it getting old yet to just endlessly praise the kid? No? Good, because he deserves every word and then some, tonight especially. 29 shots faced, 29 turned away, with several counts of flat out thievery mixed in - and just like that, Neuvirth's got his first career NHL shutout. We're running out of ways to say how important he's been to the team in the early stages of the season, and we're running out of ways to say how amazing he's been in general. So we'll merely say this: Congrats on the first of what will hopefully be many such performances, Neuvy!
- His stellar work shouldn't diminish the work done by the guy at the opposite end of the rink, of course, who held off the Caps as long as he could and was undone by a bit of bad luck and one bad rebound. Cam Ward deserves credit for putting together a pretty good performance in his own right. Just...not good enough.
- The Caps haven't been exactly perfect in the faceoff circle this season, but they look like a team full of Rod Brind'amours compared to Carolina's abysmal 36.5% success rate coming into this one. When Tomas Fleischmann goes into the third period having won 100% of his draws...yeah, you've got faceoff problems.
- It's probably pretty safe to say this was the top line's best outing so far - not that it would be hard, of course. And for awhile there it looked like this would be another game where we'd continue to say "they're SO close", because for two-thirds of it things were still slightly...off. More speed, better chances, a few posts and great saves by Ward not withstanding, they were still a little off. And then just like that Nicklas Backstrom capitalizes on a horrible rebound, all three pick up points - and the entirety of CapsNation breathes a huge sigh of relief. For now.
- We've talked about the length of Alex Ovechkin's shifts. Others have, too. Interesting that in the aftermath of those discussions (and others like them), his shifts have been much more contained over the last two to three games. These days he's clocking in at under a minute on average, despite the odd overly long shift that is just going to happen with a guy like Ovie. Keep it up, Captain.
- Just how many posts did Cam Ward have on that net behind him? He must have added a few. I call shenanigans.
- It's not often that the fourth line gets to open up a game, but that's just what happened tonight - and the trio of Matt Hendricks, David Steckel and the returning Matt Bradley took it from there, putting together some dominant shifts and notching the game-winner in the first period. They did exactly what a fourth line is supposed to do and then some. And gosh darn it, was it ever good to have Bradley back.
- The power play continues to flounder a bit, but they definitely looked better tonight than they have in recent games and got some good zone time in before ultimately being shut down by Ward. There were a few hesitant moments that seemed to say the slump is starting to get into their heads, but the return of Mike Green was definitely a welcome one for the power play crew. And how about that penalty killing studliness? If killing off every infraction (and notching a shorthanded empty-netter to boot) sounds good to you, join the club.
- The team really seemed to feed off of two things tonight - the tremendous play of Neuvirth and the return of a couple of guys to the lineup. In regards to the latter, it shouldn't be news to anyone but it bears repeating. Green and Bradley each bring something to the lineup that is hard to replace and often harder to describe, but you know it when you see it. And it was there tonight.
- Most of the credit for a shutout usually - and deservedly - goes to the goalie. It's not taking anything away from Neuvirth's tremendous work, though, to say that the guys in front of him were doing their jobs tonight. The defense in particular, all six blueliners, deserves credit for stifling the Carolina attack, blocking shots with their bodies, getting sticks in passing lanes and letting Neuvirth see the puck.
It wasn't a perfect game. To say that would be ignoring the times Neuvirth had to bail his team out for a sloppy play, or the times a post bailed Neuvirth out, or (most horrifically) the times the Caps seemed on their way to once again being stymied by a goaltender.
But in a lot of ways it was the perfect road game - which is good news, because this is just the start of what could be a tough road trip, far from the comforts of Verizon Center. They'll need to remember how they did this and do it a few more times.