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Neuvirth Shines in Opener, Caps Win 4-3 In OT

I think it is fair to say Tomas Vokoun might feel a little uneasy as he lays in bed tonight.  Vokoun, who found out earlier this week that he would not start, was forced to sit and watch as Michal Neuvirth absolutely stonewalled the Carolina Hurricanes.  The score-line will show that the Hurricanes put 3 behind him, but he can’t be blamed for any of them. Let’s get to the breakdown.

Outside of Neuvirth, the biggest bright spot for the Capitals was their third line of Chimera, Laich, and Ward.  Their combination of great speed and grit repeatedly hemmed the Canes’ top line in their own zone.  Unfortunately, this line was unable to capitalize on any of their increased pressure.  This was a theme found in all 4 even-strength lines.  Several times throughout the game, especially around the midpoint of the second period, the Capitals were able to roll their lines without allowing the Hurricanes any sustained pressure.  Luckily for the Caps, they were able to develop a couple of goals off the rush and, more importantly, the power play.

After spending the 2009-2010 season with the best power play in the league, the Caps found themselves stumbling with the extra-man last year.  After the first couple of power play opportunities, it looked like they were still stumbling.  They held the puck in the zone for the majority of the power play, but spent the time with exterior passing and no shots getting through.  Once they got the Canes down to 3 men, however, they were able to be productive.  Laich’s tally in the 3rd period was a direct result of Ovechkin choosing to shoot the puck when the opportunity presented itself.  This theme held true again during the 4-on-3 in OT as Green saw a chance to shoot on a screened Brian Boucher and took advantage to end the game.

Last year’s much improved penalty kill took a step back today.  The Hurricanes moved the puck very well with the extra man and the Caps just could not keep up with it.  This directly led to both Staal goals as the Caps backdoor defender (Green on 1st and Hamrlik on 2nd) lost track of Staal as he easily placed the puck behind Neuvirth.  My biggest issue with all of this is that the Hurricanes employed a similar tactic the Caps used to use.  They cycled the puck and eventually just fed it to their superstar wide-open on the backdoor.  No matter how impressive Neuvirth or Vokoun are on a given night, the D has to avoid those backdoor gimmees.

It also doesn’t help your penalty kill when one of your top defensemen is in the box.  John Carlson was serving a tripping penalty when Staal first found the back of the net and was off for delay of game for the second.  Despite his great break-out pass on the Semin goal, Carlson should try his best to forget this game.  He can’t be taking those penalties and he can’t be stuck on the wrong side of the ice late in the game.  With the Hurricanes having pulled the goalie for the extra man, Carlson should not have been battling in the corner with 2 other Caps as Brooks Laich was essentially alone to play defense in front of Neuvirth. 

Semin, whose level of caring was brought into question in the offseason, was a revelation for 59 minutes and 59 seconds of this game.  He was able to position himself behind the Carolina defense twice in the second period and turned one of those opportunities into the first Caps’ goal.  His stick handling was great and it appeared that he truly had developed a different mindset for this season.  Then, as time expired in regulation, Semin boarded Allen for no apparent reason.  Luckily he was only given a minor for boarding, but still put his team into a horrible spot and almost cost them the game if not for a few ten-bell saves from Neuvirth.  While it did not look to me like a suspendable hit, the fact that it was as time expired could hurt him when Shanahan views the tape.  Part of me wants him to be reprimanded in some way so he at least is forced to feel some remorse for an absolutely moronic and selfish play.

Needs to Be Fixed Before Next Game

:

I still think Johansson should be starting over Perreault. I understand BB wanted to reward Perreault for his great camp, but his play tonight did not portray that of a second-line center.  If they want to play him again I would look at finding a place on the wing and allowing Johansson to come back and get the second line to where they should be. 

John Carlson and Karl Alzner need to figure out what happened on that last-minute tying goal by Jokinen.  Also John Carlson should probably work on staying out of the box.
The PK needs to work on that back door problem.  Going into this game, the Caps knew that containing Staal on power play was important to killing penalties, and they still failed to cover him.  Before the first Staal goal, Dean Evason even told Al Koken that they needed to watch Staal on half-wall.  On Monday they face a much more dangerous power play group in Tampa Bay and could get shelled if they can’t even cover the obvious threat.

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Comments

PuckStopsHere's avatar

Just a hint ... putting the final score in the game in your post would be useful.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 10/09/11 at 12:29 AM ET

Matthew Tate's avatar

Thanks. Completely spaced on it.

Posted by Matthew Tate on 10/09/11 at 12:37 AM ET

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Welcome to the home of the F Street Faithful, run by Matthew Tate.  This is a go-to blog for all things related to the Washington Capitals.  The F Street Faithful is 5% news and 95% breaking down the news.

In the past I have written for several other sports blogs as well as the college newspaper while at  York College of Pennsylvania.  I am a graduate of York College of Pennsylvania but am based out of Southern Maryland. 

You can follow me on twitter @FStreetTate but I must warn that I do tweet about more than hockey. You can also e-mail me at any time at overtheboard@gmail.com.