For much of the Washington Capitals’
recent 12-game winning streak, the attention has been squarely on the team’s
offensive firepower. Flying under the radar, however, has been consistent
quality play from their goaltenders – most notably, veteran Jose Theodore.
It was rookie goaltender Michal
Neuvirth, though, who came up big on Friday night in Washington’s 5-2 victory
over Atlanta, the team’s 13th consecutive victory. Neuvirth finished with
43 saves total, 22 of which came in the second period.
“Neuvirth played fabulous,”
Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau said after the game. “They got their legs
and we couldn’t meet their push and that’s when we needed the goalie to be
really good and he was really good.”
It was the third consecutive slow
start for Washington, who fell behind 1-0 early after Thrashers forward Tobias
Enstrom knocked in a loose puck near the crease.
The slow start did not faze Washington, who is the only team in
the league with a winning record when surrendering the first goal. Tonight,
goaltending gave the Capitals a chance to stay alive despite what Boudreau
called “pretty sloppy” play by his team.
Capitals forward Jason Chimera agreed: “We got a kind of lackadaisical
start again, which we don’t want to do every night. But Neuvirth kept us there
for the first bit, and let us get our legs under us and it started going from
The Caps got it going later in the period after Alex Ovechkin
slapped a one-timer past Atlanta goaltender Ondrej Pavelec on the power play.
Ovechkin would then set up linemate
Nicklas Backstrom early in the second period to give the Capitals a 2-1 lead,
but late in the period, Atlanta regained the momentum. It was Neuvirth, though,
who stopped everything the Thrashers could throw at the 21-year-old.
“I was in Hershey all week, so that
wasn’t an easy game for me,” said Neuvirth, who just rejoined the team on
Friday. “It is a different level. I was not that sharp in the first, but
I think I was getting better every minute and I think I had a good game.”
Alexander Semin and Chimera would score goals less than two
minutes apart early in the third period, but Atlanta would respond eight
minutes later with a shorthanded goal by Rich Peverely. Neuvirth stopped
Peverley’s original shot, but a backchecking Semin accidentally knocked in the
rebound to close the Washington lead to two goals.
Capitals defenseman Mike Green,
playing in his first game since his three-game suspension, would thwart any
comeback by adding an empty-netter with less than two minutes remaining,
putting an exclamation point on the team’s thirteenth straight victory.
Thrashers, though, out-shot the Capitals 45-32, the seventh such time the team
has been outshot in their streak, the third time they surrendered 40 or more.
“We’re giving up an awful
lot of shots lately,” Boudreau said. “You give up 40 shots, it’s
going to be tough to keep [winning] at this rate.”
Capitals will look to continue their streak on Sunday afternoon when the
Pittsburgh Penguins come to Verizon Center for the first time since sending
Washington home in game seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last spring.
And while Boudreau downplayed the streak, he admitted that Sunday’s game has a
little extra meaning.
“You’re playing against the
Stanley Cup Champions,” he said. “I’ve got to believe, even if they say we’re
not a big rival of theirs, that they would take an awful lot of pleasure out of
beating us on Sunday in our building.”