One year ago (almost to the day), Michal Neuvirth was down three goals in Florida... and yanked less than half-way through the game. On Tuesday night, Neuvirth again found himself trailing by a trey in Sunrise at the game's midpoint, but Bruce Boudreau probably didn't even consider changing netminders this time because the young Czech had been his best player to that point, keeping his team close enough to give them a chance to come back... which is exactly what they did.
The Caps eventually forced overtime, but a Mike Green hook (helped along with a Cory Stillman dive) led to a Dennis Wideman power-play goal and a 4-3 Panthers win. Neuvy deserved better.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Neuvirth was the story of the night, stopping 30 of 31 of the even-strength shots he faced and 37 of 41 overall. No, that's not a good save percentage or goals against average. But the Caps certainly got a fantastic effort from their rearguard tonight.
- Even against the worst power-play in the League (that would be Florida, and it wasn't close entering the night), being tasked with killing off a two-minute two-man disadvantage and even a 49-second 5-on-3 is a brutal assignment. But it's made even more difficult when the opposition gains possession in the offensive zone right off the bat, and that's exactly what happened on all three 5-on-3 faceoffs (the League's best draw-man, David Steckel, lost two, Jay Beagle the other). On the night, the Caps' penalty killers won just four of 11 faceoffs while shorthanded, a contributor to the three extra-man tallies they allowed.
- The Caps' breakout hasn't been one of the team's stronger areas of play thus far this season (or last season... or the one before it...), but Marcus Johansson's first goal was a beautiful example of what it can look like when it works - a stretch pass from a defenseman (Karl Alzner), tipped by a forward (Brian Willsie) leading to a 2-on-1 that Brooks Laich and MoJo executed to perfection. Well done.
- By my math, by the way, Willsie went 1,729 days in between scoring points for the Caps (for what it's worth, as Mike Vogel suggested earlier in the day, the franchise mark for longest span between points is likely Anson Carter's 2,530 days). Willsie also has points in each of the last three games he's played for Washington.
Mike Knuble's goal was his first of the season that was assisted by both Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Last season, there were seven such tallies.
Mike Santorelli is the new Jon Sim; he now has three goals in three games against the Caps and nine against the rest of the League.
- Back to Johansson for a moment, his first career two-goal game came on perhaps his most assertive night as an NHLer. He was speedy with the puck and around the net all evening, finishing with three shots on goal - three times as many as he'd had in his previous seven games.
Alexander Semin was pretty much as effective on Tuesday night in Sunrise as he has been for the better part of six weeks. So there's that.
- If Boyd Gordon is ready to go tomorrow night, Beagle's offensive-zone trip with 5:29 left might have made the decision on whom to scratch to make room an easy one for Gabby.
- No team in the League has won more games when trailing after the first period or allowing the first goal than the Caps. And while they didn't add to either total tonight, the positive spin there is that the team doesn't quit. We'll leave it at that.
No rest for the weary, as the Caps head upstate to face the Bolts tomorrow night. Washington is now unbeaten in regulation in nine-straight games - a longer stretch of games than the insufferable December losing streak. And they can thank Michal Neuvirth for extending their current run and will look to Semyon Varlamov tomorrow night to keep it going.