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Welcome to Caps 'Round the Clock, a blog covering the Washington Capitals and the NHL. In season, I update the Blog after every practice and on game day with Caps news and information, and then provide a recap and analysis after each contest. I also write a periodical Prospect Watch and weekly feature pieces on the state of the Men in Red and other things Capitals. And of course, I will post videos and tidbits from around the League and offer my two cents as the season wears on. In the offseason, I write a Report Card for each player, and will keep you updated on all the news about the Caps through the summer. I'm glad you're here, and hope you come back!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Rapid Rewind: Czech, Please

"Yeah, um, I'm playing in the playoffs.  Sorry boys."
The Washington Capitals got back in the win column in style tonight, shutting out the New Jersey Devils inside Prudential Center by a final score of 3-0.  Mike Knuble had two goals and an assist in the win, and Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson both joined him on the multi-point list with two assists to each of their names.  But the story tonight was Czech goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who was awesome in making 33 saves for his fourth shutout of the season, which leads all NHL rookies, and making a statement as to who should be the number one man. With the win, the Capitals pull six points clear of the Tampa Bay Lightning for first place in the Southeast Division, although the Bolts do hold two games in hand on Washington.  They also jumped into a tie for first place in the Eastern Conference with the Philadelphia Flyers with 94 points, although the Flyers hold three games in hand.

The Devils got off to a great start, as they put Michal Neuvirth in a shooting within the first three minutes that saw him make three sparkling saves to keep New Jersey off the board.  The Capitals were soon able to get a little bit of momentum for themselves with a good shift from the top line, who had the Devils pinned in their zone for about 80 seconds.  After several great saves by Brodeur on opportunities, including an absolutely brilliant stop on Marcus Johansson, the Washington pressure was rewarded at 6:10 when Jeff Schultz blasted a shot through a maze of bodies and into the bottom of the net for a 1-0 lead.  As the period continued, both teams were able to control the puck for periods of time, but neither team was able to get anything sustained and the goaltenders made some nice saves as well to prevent any further scoring.  Inside seven minutes remaining, however, the Devils picked things up again, and took advantage of some poor defensive coverage and turnovers to get some excellent chances on the Capitals, but Neuvirth was again there to keep New Jersey out. As the period began to wind down, Neuvirth again had to be great off several odd-man rushes and zone possession shots, and the Devils were in clear control.  Inside one minute remaining, the Devils got several more great opportunities, but the young Czech was able to keep his sheet clean, and the Capitals headed to the locker room up 1-0.
In the second period, the Devils got off to another strong start, controlling the play and getting chances early against a Washington defense that still didn't really have their legs.  The Devil's constant pressure was rewarded at 3:50 when Karl Alzner was boxed for tripping, and New Jersey had their first power play.  On the man advantage, the Devils got great shots on Neuvirth again, but he was able to counter with a couple of solid glove saves.  New Jersey kept dominating Washington in puck possession as the period continued, as the Caps only had three shots total after 27 minutes, but Neuvirth continued to stand tall, including a brilliant lateral save on Brian Rolston.  Inside of ten minutes remaining, the Devils kept to come at Washington full tilt, getting point blank chances in bunches, but Neuvirth continued to make amazing saves.  At 12:56, Dennis Wideman was sent off for delay of game, giving the Devils another power play, but the DC penalty killers stood strong again, preventing New Jersey from even getting a shot off.  Soon after the expiration of the penalty, the Capitals set up another forecheck sequence, and John Carlson found Mike Knuble in front with a beautiful pass that Knuble converted for a 2-0 lead at 15:58.  Right after the goal, though, Matt Hendricks was given a double minor for high-sticking at 16:51, sending the Caps to a lengthly penalty kill.  For the remaining 3:09 of the period, New Jersey got some good chances on their power play, but the penalty killers and Neuvirth stood strong again; the period ended with DC up 2-0.
On the power play to open the third period, New Jersey got nothing going in terms of attack, and the Capitals successfully killed off the penalty.  The game then settled into a bit of a back and forth play, as neither team took many chances offensively and Washington began to try and snuff out all of New Jersey's offensive chances.  Michal Neuvirth was forced into action on odd-man rushes by the Devils with about 13 minutes left, and he was able to make the saves again to keep his sheet blank.  The Capitals were unable to generate much pressure as the period continued, with only one shot through ten minutes of playing time, and New Jersey started to take advantage of their rather stagnant play with a couple of chances that Neuvirth had to be great again on.  On their counterattack, however, the Capitals scored again when Mike Knuble roofed a puck past Brodeur off a great pass from Ovechkin at 11:24 for a 3-0 lead.  As the game began to wear down, the Capitals put the game into full shutdown mode, emplying a full ice trap to neutralize almost all New Jersey rushes up ice; however, Neuvirth did make a great glove save on Ilya Kovalchuck with about 3 minutes left.  The final minutes of the game ticked away without incident, and the Caps closed out their tenth win in their last eleven games.

Observations:

Michal Neuvirth was sensational and made his claim to the playoff goalie job in convincing fashion.  Before the Capitals seized control of the game late in the second, New Jersey was gunning at the rookie and he had to be on top of his game and make several brilliant saves to keep his team tied and then in the lead. He was moving around his crease superbly all night and was square to the puck on every save he made.  His technique is impeccable, and he gets the job done. Neuvy is the number one goaltender, and if you think he isn't, you're kidding yourself.  And I'm a Varly fan.

John Carlson had another excellent game against the team he grew up cheering for, and now has seven points in 4 games against them this year with his two assists tonight.  He was plus-two and blocked a shot in addition to his two helpers in his 22:54 of ice time, and has really rebounded well after a rough stretch at the end of February and the beginning of this month.  This just in: he's really good.  Can his mom make all of his pre-game meals from now on?

Mike Knuble had his best game of the season, and not only because he had two goals and an assist.  The big fella has finally gotten over the hump and has really caught fire as the Capitals crank up the gas towards the end of season, and you can tell.  He doesn't look like he's laboring anymore, he goes to the net well, and he has his smile back, which means he's having fun.  I still expect to see Backstrom rejoin that line soon, even with how well Marcus Johansson has played between him and Ovechkin, and when he does, sparks could really start flying.

The Capitals will fly home tonight and will practice Saturday morning at 11 AM at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.  Their next game is in Philadelphia on Tuesday, that one is scheduled for 7:30 P.M.

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