Sunday, March 11, 2012

A TWO-point night: -- Game 69: Capitals 2 - Maple Leafs 0

Another day, another win. The Washington Capitals made it three in a row tonight with a 2-0 win over the slumping Toronto Maple Leafs. It is the Caps’ second three-game winning streak in the last 17 days and makes it a fine send-off for their five-game road trip that starts Tuesday on Long Island.

In this one, the Caps got all they needed on a neutral zone blunder. Jake Gardiner was skating through the neutral zone midway through the first period, but not with much momentum. Gardiner tried to drop the puck to Phil Kessel who was circling behind him to gain speed. Brooks Laich read the intent of Gardiner and jumped between Gardiner and Kessel just as Gardiner was leaving the puck for Kessel. Laich interrupted the pass, and when the puck slid to the boards Laich was the only player in position to pick it up. He did, and he had a break on goalie Jonas Gustavsson. Before Kessel could close the distance, Laich fired the puck short-side over Gustavsson’s pad, and the Caps had the lead they would not relinquish.

The Caps got some insurance in the first minute of the third period. Dennis Wideman sent a long pass up to Alexander Semin along the boards at the Toronto blue line. Semin carried the puck into the zone and froze Mikhail Grabovski with a hard stop. When Grabovski tried to move up on Semin, the Caps winger spun around him as if Grabovski was a skating pylon. Semin stepped up and tried to curl and drag the puck past John-Michael Liles, but the puck squirted loose and to Gustavsson’s left. Only Mathieu Perreault was in the vicinity, and Perreault wasted no time burying the puck past the Leafs’ goaltender for the second and final goal of the evening.

After that, it was the Michal Neuvirth show, or more precisely, the “let’s do whatever we need to do to get Neuvirth a shutout” show. The Caps did, and Neuvirth finished the evening turning away all 23 shots for his third shutout of the year.

Other stuff…

-- Brooks Laich apparently saw the Toronto tendency for that neutral zone drop pass when he was home watching the Leafs and Flyers last night. In light of the way Laich was able to apply that lesson to game experience, one wonders how long it will take – given what has been written about Alex Ovechkin lately – for the captain to do more of that (whether he does already or not).

-- With the shutout Neuvirth is 5-4-2, 2.27, .921 with two shutouts in 14 appearances in the 2012 portion of the season. He is quietly rehabilitating his season after a slow start. And he did what he had to do to preserve his own shutout with a fine left pad save on a redirect from Matt Frattin in the third period.

-- Rule 53.2 states:

“Minor Penalty - A minor penalty shall be imposed on any player on the ice who throws his stick or any part thereof or any other object in the direction of the puck or an opponent in any zone, except when such act has been penalized by the assessment of a penalty shot or the awarding of a goal.

“When a defending player shoots or throws a stick or any other object at the puck or the puck carrier in the defending zone but does not interfere in any manner with the puck or puck carrier, a minor penalty shall be assessed.

“When the player discards the broken portion of a stick or some other object by tossing it or shooting it to the side of the ice (and not over the boards) in such a way as will not interfere with play or opposing player, no penalty will be imposed for so doing…”

Now…was that broken stick in the third period laying in the neutral zone accidentally slid into Alex Ovechkin’s path as he was skating through?

-- Jay Beagle did not have a point, but he did have two shots, two hits, two blocked shots, and he won five of six draws in just under 16 high-energy minutes. Finally, Caps fans might be seeing the contributions Beagle can offer that might not have been in his power to give for a while after he was concussed by Arron Asham in a fight in a game against Pittsburgh in the first week of the season.

-- How many times do you think Matt Hendricks led the Caps in shot attempts this season? At least once. He had six attempts tonight to lead the Caps (four on goal, which also led the team).

-- David Steckel played 16 shifts and took 10 faceoffs (winning eight) for Toronto. This is the definition of a “one-trick pony.”

-- Are the Caps willing to pay a price? Well, tonight they did in this respect. It was a game in which the Caps recorded 21 blocked shots. Often this season, that would have been the product of perhaps 65 or more shot attempts. Tonight, they recorded that many on 52 shots attempts – 40.4 percent of the shot attempts taken by Toronto.

-- The Caps allowed the Leafs only two power plays, shutting them out on both (while scoring one goal of their own). That makes 11 straight games in which the Caps have allowed fewer than five power play opportunities to the opponent. They are 24-for-30 on the penalty kill in those games. If the Caps aren’t going to be especially efficient (80.0 percent), and if they are not going to score power plays of their own (2-for-27 on the power play in those same 11 games – 7.4 percent), then they had better minimize opponents’ chances. They have done a pretty good job of that.

-- One of the things that might have made Michal Neuvirth’s job easier, in addition to his teammates blocking such a high percentage of shot attempts in front of him, was the fact that there were only nine faceoffs in the Washington end of the ice all night.

-- Dale Hunter might lean heavily on his top three lines, but not to the point where he abuses any of those lines’ ice time, at least not in this game. Looking at the lines as they started the game, the fourth line of Mike Knuble, Keith Aucoin, and Joel Ward skated a total of 34:03 at even strength. But the other three lines had a spread of only 4:42 between the line with the most total time and the one with the least. A little more than a shift per player. That meant that an Alex Ovechkin had only 16:02 in even strength ice time and only 17:44 for the game. Keeping fresh down the stretch will help everyone.

-- The win over Toronto came in the Caps’ 10th back-to-back set of the season. They have now swept back-to-backs three times, including their last two.

In the end, last week ended well, with two wins, and this one started well with a getaway win. And, the Caps have taken advantage of their games in hand with Winnipeg to pull out to a four-point lead over the ninth-place Jets. The wins haven’t been pretty, but at this time of year if you want pretty, take a walk around the Tidal Basin and take in the cherry blossoms. Now, it’s just about the wins.

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