January 23, 2020

Washington Capitals “40 Greatest Caps”

The Washington Capitals recently announced voting for the “40 Greatest Caps” to commemorate their 40th anniversary season this year. The voting is for 10 additions to the “30 Greatest Caps” they did 10 years ago.

Here’s the entire ballot.

Here’s how the District Sports Page staff voted. Each person could vote for up to 10 players on the ballot: [Read more…]

CAPS: Happy Birthday, Jeff Halpern

HAPPY 36th BIRTHDAY JEFF HALPERN!

The Washington Capitals Center was born on 05/03/1976 in Washington, DC, United States.

Jeff Halpern, a former Captain of the Caps, has contributed to his hometown community this season. Halpern did a meet and greet with hockey fans in December, visited with kids at Children’s Medical Center with Mike Knuble, Matt Hendricks and Karl Alzner in February and, of course, was part of Casino Night in February.

Happy 36th Birthday to #15.

Jeff Halpern -Practice April 27 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Capitals Jeff Halpern playing Wii with kids at Children's Hospital Feb. 27 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Capitals could take advantage of depth in Game Four with roster tweaks

Will Caps take advantage of Mike Knuble’s experience and size in Game Four? (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

I’m not a hockey coach. I’m not a scout. To paraphrase Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee, if I knew anything about the game I’d be in it.

But it seems to me that there are some peculiarities to the way the Caps’ post-season roster has been constructed, so I’d like to offer my two cents worth. With the extra day off between Games Three and Four, it’s the perfect opportunity for coach Dale Hunter to mix some things up, get a little bit of a different look, and get some fresh legs in there. If the Caps were up in the series, or even tied for that matter, you let things ride. [Read more…]

GAME 64 RE-CAP: Washington Capitals play into Devils’ hands in 5-0 pasting

For the first five minutes or so Friday night, the Washington Capitals came out skating hard, throwing their bodies around and making good effort against the New Jersey Devils, losers of four straight and weary from playing the night before. But in the span of two minutes, Jason Chimera had a shot blocked on a two-on-one, Troy Brouwer was robbed by Devils’ back-up goalie Johan Hedberg on another odd-man rush, then Matt Hendricks took a penalty when he got his stick up on a check.

The Devils scored on the ensuing power play, opening the floodgates for a 5-0 white-washing of the homestanding Caps. And according to some players in the locker room, the team didn’t put up much of a fight, if any.

“I don’t think we worked very hard in the third period,” Troy Brouwer said from a somber home locker. “I thought we packed it in. We looked like a real timid, beaten down hockey team. We have to address that and make sure there is no quit in us, ever.” [Read more…]

GAME RE-CAP 63: Not So Fast! Brouwer’s Pair, Ovechkin’s OT Strike Give Caps 3-2 Comeback Win over Isles

As much as it is a cliche, it’s also the honest truth to say that the Washington Capitals snatched victory from the jaws of defeat Tuesday night, rallying from a two-goal deficit against the New York Islanders with a pair of Troy Brouwer goals in the final four minutes of regulation to send the game to overtime, where Alexander Ovechkin scored to give the home team a crucial 3-2 win.

Late success glossed over a frustrating game for Washington, in which the home team outshot and outscored the Islanders but were largely unable to pierce goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, who stopped 31 shots. [Read more…]

CAPS: Players Visit Children’s National Medical Center

“They’re going through tough times right now and to be able to come here and put some time in and put smiles on their faces, it means a lot. We’re really supporting these kids,” said Matt Hendricks after visiting with patients at Children’s National Medical Center.

Capitals Jeff Halpern, Karl Alzner, Matt Hendricks and Mike Knuble with kids at Children's Hospital Feb. 27 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

An hour before the NHL trade deadline, four of the Washington Capitals players – Karl Alzner, Jeff Halpern, Matt Hendricks and Mike Knuble, along with Caps Mascot Slapshot – visited Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. on Monday, Feb. 27, to play video games, color hockey pictures and visit with patients in the hospital’s atrium.

