The Washington Capitals were set up for a letdown last night against the Phoenix Coyotes, but the team was able to hold on to the lead and prevail 4-2. A particular one minute and thirty second span of time in the third period proved key to the Caps.
With time winding down, Nicklas Backstrom took a somewhat foolish(and controversial) cross checking call, which, after Ilya Bryzgalov was pulled, gave the Coyotes a two-man advantage. Behind strong play from rookie Michal Neuvirth and a few great individual defensive plays, the Caps pulled it out. The game was capped with a great feed from Alex Semin to Alexander Ovechkin for an empty net goal in the final 10 seconds.
- A big key to the victory was the Caps’ special teams. They were a letter perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill, following a perfect performance in Pittsburgh Thursday night, and 2-for-7 on the power play.
- Tom Poti won the hardhat for the night and for good reason, as he was in on seemingly almost every important defensive play. Karl Alzner had a strong night as well, and his partner Shaone Morrisonn had nothing but good things to say about him, noting in the postgame Alzner’s fundamentals and his play development recognition. Morrisonn also said he was there to offer words of encouragement to his partner as the game went on.
- Kind words also have to be offered for Michal Neuvirth. In his previous two starts earlier this month he got yanked in both. Saturday night, he played with poise, appearing to shake off any doubts or dings to his confidence from his previous outings, and he had to come up clutch on a few Capitals’ breakdowns throughout. Alzner, John Carlson, and Neuvirth at times have all played beyond their years for the Capitals in recent weeks, especially during this six-game win streak.
- While the young guns on defense have been effective, Mike Green’s lackluster play from last night cannot be overlooked. After suffering a mysterious “hand injury” and missing the game against Pittsburgh, Green put up a -1 with three shots, three missed shots, and had four giveaways. On top of all of that, when the Caps needed to buckle down late in the last two minutes he was throwing haymakers in front of the Washington net. He has put a nice season together in the big picture, but nights like last night are a far below his standard.
- A few notes about Saturday night’s press box. Bloggers outnumbered traditional print media by a 4-to-1 margin last night. I don’t know if you want to characterize that as alarming or not, but keep in mind that there was an overwhelming amount of print media present against Philadelphia and Detroit earlier in the week, and many local media even traveled to Pittsburgh, and so the precipitous dropoff last night was conspicuous.
The Phoenix Coyotes are a tremenous, tremendous story this season, lodged in fifth place in the Western Conference, built with an abundance of speed and impressive young skill — they’re a team built to win in the playoffs, in fact. The Coyotes are a typical team for the West, with a strong blueline that not only defends well but can also produce points at the other end. And so it seems local media has a long way to go still in developing a savviness for realizing that meaningful and entertaining and newsworthy hockey isn’t restricted to just the marquee games.
Also of note about last night’s media coverage was that fans in Phoenix were unable to see the game as there was no TV coverage for them: the Caps’ Nate Ewell also pointed out that there was radio broadcast of the game for Arizona hockey fans but no video broadcast of the game, which is really a shame given how appealing this up and coming club is.
- Last night’s game marked the end of a tough stretch for the Caps in which they either played a perennial playoff contender or a big rival. On Tuesday the team travels to New York to face the Islanders and kick off a stretch where five of their next seven games are against teams who are currently not in the playoffs(NYI, Boston, Florida, Tampa Bay and Atlanta). If they continue to play the way they are and can get a few guys back from injury the Caps can put some nice distance between them and the New Jersey Devils for first overall in the Eastern conference.
- Also worth noting about last night, the Hershey Bears completed a two-game sweep of Manitoba by a final score of 8-2. On the weekend in the series Hershey scored 16 goals and allowed just five. John Carlson, Keith Aucoin, Oscar Osala, Jay Beagle, Andrew Gordon, Chris Bourque and Boyd Kane all scored on Saturday night, while Gordon, Aucoin Bourque, Kyle Wilson, Beagle, Osala, Steve Pinizzotto and Andrew Joudrey scored on Friday. Manitoba brought some injury issues to Chocolatetown, but still, the Bears these days appear able to easily outscore the Redskins on any given night. The Bears have now a club record 14 games in a row at home, and Saturday night also established a new record for attendance at Giant Center with 10,844.
- The wins gave Hershey a total of 70 points on the year, which is 17 more than the number two team in the East Division, the Albany River Rats. Winning sure seems to be in the air in the Washington hockey community.