A night after dropping a game at home, where the Caps have been very good, against a team they should have beaten, the Caps were right back at it. However, tonight the Washington Capitals took Dale Hunter's Coin Flip Hockey Extravaganza on the road to face the Montreal Canadiens. Unlike playing at home, the Caps have not been very good on the road this season. Second night of back to backs? On the road? Yeah, this one had trouble written on it from the start. Luckily Caps fans had something to look forward to in this game. Please let Rene Bourque get punched in the face. Oh please let Rene Bourque get punched in the face. When the dust settled the Caps got their fight with Bourque and left Montreal with a 3-0 shutout win. Not a bad night.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Right off the bat Matt Hendricks challenged Bourque and Bourque accepted. It wasn't the fight Caps fans wanted, but Bourque isn't going to just let someone punch him in the face. At least they got it out of the way early so everyone else could get back to playing hockey. Joe B. mentioned a possible run in between Bourque and John Erskine, but it wasn't meant to be.
- Erskine had his sights set on bigger things. 5 penalty minutes in one fell swoop? Child's play. How often do you see a guy get 6 minutes in one play? Not often. Worst of all, Erskine didn't even get the right guy. (That said, Mathieu Darche sure earned that punishment retroactively when he launched Hendricks into Michal Neuvirth. Nice eye, stripes.)
- Normally when we say "coin flip hockey" we are referring to Coach Hunter's desire to play tight, low scoring games, games that are frequently determined by a bounce here or there. Tonight it may as well have referred to the Caps' first period shots on goal.
- Even though the Habs had about 12 minutes of power play time in the first half of the third period, their power play barely mustered any real scoring chances. That shouldn't be much of a surprise, but it's still nice to the PK come up big in a tough situation. That was Montreal's chance to get back in the game, and they did nothing with it. The Caps PK got so cocky that at one point two guys voluntarily gave up their sticks just to give the Habs a couple passing lanes.
- Tomas Vokoun has been getting all the starts of late, and Neuvirth didn't exactly look great the last time he was the nod. Well, tonight Neuvirth came out inspired and never slowed down. The Canadiens had several chances that could have gotten them back in the game, none bigger than the first half of the third period, and every time Neuvirth was there to slam the door shut. Congrats on the shutout, let's see if it makes the crease more competitive and gets Vokoun some rest.
- Hunter's time as head coach has been characterized by the Caps being out-shot. Tonight they were out-shot again, but with the early lead they can at least blame score effects this time, right?
- Each of the goals tonight had three different players get a point. For a team that has been struggling to find goals from any of the 4 lines, that's gotta make them feel good.
- Really gutsy performance tonight from a bunch of guys. 4 blocks for Brooks Laich, including a couple bombs on the power play, 3 for Dennis Wideman, Jeff Halpern, and John Carlson. We've debated whether lots of blocked shots is a good sign, but there's no denying it takes stones to step in front of that puck.
- After the Caps got out of position and the puck slid into the neutral zone public enemy number one got a wide open breakaway. Thankfully his shot hit the post, I guess even the hockey gods were rooting against Bourque tonight.
- Today we talked a little bit about how bad passing has really hurt the Caps' possession game. Tonight we got an example of what a good breakout can do. Quick puck movement got the puck out of the Caps' zone after Montreal dumped it in and Troy Brouwer got through the neutral zone with speed. Marcus Johansson did a great job battling through his check and getting a shot on net, and the Caps had an early insurance goal and an opportunity to test their lock-it-down defense on the road.
And so the Caps will move on from tonight and continue on an important stretch of hockey over the next month. Between tonight and February 20 the Caps will play a schedule that is exclusively made up of division rivals, legit Stanley Cup contenders (*if healthy), and the Montreal Canadiens. This next month stretch, ending a week before the trade deadline, will say a lot about whether GMGM is a buyer or a seller this year.