"Quite frankly, the game doesn't really mean a lot to us." - Bruce Boudreau, earlier today
Heading into tonight's game in Pittsburgh, the Capitals had proven everything they could possibly prove against the Pens in the regular season. They'd beaten their biggest rivals three times in three meetings when standings points mattered for both teams, and done it in impressive fashion each time. So while completing a season sweep of Pennsylvania's better team might have been the very definition of a "sweet nothing," it certainly wasn't going to change much in the grand scheme of things - what's left to prove can't be proven in early April.
Nevertheless, the Caps came out and took care of business against a team that is desperate for wins as they fight for Atlantic Division supremacy. Playing with just five defensemen (and that includes Joe Corvo and Shaone Morrisonn) from early on (John Erskine skated just four shifts on the night), the Caps grabbed a first period lead and never relinquished it. Every time the Pens cut the lead to one - and that happened three different times - the Caps pushed it back to two before putting the icing on the cake into an empty net for the 6-3 win. That, my friends, is how it's done.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Let's kick things off with Jeff Schultz, who had two assists and a plus-five rating on the night while playing a team-high 25:00 (including 2:31 of perfect penalty killing) and with more of his even strength ice time coming against Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal than any other Pens forward. Over the past two seasons, he's now +12 in eight games against Pittsburgh, with a goal and three assists. Double Nickel now leads the League in plus/minus.
- Speaking of League leaders, guess who's back in a deadheat for the Richard and [checks Vancouver score] Ross races? Alex Ovechkin now has five goals in his last three games against the Pens... and four in the other 17 over that span.
- "No Man's Land" on the penalty kill is no man's no longer - it's David Steckel's. Early in the second period, Steckel and Tyler Sloan gave a picture perfect demonstration of what's wrong with the Caps' penalty kill, allowing Crosby to waltz in from the half-boards, pick a spot, and let 'er rip. Sid's snipe beat Semyon Varlamov (who had a strong night despite Shaone Morrisonn's best efforts... to aid Pittsburgh). That said, the penalty kill was 3-for-4 on the night, which isn't impressive, but allowing just three shots on goal in 6:46 of shorthanded ice time is a good number.
- One stat that you're likely to see elsewhere is that the Pens have now had as many or more power plays than the Caps in the last 15 meetings between the two teams. Yes, there have been games in there when the Caps have needed to move their feet more, when they simply were outworked, etc., but 15-straight times is, um, pretty unlikely.
- Related: with the Caps scoring just four seconds into their only extra man opportunity of the game, the Pens officially had 101.5 times as much power play time as the Caps on the night. That's a little bit funny. Sorta.
- Perhaps the most impressive play of the night was Alexander Semin's willingness to compete for the puck and negate an icing with Maxime Talbot (and his elbow) bearing down upon him. The puck kicked out to Tomas Fleischmann, who fired it past Marc-Andre Fleury (sending the leaky Fleury to an early shower), but the takeaway from that sequence was Semin proving that you don't have to be a big, physical grinder to make a play along the boards; you just have to have... guts. Kudos, Sasha (who opened the scoring with a nice wrister past Fleury after embarrassing Alex Goligoski in the neutral zone).
- How good is Nicklas Backstrom? Seriously. Three assists, plus-two rating, 62% faceoffs won... isn't it about time we recalibrate the rivalry to Sid vs. Nick and Alex vs. Geno?
- Back in July when the Caps signed Mike Knuble, we noted that one of the things he brings to the team is a proven track record against the Penguins. Sure enough, he potted a goal in each of the four meetings between the two teams this season. Sure is nice to have him around, ain't it?
Matt Bradley's career-high tenth goal of the season was also the game-winner, which means that half of his goals have been. That's just one less than Alex Ovechkin's GWG total.
And thus concludes the away-from-home portion of the Capitals 2009-10 regular season. Now it's back to Verizon Center for a pair of games to wrap up the regular season, followed by two home dates to kick-off the playoffs
against the Bruins and then back out on the road for a pair. After that? Hopefully at least one more in D.C. and then... to be determined, with a determined Caps team doing the determining. It's getting close to go time.