NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 23: Goalie Michal Neuvirth #30 of the Washington Capitals makes a save behind Adam Henrique #14 of the New Jersey Devils during the first period of an NHL hockey game at Prudential Center on December 23, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Three years ago today, the Caps skated back from a three goal deficit to shock the New York Rangers with an improbable 4-3 OT victory. Tonight, the Caps attempted to honor that anniversary and re-live the glory a mere 10 miles across the river in Newark. After spotting the New Jersey Devils three goals in the second period, the Caps ran off three of their own in the third stanza. But, this time, lady luck didn't see this through for the good guys. It would be the Devils skating away with two points, besting the Caps in the shootout and ending another improbable comeback bid.
Despite the loss, this was still a memorable game for the red-white-and-blue. The team showed no quit and salvaged a key road point that will suredly help them as the season progresses. Ten more notes on the game:
- The Brooks Laich - Alexaner Semin - Jason Chimera line caught fire in the third period and were directly responsible for all three goals the Caps scored. Kudos to Dale Hunter for assembling that trio for the final period. More kudos to Chimera for what is turning into a career year for him.
- However, none of those players mentioned were the Caps game MVP. That honor belongs to Michal Neuvirth. Despite allowing three goals on 28 shots (and two more in the shootout), he kept the Caps in the game when the team was coasting through the first and second periods, stopping numerous quality scoring chances.
- Jersey put on a clinic the first two periods on how to stifle the Caps, exposing the Caps limitations in playing against a committed trapping team. Despite the change in coaching staff, certain highly skilled Caps forwards still will not chip-and-chase when it's the right thing to do.
- A bad Caps road power play + a great Devils home penalty kill = mismatch, right? Yep, and it was a difference-maker tonight, with Jersey notching a PP goal and the Caps notching zippo on three tries.
- Want to know why the Devils have such a good PK and are a constant threat to score? Because they routinely play their top players shorthanded: Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Danius Zubrus, Adam Henrique, Ilya Kovalchuk. (Some locals refer to this as Beamer Ball.)
- Good Sasha and Bad Sasha paid a visit in the same game. Following an ugly first two periods that must have left even the most hardened Semin supporters shaking their heads, Good Sasha graced Caps Nation in the third and helped spark the comeback. Smeagle, meet Gollum.
- Dale Hunter is definitely a fan of shortening the bench. Matt Hendricks, Mathieu Perreault and Mike Knuble all saw less than 8:45 on the night, while John Erskine skated 10:02. One wonders whether fatigue will settle in for the top-liners as the year wears on.
- Does anyone remember a game where more goalposts were hit?
- Dmitry Orlov's failed clear in the second period directly led to Erskine's second period penalty, which Ilya Kovalchuk capitalized on soonafter. Orlov's mistake cost the Caps and is going to be a tough lesson for the rookie during film study. Orlov also got burned on the Devils second goal, when his indecisiveness on whether to cover his man or go for the puck led to an easy goal by Alex Urbom. Another tough lesson for the rookie. Coincidentally, he finished even on the night. Brighter days are ahead for the talented blue-liner.
- Seeing Martin Brodeur sport a 0.885 save percentage is just downright scandolous. For two periods the Caps did their best to pad the future Hall-of-Famer's pedestrian stats. But the third period installment of the cardiac Caps helped Brodeur stay true to this year's form, and he finished the game with a 0.880 save percentage.
The good news is that the Caps showed some resolve, took it to a Devils team that started coasting in the third period and escaped Newark with a much-needed point. The bad news is that they put themselves in a 3-0 hole with some ugly, uninspired play. The reality is that the Caps are still learning who they are under Dale Hunter's tutelage, and bi-polar games like this will occur until the complete their metamorphosis.
Still, it doesn't take away from a sparkling comeback. Games like tonight's are great building blocks for putting together a hot streak, and the next 10 days are as good a time as ever to start one, with four of the team's next five games against poor or borderline playoff teams. Let's see if the Caps can use the opportunity to make up some ground on the division-leading Florida Panthers.