Caps Re-Cap and Report Card 10.9.11
By Scott Lowe
The Washington Capitals opening-night 4-3 overtime victory against Southeast Division-rival Carolina in front of the 107th straight Verizon Center sellout Saturday didn’t lack for thrills. From the Caps’ perspective there was plenty to be excited about – a few standout individual efforts and enough mistakes to remind everyone that there is plenty of work ahead. All in all it was a pretty typical opening-night performance, with the team getting an overall grad of a B-minus for the effort. A further breakdown follows:
Caps Goals: Semin, Chimera, Laich, Green
Caps Assists: Backstrom (2), Carlson, Ward, Alzner, Ovechkin, Wideman
Shots on Goal: Caps 36, Carolina 31
Saves: Neuvirth 28, Boucher 32
Caps Power Play: 2-for-5
Caps Penalty Kill: 2-for-4
Power Play Grade: A
The PP contributed two key goals and was much more active than last year. The top unit struggled a bit with passing and timing on occasion, but there was a more player movement and players interchanging than we’ve seen in the past, which seemed to clear the shooting lanes and allow the Caps to get more pucks to the net. Having a healthy Mike Green to quarterback the PP certainly helped.
Penalty Kill Grade: D
The PK was too passive, much more like the group that was a middle-of-the-road unit two seasons ago than the aggressive unit that was among the league’s best a year ago. Both Carolina extra-man goals came as a result of the PK sitting back and allowing easy puck movement and then scrambling when Hurricane passes pierced the box and got them out of position. The only thing keeping the evening from being a complete shorthanded failure was the kill in overtime that allowed the team to stay in game.
Their Three Stars (3-2-1): Chimera, Staal, Green
My Three Stars (3-2-1) Chimera, Staal, Neuvirth
Forwards Overall Grade: B-minus
Line 1 – Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble (B-minus)
The top line didn’t do anything to hurt the team, but didn’t perform at the level expected in terms of offensive contribution. The unit wasn’t on the ice for any of Carolina’s goals, and both Ovechkin (one assist) and Backstrom (two assists) contributed on the power play. Ovechkin moved the puck better on the power play than he did for most of last year, but struggled to get shots off and wasn’t overly physical. He gets a C. Knuble fanned on two scoring attempts and otherwise wasn’t very noticeable. He gets a C-minus. Backstrom played a much more physical style and really made the power play go, notching a pair of assists. His efforts on the PK in overtime also led to the penalty that set up the game-winner. B-plus for him.
Line 2 – Semin-Perreault-Brouwer (B-minus)
Line No. 2 had its moments of brilliance, but most of them came courtesy of Semin, who played with the type of effort the team is looking for on an every-day basis. He found open ice for a breakaway on a great feed from Carlson, did a great job of flattening the puck and then beat Danny Boucher with a backhand deke to tie the game at 1. He made more simple plays than usual and avoided the costly turnovers that often haunt him. The only thing keeping him from an A was his stupid boarding penalty at the end of regulation, so he gets a B. Brouwer played pretty well down low and was a physical presence. Not much to speak of otherwise. A solid B for him, too. It was a great gesture for head coach Bruce Boudreau to keep Perreault on the team and give him a spot on the second line after a great preseason in which he led the team in scoring. Perreault brings a lot of heart and energy to the ice, but he’s just not an NHL-caliber No. 2 center. He gets knocked off the puck too easily and struggles to get shots off. You can never question his effort, but he gets a C for performance.
Line 3 – Chimera-Laich-Ward (A)
This line had the task of matching up against Carolina’s top line most of the night, and not only did the trio hold Staal and his cronies scoreless when facing them 5-on-5, but it also contributed a pivotal goal when Ward fed Chimera, who turned on the jets and beat everyone, including Boucher, with 21 seconds left in the second period. Laich also netted a power-play goal in the third period. This line gets an A across the board for its intensity, physical play and two-way effort. Chimera was one of the best players on the ice all night; Laich led the team in ice time, played on both top special-teams units, created a ton of chances in-tight on the power play and won 63 percent of his faceoffs. Ward was steady throughout and made a great pass on Chimera’s goal.
Line 4 – Hendricks-Halpern-Beagle (B)
It took a little while for this group to click, but they get a solid B for the night. Hendricks continued to show the combination of skill and grit that made him a fan favorite last year, creating a few chances on his hard work alone. Halpern saw considerable time on the penalty kill and was the unfortunate victim of what appeared to be uncalled interference by Staal on the late goal that sent the game into overtime.
Defense Overall Grade: B
This is a much more confident, smooth and under-control unit than in past years. With three right-handed shots and three left-handed shots among the d-men, the Caps seem to be able to move the puck better out of their own end. They got bogged down a little bit in the first period, but after that Washington really controlled possession and took the play to Carolina. Carolina’s last goal resulted from too many players, including both defensemen, getting caught below the goal line. Otherwise the defensive effort was pretty solid.
Paring 1 – Green-Hamrlik (A)
Green seemed pretty comfortable carrying the puck, making plays and jumping up into the offense with the wily and mobile defenseman playing opposite him. The pairing led the defense in ice time, and both players saw time on the power play and penalty kill, with Green scoring the OT winner. A very solid all-around effort for both.
Paring 2 – Carlson-Alzner (B)
Carlson at one point was a plus-two and had an assist, but he took two penalties, both of which resulted in Carolina goals. On the positive side he set up Semin’s goal with a perfect stretch pass and was a plus-one on the night. Alzner was steady throughout as usual, picking up an assist and posting a plus-one.
Paring 3 – Wideman-Schultz (B-minus)
Schutlz was clearly the weakest link on the Washington blueline. He struggled at times moving the puck out of the defensive zone and seemed to be moving in slow motion. Schultz got almost no time on the penalty kill and had the least ice time of any defensive player. Wideman, who was solid, saw minutes on both special teams units, picked up an assist and fired two shots on goal. His soft pass set up Green’s game-winner, and he was not on the ice for any of Carolina’s goals. Individually, Schultz would get a C and Wideman a B-plus.
Goaltending – Michael Neuvirth (A)
Neuvirth gave up three goals during regulation, two on power plays and one on a 6-on-5 with the opposing goalie pulled. None of the three scores was his fault, although he may have panicked slightly on the third one in an effort to scramble across and make an acrobatic save. If his play in regulation was steady, his play in overtime was spectacular. Without Neuvirth the Caps simply don’t win. He made three ridiculous saves in a 25-second span with Washington shorthanded, the last of which started a two-on-one break that led to the Carolina penalty that ultimately decided the game. Rewarded by Boudreau with the starting nod after a tremendous preseason, Neuvirth made Boudreau look like a genius.
Best Coaching Move: Letting Neuvirth have the start. Competition breeds excellence, and Neuvirth earned the start with his play last year and great preseason. Does this mean he is No. 1? No way. If you read between the lines a bit, Vokoun is starting Monday vs. the tougher team. Don’t expect either goalie to make 55 or 60 starts this year. Boudreau will divide the playing time to keep them fresh and then go with the hot hand down the stretch, just like he always does.
Worst Coaching Move: Playing Perreault and sitting Marcus Johansson. Although Boudreau played Perreault for all the right reasons, Johansson is a future star who needs to be in the lineup on a regular basis.
Bruce Boudreau on facing Tampa Monday
They’ve got a lot of weapons. They are a very good team. The last time we saw them they beat us four times in a row. It should be a very interesting game … Every team that plays them tries to do the same thing – limit the turnovers. They’re so quick and good and in transition from the blue line and back, you just try to find ways to shut it down and not let it happen.