Thursday, October 28, 2010

A TWO-point night -- Game 9: Caps 3 - Hurricanes 0

"I thought that was easily our most complete game by everybody. You get contributions from the fourth line, the penalty killing, the goaltender was great – everybody did a good job."

That was what Coach Bruce Boudreau had to say of the Capitals’ effort last night as Washington shutout the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-0.

Michal Neuvirth stopped all 29 shots he faced for his first NHL shutout, and Nicklas Backstrom recorded a pair of goals to break a personal three game pointless streak. But the tone for the evening was probably set by the fourth line of Matt Hendricks, David Steckel, and Matt Bradley. The trio accounted for ten of the 19 hits the Caps recorded, did not turnover the puck in their combined 49 minutes of ice time, won 15 of 23 faceoffs among them, and most important, scored the first goal of the game.

It was a controversial goal, a play that started with Hendricks controlling the puck along the left wing boards. He laid the puck over to John Erskine at the top of the Hurricanes’ zone, where Erskine fired it deep to the left of goalie Cam Ward. Steckel tied up Jamie McBain, preventing him from controlling the puck, which eventually made its way back to Erskine at the left point. The defenseman shot the puck toward the net, where Steckel was getting tangled with Ward. Lying on his side from above the crease, Steckel hooked the puck back to Hendricks, who snapped it into the vacant net, Ward unable to recover in time to defend the shot. Goalie interference? Coach Paul Maurice thought so

"I don't think it's a goal. I didn't agree with the call at all. I didn't agree with his interpretation. It's incidental contact, but I'm not looking for a penalty. I don't think there was an attempt to run Cam. That's how the rule reads, that's how I interpreted it and I think he got it wrong."

Well, here is what Rule 69.1 has to say about it…

“Goals should be disallowed only if: (1) an attacking player, either by his positioning or by contact, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal; or (2) an attacking player initiates intentional or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, inside or outside of his goal crease. Incidental contact with a goalkeeper will be permitted, and resulting goals allowed, when such contact is initiated outside of the goal crease, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact.”

Steckel and Ward were outside the crease, so the first condition does not apply. As for the second condition, the contact was not intentional or deliberate (Maurice acknowledges that). The remaining question was whether Steckel made a “ reasonable effort” to avoid contact. Well, on that one, where you stand depends upon where you sit. Specifically, whether you think Steckel crossed Ward’s path, or if Ward came out from his crease into Steckel’s path as he was skating across the top of the crease. Hurricane fans will think the former, Caps fans the latter. The referee saw it as the latter, apparently.

Backstrom got off his personal schneid by snapping in a rebound of a Mike Knuble drive from the right side, itself the product of something too rarely seen this season so far – the trio of Alex Ovechkin, Knuble, and Backstrom breaking through the neutral zone cleanly and in control of the puck. Backstrom added an empty net goal in the last 90 seconds to seal the win and give the Caps their sixth win of the season.

All that was left was to ensure that Neuvirth, who played a spectacular game in that he rarely had to be spectacular, such was the quality of his play, earned his first NHL shutout.

Other stuff…

-- With his two assists Mike Knuble had his first two point game on the road since recording a pair of goals against St. Louis last February 13th. The feat was not lost on Kanoobie, who was his old annoyingly yapping self.

-- The Caps played a textbook road game in this sense. Six hits in the game’s first eight seconds (well, that’s the way the official play-by-play recorded it), and Carolina had only two shots on goal in the first four minutes. The Hurricanes would get only eight shots on goal in the first period. If you’re objective is to stop a team playing in its home opener from generating any momentum right off the bat, the Caps succeeded.

-- For the moment, the official NHL scoresheet has Alex Ovechkin having skated only 8:18 last night. It also has him with no shifts skated in the first period. Funny, but the play-by-play has him all over the place. A hit, two shots on goal, and a blocked shot (and that doesn’t include the hits on him in the period). Well, hey…it was opening night for the scorer, too.

-- Hendricks, Steckel, and Bradley each has 16-plus minutes. Do you call them the “Sweet 16 Line” now? OK, maybe not.

-- You can tell Rod Brind’Amour does not play for the Hurricanes any longer in this sense. The Caps obliterated Carolina in the faceoff circle. Steckel was 13-for-17, Backstrom 11-for-17, and even Tomas Fleischmann was 8-for-11. But for a 6-for-16 night by Mathieu Perreault it would have been a landslide.

-- Bizarro World… John Erskine: 27:53 in ice time. Tyler Sloan: 27:52 in ice time. No other Cap was credited (and the operative word there is “credited”) with as many as 17 minutes of ice time.

-- No Cap was credited with more than 11 shifts, which…let’s see, means that Erskine and Sloan averaged almost three minutes per shift? So, how were the beer sales in the scorer’s booth last night?

-- Eric Staal had a difficult night. No points, minus-2, a penalty, eight missed shots.  One of the shots he did have ended up in the glove of Neuvirth on what might have been Neuvirth's best save of the season.

-- Of the 70 faceoffs last night, only eight took place in the Caps’ offensive zone. Only 13 were in the Carolina offensive zone. Not sure what to make of that, given the scoring…uh, anomalies.

-- Mike Green didn’t have any first period shifts, either. At least on the score sheet. In fact, 18 skaters took a total of 14 shifts in the first period, at least according to the score sheet.

-- Seven different Caps recorded points, 11 of them were on the plus-side of the ledger. Not flashy, but a solid effort up and down the roster.

-- The final result will show the Caps winning, 3-0, and that Cam Ward stopped 30 of 32 shots. Ward probably deserved better. He was sprawled on the ice for one goal and left too juicy a rebound for the other. But otherwise he was excellent. Oh, and so were the posts behind him, seeing how they were able to turn shots away rather they deflect them inward to the goal.

-- Hendricks wins the Old Country Buffet award for sampling the entire menu. A goal, three shots, one shot blocked, a missed shot, four hits, a takeaway, a blocked shot, five draws taken. The only thing he didn’t have was a giveaway.

In the end it was the kind of solid performance – a real meat and potatoes road win – that the Caps had not put together until last night. From the goaltender out, guys played responsibly and opportunistically. Neuvirth and Backstrom earned stars for the game, but you could have given a “golden lunch pail” to the fourth line. It wasn’t the Fourth of July sort of offensive fireworks kind of game that fans enjoy and that make opposing goalies wake in the middle of the night in cold sweats. It was more a “Labor Day” sort of result. Well earned from a night of consistent hard work.

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