The Washington Capitals completed a huge weekend on Saturday night, knocking off the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2 inside the Air Canada Centre on Hockey Night in Canada. Washington was helped by another good game from Michal Neuvirth and goals from Keith Aucoin, Marcus Johansson, Jeff Halpern, and Alexander Semin as they won consecutive games for the first time in over a month. With this win, however, the Capitals are still in ninth place in the East, and the Panthers have played two fewer games than them.
After falling behind early in so many of their recent road games, the Capitals came out guns blazing, scoring after only 32 seconds in off a nice wraparound from Marcus Johansson. Washington doubled their lead in short order, as Alexander Semin picked Luke Schenn’s pocket at the attacking blue line and ripped one past James Reimer, who was given a Bronx cheer by the Air Canada Centre faithful.
Those two goals, while critical, did not keep the ice tilted in Washington’s favor, as the Leafs came hard at Michal Neuvirth. But Neuvirth, playing the second half of a back-to-back set for the first time since December, stood tall, making some nice saves to keep his team in the lead by two. Throughout the rest of the period, Toronto controlled the pace of play and even got a power play out of their pressure, nut were unable to convert and the period closed with the Caps up two.
Toronto came out hard in the second period just as they has closed the first one, attacking with speed. Phil Kessel broke in with a quality chance after only three minutes, but again Neuvirth was there to make the save. The home side kept up their pressure through the middle part of the period, but slowly the Capitals began to counterattack well and establish some zone pressure of their own. That pressure was rewarded at the 11:31 mark of the frame when Jeff Halpern pounded a rebound past Reimer in front to make it 3-0.
Immediately after that goal, Toronto earned a power play, but could not penetrate the continued nice play of Neuvirth. After the killed penalty, the Capitals scored again, as this time it was Keith Aucoin who finished a 3-on-2 in front off a pass from Marcus Johansson. Washington closed out the period with good defensive play and seemed to have the result firmly in hand heading in to the final frame.
The Capitals were sent to the penalty kill only two minutes into the third period, and though Toronto was not able to score on their man advantage, Colby Armstrong was able to put one past Neuvirth to make it 4-1 with 15:10 left in the period. But after that goal, the Caps began to take control again and got their first power play of the night with ten minutes to go.
But Washington could not extend their lead, and with five minutes to go, Tim Connolly scored to pull the home side within one. Despite some close calls as the game wound down, however, the Capitals were able to hold on and scrape out two huge points.
Michal Neuvirth was very good this evening. He’s been the winning goalie in two consecutive games now after a long layoff and seems to be staking his claim to the starting role. I still think Tomas Vokoun is the man in Washington, but Neuvirth is certainly making things interesting. It is a big decision that Dale Hunter has on his hands for Tuesday’s game with the Isles.
Alex Ovechkin had his best game in a while Saturday evening. The Capitals’ captain was all over the place, churning his legs and generating offense across the ice surface. His presence on the top line also helped Keith Aucoin get his first two points of the season. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: he needs to be better, like this, every night for the Caps to make a long run.
So, now what? According to CBC’s Elliotte Friedman, George McPhee will not make any rental deals, only aiming to patch long-term holes (like a second line center). With the trade deadline less than 48 hours away, the general manager of the Capitals has some decisions to make, particularly because as of this writing, they are not in the playoffs.
The Capitals play next Tuesday.