Capitals Karl Alzner giving patient a Weagle tattoo at Children's Hospital Feb. 27 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Capitals Karl Alzner and young patient showing off matching Weagle tattoos at Children's Hospital Feb. 27 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Capitals Mascot Slapshot coloring with kids at Children's Hospital Feb. 27 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Matt Hendricks has been an active member of the DC community since joining the Capitals, however, now as a new father of three month old twins, these events have even more of an impact on him. “I’ve always felt close to kids, but I think now having two of my own, the bond is a little bit closer, probably more with the parents now,” said Hendricks. “I don’t know exactly what they are going through, but it puts me in that perspective a little bit more.”

Capitals Matt Hendricks posing with patient at Children's Hospital Feb. 27 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Capitals Slapshot and Mike Knuble playing Wii with kids at Children's Hospital Feb. 27 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Capitals Jeff Halpern playing Wii with kids at Children's Hospital Feb. 27 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

The Capitals players along with their wives and girlfriends have made a tradition of visiting Children’s National Medical Center each season. This was the 12th consecutive season the Capitals have visited the hospital. This was the first of two visits the Capitals will make to Children’s National Medical Center this season, as with the Caps Better Halves plan to spend time with patients at the hospital in the spring.

Capitals Mike Knuble with patient and big Caps fan at Children's Hospital Feb. 27 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Capitals Jeff Halpern signing autograph for patient at Children's Hospital Feb. 27 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Capitals Matt Hendricks checking out young patient's new Caps dog tags at Children's Hospital Feb. 27 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Children’s National Medical Center is the only exclusive provider of pediatric care in the metropolitan Washington area and is the only freestanding children’s hospital between Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Norfolk, and Atlanta. Serving the nation’s children for more than 140 years, Children’s National is a proven leader in the development and application of innovative new treatments for childhood illness and injury.

Cheryl Nichols is a Columnist and Photographer for District Sports Page. She is credentialed to cover the Washington Capitals and has reported on the community service and fan events for Nats News Network and Caps News Network since 2006. Cheryl is an accomplished action photographer and has been published in The Washington Post and many other local media. She was a credentialed photographer for the 2010 season covering the Washington Nationals. You can follow her on Twitter @cnichols14.

GAME 29 RE-CAP: Flyers Dominated Caps 5-1

“I wouldn’t have wanted to pay money to see that hockey game tonight if I was a Caps fan. It just wasn’t good enough by anybody.” – Troy Brouwer

If you watched this game, you are most likely not reading the re-cap. Who wants to go through it twice? If you decide to proceed, there are a few post-game quotes to ponder.

The atmosphere before the 122nd consecutive sellout game at Verizon Center was electric. Washington Capitals hosted the Philadelphia Flyers and Caps fans let former Cap Jaromir Jagr know exactly how they felt about him. Jagr was booed very loudly when he was announced as a starter and booed even louder the first time he touched the puck.

There wasn’t too much more for the Caps fans to be excited about until the Caps’ only goal was scored by Jeff Halpern with 6:01 remaining in regulation. Wideman and Ward assisted on the goal. “We’re trying to build and we’re trying to climb up the standings,” said Halpern. “Regardless of what the last two games were, it’s an ugly game.”

Capitals Center Jeff Halpern (Stock Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

The first few minutes of the first period gave the illusion that the game would be close and competitive. The Capitals were rested and were playing with confidence with a two game winning-streak. Passing between Ovechkin, Backstrom and Orlov was beautiful, Alex Semin had four hits in the first period (and ended up with a team leading five for the night) , Orlov fired a red-hot shot and Caps fans continued to boo Jagr.

However, once Tomas Vokoun gave up a “softie” at 16:16 to Scott Hartnell, the Caps seemed to deflate. Capitals head coach Dale Hunter explained, “It happens in the game. We’ve got to learn to rebound from it, learn from it and come back. We were playing a pretty good first and that’s how the game of hockey happens.”

Tomas Vokoun called his performance "terrible." (Stock Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

The Caps went into the locker room down by one goal. The second period quickly unraveled when Flyers scored three goals within ten minutes. Vokoun seemed to be off of his game, but Hunter kept Vokoun in to finish the second. Michael Neuvirth replaced him for the third period. Neuvy stopped eleven of the twelve shots fired at him.

