Saturday, March 19, 2011

Capitals 3 - Devils 0; Has The Bell Tolled In New Jersey?

Well last night at Prudential Center in Newark, the Capitals "out-deviled" the New Jersey Devils, winning a game that was likely more important for the Devils that the Capitals by a score of 3 - 0. It wasn't a pretty win. It wasn't even all that fun to watch, However it was two important standings points and an important win at an important time of year. The game was the Capitals 73rd and the Devils 71st of the season; at the start of the game, the Caps were in first place in their Division and 2nd place in the Eastern Conference and the Devils were in 4th place in their Division and 12th place in the Conference - at game's end the standings hadn't changed. In fact, the only difference in the standings at the end of the night was the Caps are now six (6) points ahead of Tampa Bay in the Southeast Division and the same distance ahead of Boston who sits in Third Place in the Conference. So what was so important about last night's game? Two things: a) "runway" - as in something New Jersey, which has been on a tear since changing back to their old coach, is likely to run out of now before the season's end before they leap over the four teams they need to pass to make the playoffs in their remaining 11 games; and b) pride - something the Capitals needed to ensure they continued to demonstrate and grow in the game they are playing leading up to this years post season. The Caps needed to demonstrate pride as mush or more than the Devils last night for two reasons. Firstly, they needed to "bounce back" from their prior game loss to Detroit in order to make sure they stay out of the habit of loosing two games in a row between now and when they are forced to hang up their skates at the end of this season's playoffs. Secondly, the last time these two teams met in New Jersey, things looked a lot differently for both of them and the Caps left "The Rock" on the wrong end of a 5-0 beating.

So how'd the Caps do? Thanks to smart, disciplined play by the entire team, and some EXCELLENT goaltending by Michal Neuvirth, the Caps did very well last night, thank you very much. In a game that was well played by both teams, the Capitals showed they could be as disciplined and patient as any team coached by a guy named Jacques. In a game that was important to win, and was just two night's after loosing to the perennial NHL benchmark that is known as Detroit, "Neuvy" out played "Maarty" - as in future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur - stopping 33 shots and turning in a perfect SV% of 1.000 on the evening to Brodeur's 9 of 12/0.750 performance. The three stars of the game chosen by the local New Jersey media were: 1) Neuvirth (no arguments there); Mike Knuble (2 goals - no arguments there); and 3) Alex Ovechkin (2 assists and all over the ice - deserving for sure but hey NJ MSM didn't you get the memo?). The memo I'm talking about is the John Carlson memo of course. "Captain America" went all out for last night's game apparently. First he had Mama Carlson cook a really good New Jersey Italian meal at his boyhood home in Colonna for a bunch of the guys on Thursday night, then he bought 45 tickets for friends and family to the game, and then he played a superb game both defensively never being out of position, and offensively notching two assists of his own last night. I guess in order to edge out Ovechkin in that voting he should have given them some home cookin' too. Well even though according to the twtter "tweets" of the teammates who attended the dinner at the Carlson's no one left hungry, I'm okay with John Carlson still being hungry or at least a little so, the next time the Caps go to the "Rock" or the "Garden" to play either the Devils or the Rangers.

To be fair I'd guess the media picked Ovechkin over Carlson because Ovie was +3 on the night while Carlson was "merely" +2; and the Cap's first line was the best set of players when they were on the ice all evening long. Ovie was Ovie, MoJo90 was very good, and I don't know who was wearing the 22 sweater last evening, but if it was Mike Knuble he certainly didn't play like a 38 year old man. In fact, Knuble has been playing very well, even better than usual, and with a lot of energy the last couple of games. Is he making the case/trying to determine if he wants another year before he hangs up his skates? or is he playing harder to make sure he goes out with the best year possible sometime after the end of April this year? Stay tuned, hopefully it won't be until sometime in June we bring this discussion up again; and hopefully we all get a lot more chances to see just how awesome he can be between now and then. In any case Knuble scored his 18th and 19th goals of the season last night and is looking like he will probably put up the eighth (8th) 20+ goal season of his 15 year/14 season NHL career. The old man of the Capital's team certainly isn't looking like he is slowing down anytime soon and that's a great thing for we Caps fans to get to see/watch, especially this time of the year. It's yet another one of those things that is making me relish this spring even more than last. Michal Neuvirth, last night's game, one word - AWESOME. That performance, as I think back to the game, I have those silly, long drawn out movie lines going through my head like: "heeee'ssss baaaaaccccckkkkk". etc. Pretty cool. The Capitals do indeed have three young goaltenders, who are all playing very well when they are healthy. But based on Neuvy's last two outings - Detroit and New Jersey - I'm more than happy to say right now and for the rest of the season, the 22 year old Czech with the 23-11-4 record, 4 shutouts, and funny look on his face on his team headshot is the #1 goaltender. Neuvy's season long SV% is 0.916 and his GAA is 2.42 and he looked great last evening against New Jersey - especially when they were "swarming."

Did the Capitals really "out devil" the Devils last night? Hard to say when you look at every aspect of the scoresheet, except one - "the bottom line" - Caps 3 - Devils 0. Oh and the fact that Ovechkin, the third star of the game had ZERO shots on goal, yet had two assists and was +3. Against the Devils that's something. Usually when the Devils shutdown an opposing team's star they do it more effectively than that. If there is just one game we can all point to that demonstrates just how much more important team results are to Ovie this season then ever before, and just how much more mature a player he is now than say two seasons ago, last night's game should likely be "that game." When it comes to the question of out-deviling the Devils - sure the Capitals were out shoot by the Devils 33 -12 and still won the game 3-0. However it's the other aspects of the score sheet that show the Caps out mastered the Devils "at their own game" or perhaps more accurately "at Jacques Lemaire's game": a) faceoff wins: Caps 31 - Devils 28 (even with Jason Arnott out, nice to have you back Nicklas Backstrom!, oh and Knuble was a perfect 1-0 here too); b) Capitals PK unit - perfect - killed 8:00 of Devils power play; c) Capitals: 4 takeaways and 2 giveaways, New Jersey 7 takeaways and 15 giveaways; d) Caps 21 shots attempted 57% on goal. Every other place on the scoresheet the Caps are very close to the Devils as well, so yeah to me it looks like the Caps "out-deviled" the Devils last night. It wasn't all that fun to watch but hey, I liked the results and I love the looks on the faces of the hockey pundits on TV when they talk about this team. I don't really care that the Caps may be scaring other teams when they think about having to play against the Capitals in the playoffs. Nope, what I care about is I truly believe this team is constructed to and ready to make a run deep into those same playoffs.

Speaking of which next up for the Caps 72nd game of the season are the Flyers in Philadelphia on Tuesday evening. That should be a good game and it's nice to see the Caps now have three days to sort some things and/or get healthier.


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