The Caps topped off their latest 5 game road trip with a hard-fought 1-0 victory in Pittsburgh. The game capped off a wild cross-country journey that saw the Caps bring in 6 points out of a possible 10. And for many, it also brought about a rebirth of sorts of Alex Ovechkin. He got the lone tally with a 45 foot blast during a second period power play that proved to be all the Caps needed to hold off a struggling and injured Penguins team. The goal was Ovechkin’s third in the last four games; he’s got 6 points total over the same stretch, and has 9 goals (17 points) over his last 15. Slump? Over.
“That is what he does, and this is what he wasn’t doing in the first 45-50 games,” said coach Bruce Boudreau. “He wasn’t getting his shot off. I didn’t even see it (the goal) in the replay at all. He has been playing like that for the last two weeks and being a real leader.”
The Caps’ win also marked an odd trivia point for the team that won’t likely be repeated by anyone in the NHL any time soon. In the Caps’ last three visits to Pittsburgh, they’ve beat the Pens in three different venues: the Civic (Mellon) Arena with a 6-3 win on April 6; the 3-1 Winter Class victory at Heinz Field on January 1; and last night’s shutout in the new Consol Energy Center. The game was also Michal Neuvirth’s second shutout in 15 days, both against the Penguins.
The Caps managed the winning tally on the power play, which has still struggled of late. The Penguins own the league’s top penalty kill, and the Caps were 1-3 on the night. The Caps came into last night letting in 5 of 9 power play chances on the penalty kill over the last four games but stoned the Penguins in their three chances last night.
The Pens came out fast and quick early on; the Caps didn’t even get their first shot on goal until an Ovechkin breakaway at the 10 minute mark. The Pens outshot the Caps 18-7 in the first period and were a constant presence around Neuvirth. The Caps’ goalie toughed it out and was in prime form last night, robbing several Penguin chances all through the game and stopping all 39 shots thrown at him. “They worked hard that whole game,” said Matt Bradley. “I thought we had a pretty good second, but they took it to us again in the third. I think we were lucky to get the two points tonight. Overall, I think they outworked us.”
Key to that was Neuvirth’s stinginess on rebounds. He had superb control all through the contest, letting very few pucks bounce back out and denying the Penguins who maintained a heavy presence in front of the net. “When he can corral them and smothers them like he’s got Velcro on [him], that’s when I know Michal’s on top of his game,” said Boudreau. “He was seeing everything. They had a lot of ‘in the crease’ kind of chances, and he was seeing everything. I knew he was going to be good.”
With the win, the Caps take the season series 3-1 and the next time these two teams meet will most likely be in the playoffs. If that series is anything like last night, fans of both will be in for some truly spectacular hockey.