The Flyers shut down Alex Ovechkin, who was limited to only three shots on goal and two hits. “He’s a talented player,” said Flyers forward Braydon Coburn. “He’s got a bag full of moves and I got lucky.”

I’m an eternal optimist and look for the silver lining. There are a few worth mentioning.

One thing that improved was the number of Caps’ penalties. Capitals had only one penalty called all game which was a Troy Brouwer tripping call in the first period. Flyers had three minor penalties called, however, Caps were unable to score on the three power plays. Notice, no Semin penalty. Progress.

Dmitry Orlov play continues to improve. Dima was fifth in ice time with 19:03, had two shots on goal, two blocked shots and one hit. It is fun to watch a young player learn and improve, even during the worst of games.

Alexander Semin playing with heart. There have been many jokes about whether or not “Sasha Cares” and from his play early in the game, it was clear Sasha Cares. Not only did Semin lead the Caps with five hits, he exchanged words with Max Talbot. Those few seconds might have earned Semin more face time on this year’s 24/7 than last! Now Semin needs to start shooting more again. Caps could use a few of his infamous wrist shots.

Having said that, the Flyers clearly outplayed the Caps. Philadelphia Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette agreed, “I thought it was one of our better team games. Just complete start to finish – all lines, all defensemen, goaltender- everyone was going.” Dale Hunter added, “It’s one of those games where they deflected three in, just wrist shots from the point. They’re hard to defend and three were tipped. A couple I think we wish we had back.”

A few of the Capitals players offered comments after the game about the Caps play.

Alex Ovechkin: “They scored almost on the first shot of the game. I don’t think we had that kind of energy and emotion we had before. It was a pretty bad game for all of us. In the second period we [had] four shots on net. I think we lost the game in the second period. We didn’t have any opportunity to turn around the game. Only a couple of shifts at the end of the period were looking good.”

Jeff Halpern: “We did a terrible job making any attempt to make plays to get the puck out. Not sprinting back to spots, not getting open for our partners, not getting into position and not making plays when we did. They’re a good team. You can’t give them free chances. As soon as the team has the puck on the cycle, you’re going to spend some time in your own end. Momentum is going to shift and you are going to spend more energy playing defense.”

Tomas Vokoun: “It was terrible performance. Certainly not pleasant and it’s unfortunate in a game like that there’s not really much to say. It was a bad performance by me.”

Mike Knuble: “You want to move forward as a group and tonight was a half-step back. It shows we have a little bit of work to do. We’re all disappointed in the effort and we don’t offer up any excuses tonight for what happened.”

Troy Brouwer: “It’s unacceptable. We dug ourselves a hole and we couldn’t get out of it. They’re a good hockey team. That’s why they’re first in the conference right now. They worked hard and we got outworked all over tonight. We weren’t sustaining any forecheck. We weren’t sustaining any pressure. We just made it too easy on them to come out of their zone and create chances on us.”

Karl Alzner: “It wasn’t really a certain moment or anything, but obviously we were getting hemmed in our zone pretty bad. They were getting us pretty good on their cycle. We weren’t getting any bounces, I guess, going our way and couldn’t get the puck out, turnovers at the blue line and it hurt us. Some of us were out there for a minute and a half, two minutes at a time. It really, really kills you.”

GAME NOTES:

  • Matt Hendricks, Mike Green and Jeff Schultz were scratched.
  • The Flyers were without the NHL’s offensive leader, Claude Giroux.
  • HBO was filming 24/7 for Winter Classic 2012 and footage will most likely appear in the second episode. First episode airs on Wednesday, Dec. 14.
  • Caps practice at 11:00 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14.

CAPS: Meet Center Jeff Halpern

Caps fans can meet center and former captain Jeff Halpern at the Verizon Fios kiosk at the Potomac Mills Mall on Friday, Dec. 2 from 7:00-8:30 p.m.

