Saturday, November 05, 2011

A TWO-point night -- Game 11: Capitals 5 - Hurricanes 1

The Washington Capitals spotted the Carolina Hurricanes a first period goal, then roared back in the final 40 minutes with five of the own to beat the host team, 5-1, on Friday. A game that started in shaky fashion – Carolina scored just 3:26 into the game – ended with the Caps having their best 11-game start ever at 9-2-0.

Stuff, stuff, and more stuff…

-- Jeff Halpern, John Carlson, and Cody Eakin each scored their first goals of the season. That makes 17 Caps with goals, the most goal-scorers on any team in the league at the moment.

-- When Carolina scored on their fourth shot of the game at 3:26 of the first period, it looked as if the Caps might sleep walk their way through this one. But Michal Neuvirth slammed the door, turning away the last 21 shots he faced. But give the Caps some credit for waking up and denying Carolina good chances in front of Neuvirth.

-- The Caps did get off lucky in one respect. Jeff Skinner knocked in a loose puck in the second period that would have tied the game, but it was waved off. It was a case of the referee being on the other side of the ice from the puck, which was laying just outside the goal line to Neuvirth’s left. It was a call the referee had to make, having lost sight of the puck and thinking Neuvirth had it smothered. But it was the wrong call. It was a loose puck, and Skinner should have had a goal, even if he whacked it in an instant after the whistle sounded. It happens.

-- As much as what the Caps did, it was what the Hurricanes didn’t do. For example, you probably didn’t want to be Jamie McBain after this game. The Carolina defenseman was on the ice for four of the Caps’ five goals, and he had a close-up look at every one of them. He was late covering Jeff Halpern on the first one, managing only to hook Halpern’s ankle as the Caps forward was batting in a rebound. He was beaten by Marcus Johansson along the boards before Johansson flipped a saucer pass to Troy Brouwer for the second goal. He was the only defender back on a 2-on-1, not really deciding which Cap to defend, when Cody Eakin popped in his first NHL goal. And it was he that Nicklas Backstrom snuck behind to collect an Alex Ovechkin pass to notch the last goal of the evening. It was a brutal game for McBain.

-- Then there was Eric Staal. It was another in a series of rough games for the eldest Staal brother. He was on ice for the tying and winning goals, giving him a minus-2 and making him minus-14 in 13 games (that’s a minus-88 pace, Bill Mikkelson fans). He had one shot on goal, one shot attempt, and little else in almost 21 minutes. At least he was .500 on draws (9-for-18).

-- But as for what the Caps did, they had ten different players with points, five different goal-scorers. They scored on five of their last 16 shots on goal.

-- Four was the magic number again. When the Caps allow four or fewer power play opportunities, they win. They allowed only four in this game (no goals) to go 8-0-0 when allowing four or fewer man advantages to the opponent.

-- Coming into this game, Alex Ovechkin scored all five of his goals on the road, all five of his assists at home. He finished the night with two assists to end that odd symmetry.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist to give him 16 points on the season. He is now tied for third in the league in scoring.

-- The Caps have had good ice time balance recently, tending toward keeping all their forwards between 10 and 20 minutes of ice time. Cody Eakin only got 8:45 in this game, but it was not a product of poor play as much as the fact that the Caps had to kill three penalties and had a power play of their own in the second period. Eakin does not, at this early stage of his career, skate on special teams, so he was held to only two shifts in that second period.

-- Baby steps. Carolina came into this game with a team faceoff winning percentage only one tenth of one percent better than the Caps. Washington “held” the Hurricanes even in the circle, winning 29 draws and losing 29. Nicklas Backstrom (9-for-14) and Brooks Laich (6-for-11) both finished over 50 percent.

-- Tales of Strange Official Scoring. Carolina…27 hits. Washington…6 hits. Really? Alexei Ponikarovsky…7 hits by himself. Really?

-- If anything, this game could have been uglier for the Hurricanes if either of the Alexes had shot with better luck. Ovechkin had ten shot attempts, five of them blocked (three by defenseman Bryan Allen). Semin had five shots on goal among his eight shot attempts. Semin did have four takeaways.

-- Mathieu Perreault sat tonight for the Caps, and it got us to thinking after Mike Knuble and Jeff Halpern teamed up for the first Caps goal. If Knuble (39 years old) and Halpern (35) had skated with Perreault (23), would it be the “Two and a Half Men” line?... quiet, Kanoobie.

In the end, the Caps started sluggishly, but the power play at the end of the first period energized them. The Caps had eight shot attempts on that power play in the last 1:24 of the period (five on goal). It served as a springboard to get them skating, shooting, and scoring in the last 40 minutes. And at the other end, Michal Neuvirth shook off whatever rust remained from his long layoff to look sharp in turning away those last 21 shots he faced after Carolina scored a goal on a tip-in (and that being more a product of Jeff Schultz not tying up Anthony Stewart’s stick to keep him from deflecting the puck over Neuvirth).

It wasn’t the best the Caps have looked through 11 games, but the result was a balanced, workmanlike, “taking care of business” sort of win. And to say that in a game in which the Caps scored five goals and won by four going away, that’s something.

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