If you Tivo-ed last night’s 3-0 whitewashing of the Hurricanes in their home opener, hold onto it for a while. How elusive have three quality periods, stitched together in a single evening, proven for this hockey club since the start of last season? It wasn’t a game of precision offensive flow and flair — in fact, it was fairly flow-less — but for a team seeking its first quality road showing on the campaign, this was textbook. Comcast Sportsnet’s Alan May called it “perfect Road Warrior hockey.” Indeed.
- Were you Gabby you’d try and bottle up this effort and commitment by 20 guys in your sweater and uncork it for every road contest. But what made it work so well? The absence of perimeter play. The decisive goals in this game were scored in the tough neighborhood. You saw the Caps’ fourth line in Cam Ward’s grill most of the night, but you also saw a commitment to drive to the net by Jason Chimera and Eric Fehr and Brooks Laich, and even the Caps’ first line, while it struggled in the game’s first half to get its groove going, and still isn’t firing on all cylinders, begin chipping pucks deep and establishing its difficult-to-defend low cycle. “Easily our most complete game,” Gabby claimed.
- The ‘Canes didn’t play poorly — except perhaps on the power play. And were it not for Neuvirth’s heroics, Eric Staal could easily have had a hat trick. Still, the Caps hit two pipes in the first period (Alexander Semin hot another in the final frame), or this game could have broken open wide in the first frame.
- The game’s goaltenders seriously shined. That Cam Ward can backstop Carolina to a playoff berth. This Michal Neuvirth, earning his first-ever NHL shutout, may get himself lodged in Vezina discussion, soon. Jim Carrey holds the record for wins by a Caps’ rookie goal (18, in 1994-95), and Neuvy is already a third of the way there.
- The Caps of course were perfect on the penalty kill, and a lot of that specialty unit’s success fed off of great work by the pivots taking draws. They seemed to win every draw deep in their end while shorthanded. Tomas Fleischmann won the first six draws he took on the evening. Dave Steckel had a perfect record on the dot for a while. All of the pivots performed well there. And you saw how instrumental faceoff acumen is to the penalty kill.
- The Caps moved back into the top five in the league on the PK by virtue of last night’s effort. Nine games into 2010-11 they are killing off 90 percent of their short-handed situations. That’ll work.
- Having Mike Green returned helps, too. In a game like last night’s, when so much of the middle of the ice was clogged by design, Greener’s poise and dangle affords the Caps an invaluable forecheck-relieving safety valve. MG52 had the puck on a string quite a bit last night, and it was fun to watch. The penalty he was called for on Staal late in the third — and what I saw was more shoulder going into Staal than leg — was one I’d have him take every time on an elite power forward late in a tight game.
- Matt Bradley won’t ever draw the notice for being in or out of the lineup the way Greener will, but his Old Time Hockey ethos was a catalyst again for the unsung efforts of Boudreau’s fourth line last night. I’d have awarded three hard hats to the fourth line for last night. Boudreau began the game with his energy-and-lunchpail outfit, and that opening shift set a workmanlike tone that was replicated shift after shift after shift. You saw the head coach roll four lines consistently. Commitment and work ethic, when absorbed by an entire bench, can be a beautifully ugly weapon. Especially on the road.