Capitals Center Jeff Halpern (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

UPDATED: Caps Players’ Reactions to Coaching Change

Dale Hunter on ice for this first practice as Caps Head Coach (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Here are some unfiltered quotes from the locker room proceeding Dale Hunter’s first practice with the Washington Capitals, taking over from Bruce Boudreau, dismissed after four years, 200-plus wins, four Southeast Division banners and one President’s Trophy.  Some players were genuinely upset, some were matter-of-fact, and some were simply resolved.  But to a man, they all recognized that as players, their lack of effort in recent weeks led to the dismissal of a very good hockey coach.

Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin addressing media re Boudreau and Hunter (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Reaction to the news:

“I think everybody was in shock.  I had like 50 missed calls, 50 messages.  Kind of a shocking situation, but it is what it is.”

What was the problem?

“I think, first of all, all the guys that work with Bruce knows he’s a great coach and great guy.  For everybody, for this organization makes lots of good things.  We won a lot, and he cares for the team and the person.  We respond as players and I think everybody try, but again, it’s done and we have to look forward.  We’re gonna work hard and play our best.

Did you have any disagreements with Boudreau:

“No.  I have good relationship with him. And it’s gonna be good relationship.  Work is work, but we have good relationship right away when they bring him in.”

On Hunter:

“He’s a legend here.  He play here and he knows how to win games and how to play it.  I don’t know how he is as coach, but I talked to Wides (who played for Hunter’s OHL London team) and he said only good things about him.”

“They say he’s a straight-up coach.  If he wants to say something to you he’s gonna say it, and I think that’s good.”

On going forward:

“Everybody knows, right now we just have to play our game.”

Do you think the team will be re-energized with the new coach?

“I hope it’s gonna be like that.  You can see today at practice everybody was flying everybody was concentrating.  It was a very good practice.”

Did the team tune out Boudreau?

“I don’t know.  You can be tired from the coach telling you made mistakes and something like that.  Again, it’s a decision that’s been made and we just have to look forward, don’t look back at what happened. Or if you’re gonna look back, I think we don’t have to talk to [the media] about it, it has to be, again, back in our locker room.

What needs to change?

“We just need to win games.  It’s as simple as that.  We just have to play harder and together.  Sometimes when you have a kind of slump, you just have to fight through that.  Again, it’s all about us.  We play on the ice.  We just have to score the goals, make some hits, make something how we do.”

Dale Hunter checking with Semin and Orlov to make sure that they can understand his English (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

John Carlson

(Carlson played for Hunter’s OHL London Knights)

Reaction this morning:

“I was very surprised.”

 On Hunter’s style as coach:

“I think I was one of the better players on my team there and I certainly didn’t get a free pass so can’t see much changing there.”

“I think that anytime we get a new coach in there it really does energize you, especially him, I think he’s a good guy.”

“He played hard all the time and I think that will trickle down to us.”

“At the end of the day he’s going to hold everyone responsible.”

Do you feel, as a player, responsible for Bruce’s departure?

“Yes, we weren’t playing the way we really should have. We have the team in here to do it and we just didn’t do it. Sometimes it falls on other people and not the players.”

On playing under Hunter:

“My best hockey year and my most important so far was with him. I really learned a lot and got a lot better in that year and obviously he’s doing something right.”

“I think he’s a great coach. He was unbelievable to me.”

“I think that Bruce was great in areas and I’m sure that all of the coaches out there are great in some areas, but lack some areas. I think that [Hunter] is going to really nail things down that really need to be nailed down. The finer details out there like you saw in practice today. He’s not going to let it slide when it’s not his way.”

“We’ve still got the same team in the room. We’ve still got the same components to the team, skill and grit and the whole nine years so I don’t think he can change that much. But if we hammer home the points that he wants in respects to the fore-check and the d-zone and neutral zone not huge things, not monumental where it’s going to take a few weeks to get used to it, but we need to get those things done.”

On today’s practice:

“I thought it was a very good practice. I think that he was trying to get everyone to push the pace and I think that we certainly did that.”

