Win or lose, there was nothing the Washington Capitals could prove in their season opener on Saturday night. After all, this is a team that has cruised through recent regular seasons and flopped in the playoffs, lit the League afire with its regular season power play only to see it come up dry in the post-season, and piled up impressive offensive numbers that fell off cliffs when it mattered.
But what the Caps could demonstrate in 2011-12's Game One - and what they can show in each of the next 81 games as well - is a superior work ethic, a killer instinct, discipline and an attention to detail. On Saturday night, they really didn't perform terribly well in those areas, but the result was a 4-3 overtime win nonetheless (courtesy of a Mike Green power-play goal), which shouldn't be surprising - this team has enough skill to be in every game, regardless of whether they playing well or not. And when they're not, the result on most nights will be a coin flip... in the regular season, that is.
Ten more notes on the game:
- All of the "controversy" heading into the game centered on Bruce Boudreau's decision to start Michal Neuvirth over Tomas Vokoun in goal. A month from now, the decision wouldn't even raise an eyebrow, but ceremony is ceremony, so it was a story line. For his part, Neuvirth was very good, stopping 18-of-19 even-strength shots against, yielding only a tally when the 'Canes had their netminder pulled in the waning moments of regulation. He might have wanted that second goal back (perhaps he could have gotten over quicker), but he was very solid overall. Your move, Tomas.
- The Caps dominated the game at even strength, out-shooting the 'Canes 30-to-19. And they man-handled Carolina in the second period, out-shooting 'em 17-8. But the Caps were unable to put their guests away, so they got what they got - overtime.
- Because you read this site, you knew that Alexander Semin owns the 'Canes. That ownership continued on Saturday night when Semin cashed in on a breakaway after he was sprung by a long John Carlson outlet pass. Doesn't get much better than that.
- Carlson may have had more impact on the game than any other Cap skater - he was on the ice for three goals (two by the Caps) and in the penalty box for two Carolina tallies.
- One under-discussed potential area of concern for the 2011-12 Caps is the ability to win faceoffs after losing Boyd Gordon and David Steckel from the team that finished sixth in the League in that category a season ago. Granted, Carolina's a brutal team in the dot, but the Caps owned the faceoff circle all night, going 37-for-68 (54%).
- Speaking of faceoffs, Nicklas Backstrom's line got plenty of offensive-zone draws, with Backstrom winning 8 of 11 faceoffs there (including on the power-play). But it wasn't as if the third line was allowing that to happen - Backstrom took more defensive-zone draws than Brooks Laich. How Boudreau deploys his first and third lines will obviously continue to be a point of interest.
- And speaking of that third line, they were very good, with Joel Ward assisting on a Jason Chimera goal, and Laich scoring the third Caps goal on the power-play in the third. They also largely kept the Eric Staal line in check, though they were on the ice for the game-tying tally (with Jeff Halpern on for Chimera).
- We'll be generous and chalk up the 'Canes second-period power-play goal to a miscommunication between Green and Roman Hamrlik, as Green got caught chasing the puck, perhaps due to a lack of familiarity with his new partner. Hey, we said we were being generous.
- Back to Laich, he got 3:24 of ice time on the power-play, 3:13 on the penalty kill, scored and won 63% of his 16 faceoffs. Nights like that are why he makes the money he makes.
- The much-maligned power play was unproductive all night until Boudreau moved Alex Ovechkin off the point. Ovi drew a penalty on a great scoring chance moments later, leading to the 5-on-3 on which Laich would score. Ovechkin off the power-play point... what a novel concept.
No rest for the not-yet-weary (well, actually one day's rest) as the Tampa Bay Lightning come to town on Monday. You may recall that the Caps and Bolts played four times last spring, with less-than-desirable results for the boys in red, white and blue, so motivation shouldn't be a problem for the hosts... or their new netminder.