Before “Rock the Red”, the Washington Capitals motto was once “Caps Intensity”. The team’s season opener Saturday night against the Carolina Hurricanes lived up to the old adage among 18,506 Capitals faithful, winning 4-3 in overtime.
The back-and-forth match between the Hurricanes and Capitals began slowly, as Carolina just came into Washington a day after the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled them at home 5-1 and the Caps experienced their first game of the season. So everyone, including Bruce Boudreau expected a slow start.
“They were all asking me about nerves,” Boudreausaid. “You’re nervous — whether you’re a 20-year veteran on the job or just brand new.”
Jussi Jokinen, the Hurricanes’ third goal-scorer, mentioned Verizon center was “not the easiest place to get points, but we had our first game under our belt and we were ready to play right from the start.”
One guy who got to prove them right was Michal Neuvirth, who stopped 31 shots and made key stops when needed. Earlier in the day, there was a bit of fuss over the decision to start Neuvirth over previously decided number one Tomas Vokoun. Neuvirth’s performance reminded many why he was the go-to guy for the playoffs.
“Even when we let up that third goal, I stay positive and I still believe that we can win the hockey game,” Neuvirth said, which would explain why he came through huge in the overtime.
During the 3-on-3 play due to penalties in overtime, Neuvirth stopped a barrage of shots. One of them, most goalies would have let that one up or froze the puck, but Neuvirth made a rather flashy save, and handed it over to defenseman John Carlson to run out the time on the 3-on-3 and give Washington time to work with their own 4-on-3 power play.
“I was just trying to stay focused,” Neuvirth said, talking about his awareness of the play.
“The second goal might have been the only goal he could have done something about, and he takes a lot of pride in that,” said Bruce Boudreau about Neuvirth’s showing. “In the overtime he was great. When you’re down 4 on 3 for two minutes in overtime, it was crunch time and he came through.”
Other positives for Washington include the play of the third line with Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich and Joel Ward. The line was able to manufacture a goal for Chimera, which included Ward’s 100th point of his career with one of the assists.
“I’m on pace for 82 goals,” Chimera joked, and continued, saying that the line did their job “keeping it in the zone and not giving them too many chances 5-on-5, which is great.”
“And we got a goal and anytime you get a goal it’s a bonus.”
It also certainly doesn’t hurt the Capitals that the top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble did good work as well, Ovechkin and Backstrom earning a total of three points and working the power play, which was an area with issues last season.
One main problem for the Caps was staying disciplined, committing four penalties, many of them at inopportune times in the game. One of those penalties came from Alex Semin, who committed a boarding penalty at the end of regulation to put Washington down a man going into overtime. Again, Neuvirth saved them, but it was a dangerous situation, and one Semin often puts his team in during games.
The new look for the Caps with a good mix of experience, scoring seems to be a good fit for Washington. Of course, it is only the first game of the year, so all positives and negatives shall be taken with a grain of salt, but it bodes well for Monday night’s matchup against a more formidable foe in the Tampa Bay Lightning.