Brooks Laich

“When I first found out this morning my first thought was ‘I wish I could have done more.’”  “[This morning was] Pretty tough. [Boudreau] is a man that himself personally that I owe a lot to. The job he’s done in Washington is amazing. Before he got here, we were a last place team. He’s taken us from a team that started to win, and won consistently, made the playoffs and ultimately had Stanley Cup expectations so it’s tough on a personal note to see him go.”

“It’s the nature of the beast. It’s a business and we understand it and I feel terrible for Bruce because he is leaving his dream job.”“If you rip one of our players out of the locker room, if you rip me out of the locker room, that’s how I think it would feel.”“I haven’t had a chance to talk with him yet, but I’m sure that he’s disappointed, but we all understand it’s a business and sometimes these things happen.”Does it go beyond a coaching change?

“The world of sports kinda sucks in a way that he takes the fall for stuff that we do. It’s not him that took a penalty or missed his assignment or turned the puck over. It’s the guys in this locker room.”

Under Hunter:

“Now Dale is here and today I thought we had a great practice. Guys are upbeat.”

“He’s had a lasting effect and his name is still talked about a lot, a guy that is really respected. I’m sure that he’ll take control right from the get go. And it won’t be too hard to follow that guy.”

Was a change necessary?“No. I had never lost belief in any of our coaches, especially not with Bruce.”“I thought we could play better, but it’s not up to him to try to motivate guys or to try to inspire guys. As professionals you’re paid to do a job and come to work every day. You should be giving your best effort all the time. That is what we expect as professionals.”

Dale Hunter with Dave Prior on ice for this first practice as Caps Head Coach (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Jeff Schultz

What went wrong?

“As players, it’s something that we never want to happen, but in the direction that we were going, we knew something was going to happen. We didn’t know if it was coaching or players. It was tough to see Bruce go.”

Was it a surprise? Or did you see it coming?

“A bit of both. As players, its something that we never want to happen, but in the direction that we were going, we knew something was going to happen. We didn’t know if it was coaching or players.”

On Bruce Boudreau:

“I think guys had a lot of respect for Bruce. Bruce did a great job and he worked real hard preparing for games and practices and stuff. The way that the last month has gone, things weren’t going our way or his way, a change had to be made.”

 On Dale Hunter:

“He’s very up front, coachable person that expects a lot of his players from what I’ve heard from other guys and who doesn’t take crap from anybody.”

 First Practice:

“It was a good first practice today. I’m sure it will take a little bit of time to work things out, but it was a good day one.”

Nick Backstrom

Reaction this morning:

“Well honestly a little surprised, but at the same time we have higher goals than being number eight [in the conference]. “

Thoughts on Hunter:

“He has a lot of experience and he’s been playing in this league and coaching in Canada so hopefully he can bring a lot to this team and teach us and help us.”

“I’m sure that he’ll teach us good things and we’ll learn from him.”

Did the team need a change?

“It’s hard to say, but we can just blame ourselves for not playing good enough. I think Bruce is a great coach and a great personality too.  It’s just us I think. We gotta blame ourselves. It is what it is. We gotta go from there and I think it will be good for us.”

“Right now we have so much challenge and we just got to figure out how to deal with it.”

Downfall of defense:

“Too many odd man rushes I think. Pretty much everything has been a little frustrating, especially when you try and it doesn’t work and we can’t get a puck out from the offensive zone. I think we gotta switch it up somehow and that is how it is now.”

Mike Knuble

On Hunter:

“Everybody knows his track record as a player and what he accomplished on the ice, what type of player he was and I think that will carry a lot of respect.”

“Sort of puts you on edge though that when a guy is talking about it, you know he’s done it and you know he’s done it well in our league and for a long time.”

“You see his jersey retired here and there is a lot of tradition.”

“Bringing that pride will be good for us.”

“He brings a lot of clout and everybody knows his name in this city. Players know what he’s accomplished here and in our league and I think that is a lot of immediate respect you want to play hard for.”

Mike Knuble (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Jeff Halpern

On what went wrong:

“We’re not executing things that are asked of us.”

“Some things we’ve done well and some things need a lot of improvement.”

“It’s hard to blame one person for that, especially when he execution of those plans are on the players.”

