Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images
RALEIGH – Cody Eakin scored his first NHL goal and Michal Neuvirth made 24 saves Friday night as the Washington Capitals dispatched the Carolina Hurricanes 5-1 inside RBC Center. Washington got goals from five different skaters as well, and were able to overcome a shaky start and the absence of Mike Green to put up a quality win against a Division rival. With their win, the Caps move to 9-2, and keep their hold on the Southeast Division lead.
The Capitals got off to a very poor start, giving their hosts offensive momentum with a poor defensive zone shift inside the first three minutes. The Hurricanes made them pay immediately, as Anthony Stewart tipped a point shot past Michal Neuvirth for a 1-0 lead at 3:26. Play evened up as the frame progressed, with both teams earning some good chances, but the goaltenders were equal to the task with some nice saves.
Washington was given the first power play of the night with less than two minutes left in the period, and set up a dominant man advantage that yielded many golden chances for them to draw even. Cam Ward was up to the task, however, shutting the door and keeping the Carolina lead at one heading into the first break.
As poor as the Caps were to open the first period, their start to the middle stanza was the polar opposite. Jeff Halpern scored his first goal of the season a little under 90 seconds in to tie before Troy Brouwer gave DC the lead just over a minute later off a sublime pass from Marcus Johansson. Washington continued to press Cam Ward’s net but their momentum was killed when they took three consecutive penalties to give the Canes extended power play time. But on each occasion, Neuvirth stood strong with his penalty killers to keep the lead intact.
The visitors were given a late power play to try and get some some of their offensive momentum back, but could not break though Ward again, keeping the score 2-1 at the second intermission.
Washington came out hard again in the third period, pressing Ward once more and drawing a penalty early in the frame. This time, the Caps made Carolina pay for their sloppiness, as a full minute and fifteen seconds in the offensive zone yielded an insurance goal off a bomb from John Carlson following exceptional work in the corner by Nicklas Backstrom.
DC continued to control the play as the period progressed, establishing a dominant forecheck and pinning Carolina in their own zone for long stretches. The Caps were able to ice the game soon after the halfway mark of the period and extend their lead to 4-1 when Cody Eakin finished beautifully on an odd man rush for his first career NHL goal. As the contest wound down, Nicklas Backstrom added to the fun with an odd man rush goal of his own, converting off a very nice pass from Alex Ovechkin with four minutes left in the contest. Carolina got a power play with 90 seconds left but came empty, and the Caps skated off 5-1 winners.
Nicklas Backstrom played another fantastic game tonight, his second in a row, and just may have found the form that made him one of the NHL’s best players in 2009-2010. DC’s super Swede is creating at even strength and on the power play, playing a physical game, and controlling the tempo the way he can. I said in the preseason he was going to be their most important player. Shocker: he is.
Michal Neuvirth was good in his return after not starting a game in a month. Neuvy was shaky early, especially on the opening goal, and struggled a bit with rebound control, but overall was exactly what the Caps needed to give Vokoun a break. The latter will start in goal tomorrow, as he should, but take nothing away from Mikey tonight.
Cody Eakin – wowza. The ginger machine was all over the place tonight, showing off the tenacity and ability that saw him change hands for eight assets in Junior last year. His goal was an absolute beauty of a snapshot, too. It’s only two games, but he’s earned his keep so far, without a doubt.
The Caps are next in action Saturday against the Islanders in Uniondale. That contest is scheduled for 7 PM.