Rapid Rewind: Vokouna-Matata. Capitals 2, Hurricanes 1

WASHINGTON – Dmitry Orlov scored his first career NHL goal, the eventual game-winner, and Tomas Vokoun made 43 saves Sunday to lead the Washington Capitals to a critical 2-1 win inside Verizon Center.  The Capitals got their other goal from Alexander Semin, who broke a four game goal drought.  With their win, their seventh in a row on home ice, the Capitals are now in first place in the Southeast Division for the first time since early November.

The game got off to a rather slow start, with neither team getting much pressure or zone time until four minutes in, in which a long cycle from the Caps resulted in a few chances, but only one shot on goal.  Carolina was soon granted a power play, but great all-around penalty kill work by several players kept the score at zeroes.

As the period continued, however, the Hurricanes began to dominate play, forcing Tomas Vokoun into several saves and forcing the Caps into some bad decisions in their own zone.  The visiting team’s pressure continued throughout the end of the frame, which could not end soon enough for the Caps.  Fortunately, however, it did end with the game still scoreless.

The Capitals started the second period with much better pace, and appeared to have taken a 1-0 lead after three minutes when Brooks Laich drove hard to the net and buried one past Cam Ward.  After a video review, however, the goal was waved off because of incidental contact, even though incidental contact is not

After more Washington pressure, they were awarded a power play with 13 minutes left, but could not make anything of it and then put Carolina on the power play when Mike Knuble was sent off for slashing.

Read on.

After a successful penalty kill, the Capitals finally broke on top.  Marcus Johansson collected a pass from Alex Ovechkin and streaked down the wing, finding Alex Semin at the top of the circle; the Russian winger blasted the puck over Ward’s catching glove for a 1-0 lead.

The lead did not last long, however.  Jay Beagle took an ill-advised elbowing penalty soon after Semin’s opening tally, and Carolina finally scored their first when Jussi Jokinen collected a loose rebound in front and roofed it over a sprawled Vokoun, who had made three saves in the previous ten seconds.  The goal came with only 16 seconds left in the period, and the frame closed tied at one.

Dmitry Orlov recorded his first NHL goal a little over a minute into the third period, breaking the deadlock after deflecting a bouncing puck in front past Cam Ward.  Immediately after the goal, the Canes took off, putting Vokoun into a shooting gallery, keeping the Caps completely on their heels and forcing the veteran goalie to make a number of great saves.

All that pressure eventually got the visitors another power play with twelve minutes left in regulation, but again the Caps were able to kill it off with some nice shot blocks and more exceptional work by Vokoun in the net.

As the game passed five minutes remaining in regulation, the Hurricanes tilted the ice completely towards the Washington end, firing pucks at will towards Vokoun.  Amazingly, though, the Caps were able to hang on, skating away 2-1 winners.

Observations:

Let’s not kid ourselves.  A win is nice, and two points is never anything to complain about, but the Carolina Hurricanes are a bad team.  They are one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference, coming off a game the previous night.  The Capitals beat them for one reason: Tomas Vokoun.  Call me narcissistic or whatever you want, but this isn’t going to fly for the rest of the year.  They have to actually play good hockey to win something that matters.

On the other hand: how good is Tomas Vokoun?  43 saves tonight in another stellar performance, his third consecutive masterful game on home ice.  This is why he was signed, to help carry the mail.  But he will need some rest sooner rather than later.  Hopefully, he can do it in the playoffs, if the Capitals make it that far.  Because the way they are playing now, they’ll need it to make it that far.

Alex Ovechkin played well tonight.  He only had one assist on the score-sheet, but was laying out crunching hits all night long, particularly in the third period, in a very nice all-around performance.  Hopefully, the Captain is coming around.

The Capitals will practice Monday at 11 AM at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

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