“I know the expectations of this team are incredibly high and we had a really good start and have fallen lately.”

 On Hunter:

“Anyone likes a guy who fights for his teammates and sticks up for his teammates.”

“He plays as tough as he is.”

Joel Ward

Reaction to coaching change:

“I was definitely shocked. I had no clue.”

“I think I’ve only been part of something like this before once in my career in junior hockey so its definitely a different experience for me.”

“We’ve got to just keep moving forward.”

On Boudreau losing team:

“I never blame the coaches or refs. As players you just kinda do your job and there’s a system in place. I guess we had one too many break downs on the ice and resulted in giving up a few goals.”

“At times we played well and at times we didn’t.”

“I don’t know if it is something that we needed, but obviously it is the case.”

“As a group as a whole in our locker room is just to come together and play for one another and give that extra little percent.”

On what Hunter can bring to team:

“Maybe it’s a different style of play that he can enforce.”

Tomas Vokoun

First reaction:

“Obviously it’s something, in my career, I’ve ever been a part of in mid-season a coach getting fired.  I found out on the way to the rink, actually from my wife in Florida.  So I was surprised.  It’s disappointing but obviously it’s something — when things are not going well it’s usually, people make changes and saying that, there’s no one else to blame but the players.  We don’t play well and obviously you feel bad for Bruce.  It’s part of the business, definitely not the best part of it, but that’s how it is.

“We’re all to blame.  Me personally, I’m not playing up to my standards.  I’ll say probably there are 18 other guys in this locker room doing the same thing.  Sometimes, stuff, it’s not always fair.  It’s not up to me to judge.  Sometimes it’s nobody’s fault, just things didn’t work out and it’s unfortunate. It’s not something you wish for happening.  Here, we’re not the kind of team we should be going through it, but we are.  We have a good team, but we haven’t shown enough of that, especially of late, and they felt like they had to make a change and they did.”

Did the team stop responding?

“I don’t think it was anybody’s intention on this team [to get the coach fired]. We didn’t play well. It compounded on us. We got some bad breaks.  You felt like there was a bad atmosphere around.  We would come out for the game and maybe people wanted it too much or we were making mistakes but I don’t think it was premeditated to come to the game and not play hard or lose the game or anything like that.  Sometimes for whatever reason things don’t go your way and we just weren’t getting the job done.  And it wasn’t getting any better, it was getting worse.  I feel bad for Bruce, but I’m sure he knows better than anyone it’s part of the game.”

What’s gone wrong?

“We haven’t been playing well.  Nothing’s was working.  Our defense was bad, our goaltending was bad.  We weren’t scoring either much in the games we lost.  Like I said, it’s not like we were five games under .500, but just the overall feeling of our games weren’t good.  Sometimes we wont he game and we still, it was kind of iffy.  Sometimes you can lose and go from the game and say ‘We played great’ and we lost the game because of this, this, this.  I think our biggest problem was being consistent.  We were making crucial mistakes at bad times.  Never it was one guy, some night it was this guy, the next night it was this one.  It’s hard to pinpoint it.  If we knew, we would fix it.  It’s hard to find that one thing.  Sometimes it’s multiple things.  It’s not up to me to judge anybody’s performance but mine, but I can say from my standard, I’m not happy from my last five, six games.

“It’s hard to change 20 guys, right? Sometimes they just change the one.”

Tomas Vokoun (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Karl Alzner

Did Boudreau lose the room?

“It’s tough. I don’t really know exactly how it all happened.  This is my first time ever going through something like this but he still had — Bruce knows the game, incredibly well.  But for whatever reason, as a team, we weren’t really responding well, or not as well as we should have been.  Where do you go after that?  Where do you go from there?  That’s when they come into play, the guys upstairs, and they do what they have to do.  But I think that Bruce did an unbelievable job.  He’s got a great record in the games that he’s coached.

Dale Hunter's Banner Hanging at Kettler (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

 

Additional reporting by Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page.

