Caps Bailed on Neuvo, Need to Wake-up @ Toronto
The Washington Capitals have had a lot of success against the Canadian teams over the last two seasons, but, as last night’s lacklustre pointed out, perhaps the Caps are getting soft on their opponents from North of the Border.
The Montreal Canadiens out-hustled and out-worked a much more talented Caps squad last night en route to handing Washington a rare home loss, something that has become less and less frequent at the Verizon Center over the last two years.
The Habs got stellar goaltending from Carey Price and were able to hold off Washington by a final score of 3-2, despite the Capitals intense last minute efforts to put the equalizer past Price.
In response to the Capitals poor display in front of their home fans last night, they have sent Michal Neuvirth back to the Hershey Bears. Obviously Neuvo wanted to have a much better season debut than his nerve-racked solo against the Habs, but his team-mates failed to pay the Canadiens the little respect they needed to and played catchup all night long to a Habs team that chose to outwork Washington from the first puck drop.
The Caps are rarely held to 2 goals, let alone having Alex Ovechkin fail to hit the score sheet. Ovechkin, who was playing in only his 2nd game of November, looked rather flat last night and was continuously pinned to the perimeter of the offensive zone by Montreal defenders Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek.
Overall it was just a disappointing effort from the most powerful offense in the league.
Bright spots included John Carlson and Mathieu Perreault, two rookies who played inspired, heart-filled hockey. Both of the youngsters are seeking to make the most of their opportunity in DC as neither can be sure just how long they will stay in town.
A casualty of last night’s defeat to the Habs was defenseman Tom Poti. Poti did not travel with the team, remaining behind in Washington to get treatment for his undisclosed injury. Also missing out on the trip to Toronto are Boyd Gordon, Alex Semin, Mike Knuble, Milan Jurcina and Quintin Laing. Injuries are hitting this team hard so far, but unfortunately for the NHL this season, it is not uniquely a Capitals situation. Washington’s opponents last, the Montreal Canadiens, have also been utterly decimated by injuries to their most valuable players, beating the Capitals without Brian Gionta or Andrei Markov while in the process losing Scott Gomez and Travis Moen.
The AHL is getting used more than ever this year and one has to wonder if there won’t be some sort of waiver wire record set at some point.
Semyon Varlamov will get the nod in nets tonight. It was expected that Varly was going to start last night, but with the last minute decision to play Neuvo and his subsequent demotion to Hershey this morning, it’s clear to see that Jose Theodore is back with the team. Theo will be backing up Varly tonight at the ACC and will likely make his return between the pipes next week.
The Caps are in Toronto tonight and will be facing the worst team in the NHL. The Brian Burke/Ron Wilson club has had minor ups and tremendous downs this season.
In actuality, the Leafs season can be summed up by their most recent loss on Thursday versus the Hurricanes. The Canes who have won but 2 of their last 16 games, wound up coming back from a 3-0 first period deficit to hand the Leafs their 11th loss of the year with a 6-5 shootout win.
Toronto opened against the Hurricanes with force and aggression, but then obviously fell back into familiar habits as they tried to hold onto a lead. The Leafs are not exactly an all-star team, but because they are not known for the exponential talent, they must be feared for their aggression and tenacity. Toronto’s wins this year come as a result of their hound-dogedness. They hunt down other teams and stay on them as long as they can. Their energy levels are perhaps some of the highest in the NHL, but it’s a two-way street as the Leafs overall lack of talent often costs them. Every Leaf works hard, but not every Leaf has the tools to get it done at the NHL level.
Toronto, which only has 12 points through 20 games, have truly struggled to find an identity, but with newly acquired/signed sniper Phil Kessel in the lineup, Toronto has the makings of a solid foundation. Kessel, along with Tomas Kaberle, are the driving force behind whatever Maple Leafs offense there is, so in order to shut down Toronto, the Capitals are going to have to key in on these two.
With Mike Komisarek out due to an injury and Luke Schenn enduring through his sophomore jinx, Washington will need to take advantage and expose Toronto’s defense and goaltending. I am not sure if it will be ‘The Monster’, Jonas Gustavsson or Vesa Toskala, but seeing as neither Leafs goaltender has shown much consistency as of yet this season, the Caps should not be phased by who is between the pipes.
The Capitals have had their way with Toronto over the last couple of seasons, especially Alex Ovechkin.
This is Washington’s first trip up North on the year, so hopefully a change of scenery can help clear their heads and get them back to playing a full 60 minutes of hockey.
With Tom Poti remaining behind with the rest of the injured Caps, expect Tyler Sloan to slide back onto D tonight and for Andrew Gordon to make his debut on the 4th line with David Steckel and Matt Bradley.
For more, including game notes and lineups, click here to read my extended game preview.
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