GAME 11 RE-CAP: Eakin, Backstrom Demonstrate Scoring Touches in 5-1 Win Over Canes

The Washington Capitals had offered three uneven performances in a row, resulting in two losses and an overtime win.  Friday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Caps set forth to recapture their October surge and deliver a complete-game performance.  It isn’t a stretch to say they succeeded, dominating all aspects of the game in a 5-1 victory in (somewhat) hostile Raleigh, NC.

Cody Eakin Scores First NHL Goal! (Stock Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Friday was also an evening of firsts for Washington.  Jeff Halpern and John Carlson both recorded their first goals of the season, and then rookie Cody Eakin did them one better with his first career point and first career goal, all en route to victory.

John Carlson Scored His First Goal of Season (Stock Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Crucial to the victory was a 69-second sequence in the first minutes of the second period in which the Caps quickly transform a one-goal deficit into a one-goal lead.  After Washington failed to convert on a power play, Boudreau sent out his fourth line to keep the puck in Carolina’s zone.  The trio of Matt Hendricks, Jeff Halpern and Jason Chimera had excelled in the cycle game in the first period, and continued that trend on their first shift of the second.  Halpern dished out to Karl Alzner at the blue line for a shot, and when the rebound eventually slid out to the slot Halpern was there to dive and knock in the puck for his first goal of the year.

From grit to beauty, Troy Brouwer gave Washington the lead two shifts later, hustling down the right wing on a 2-on-1 and knocking Marcus Johansson’s beautiful saucer pass over Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward’s left shoulder for his third of the year.  Eakin earned the secondary assist on the goal, giving him his first career point in his second career NHL game.

Although the final score makes the game seem as if it were a blowout, the result was up in the air until near the end.  Carolina scored first, on Anthony Stewart’s tip of Jay Harrison’s shot from the point just 3 1/2 minutes in, and Jeff Skinner appeared to tie the game at 2 on a Canes power play minutes after Brouwer’s goal, only to have it waved off because the referee erroneously blew the play dead a second prior.

The blown call appeared to deflate Carolina, and Washington never took their foot off the gas for the remainder of the game.

Carlson provided the first insurance goal for the Caps on a power play early in the third, utilizing his deceptively heavy slap shot to full effect.  The goal was set up by Nicklas Backstrom, whose perfect service from the right half-boards to Carlson on the left point allowed the young defenseman to step in to the shot with the full weight of his body.

Later in the third period Backstrom scored a goal of his own, his third over his past sixty minutes of hockey.  Alexander Ovechkin, who demonstrated consistent intent to dish the puck Friday night, set Backstrom up for a quick one-timer from the slot, a snap shot that Ward had no chance, and perhaps no desire, to stop.

In between the two Backstrom-inspired goals, Eakin potted a goal that was more befitting a seasoned sniper than a wide-eyed 20-year-old.  Alex Semin was the catalyst on the play, tipping a puck past Joni Pitkanen in Washington’s zone to start a 2-on-1.  Semin carried the puck down the boards then dished to Eakin just across the blue line and burst for the net.  Understandably, Ward and defenseman Jamie McBain keyed in on the player with 178 career NHL goals and guarded against the pass, leaving the rookie (who has 118 goals over his past 4 WHL seasons) to wrist the puck to the top left corner for his first NHL strike.

“He has unbelievable skill, and you can see how easy he put the puck in the net,” said Ovechkin of his young teammate after the game.

CAPS NOTES: With Halpern’s return to the lineup, Mathieu Perreault was a healthy scratch for the Caps.  Perreault has been consistent in his effort this season but had not found his way onto the scoresheet in recent games.  Previously Perreault has responded well to benchings and reassignments, and likely Boudreau’s hope is that the young center responds similarly to this benching.

Nicklas Backstrom vaulted himself into a tie for 3rd in scoring in the NHL (at least as of the time this article was posted) with 16 points, after his goal and assist.  The two players ahead of Backstrom, Toronto’s Phil Kessel and Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux, have both played two more games than the young Swede.

Coming in to Friday night, Washington’s penalty kill was in the bottom of the NHL, successfully at only a 75% pace.  Against Carolina the Caps excelled both at limiting penalties, taking only four penalties, and killing them off, allowing only 5 shots and no goals.

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