Caps Look for Lead, Penalty-Killing Prowess vs. HabsPosted on January 24, 2013
One of the issues vexing the Caps in losing the first two games of the season is the team’s inability to gain and hold a lead. Washington has not yet led at any intermission in the young season, and its only lead in 120 minutes of play lasted for a duration of just 2 minutes and 32 seconds.
Caps coach Adam Oates hasn’t been able to roll four lines yet in the early going because he’s had to ride his star players more in an effort to get back into games. Grabbing an early lead and maintaining it would be a panacea for the Caps at this point, but it’s easier said than done.
The Montreal Canadiens are in town to take on the Capitals tonight, and they’re one team that Washington was able to do exactly that against last season. In fact, the Caps never trailed in any of the four games they played against Montreal in 2011-12, winning all four contests by a combined count of 13-3.
Going back to 2010-11,Washington has now won six straight games over the Habs, outscoring Montreal by a combined 19-5 in those contests. The Caps have not taken a regulation loss to Montreal in their last 11 regular season games (9-0-2), dating back to 3-2 loss to the Habs on Nov. 20, 2009 at Verizon Center.
That game is noteworthy in another regard: it marked the NHL debut of Caps defenseman John Carlson.
Another early season issue for Washington has been its penalty-killing outfit. The Caps have surrendered five power-play goals on a dozen extra-man opportunities in two games, leading to a woeful penalty-killing success rate of 58.3%. But Montreal’s last power-play goal against the Capitals came on Feb. 10, 2010, just prior to the NHL’s Olympic break that winter.
In a 6-5 overtime loss that halted Washington’s franchise-record 14-game winning streak, ex-Cap Glen Metropolit scored a power-play goal against then-Washington netminder Jose Theodore. Roman Hamrlik – now with Washington – had one of the assists on that Metropolit goal nearly three years ago.
Since that Metropolit power-play goal, Washington has successfully snuffed 33 straight Canadiens power-play chances over a span of eight games. Included in that run is a rare six-minute power play on Jan. 18, 2012 when John Erskine was given an elbowing minor and a high-sticking double-minor on the same play.
Washington has tweaked its penalty-killing system this season, and the unit as a whole has adjusted haltingly.
“We have too much separation I think between the forwards and the [defense],” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner of the team’s penalty-killing unit. “That’s how [the Jets] scored their second goal in the last game.
“We’re playing half of what we were doing last year and half of what we’re doing this year, and it’s not the right halves. They’re not meshing with each other at all. And I’m definitely a culprit for remembering the right time to pressure now. Last year, the right time to pressure was all the time. This year, it has to be a certain moment. I think that’s where we faltered.”
Michal Neuvirth gets the net tonight for the Capitals, making his first start of the season. Neuvirth is 4-1 lifetime with a 1.82 GAA and a .939 save pct. in six starts lifetime against the Canadiens. Neuvirth was named the game’s first star in each of his three appearances against Montreal last season, while fellow Czech Republic native Tomas Vokoun.
It’s a small sample size, but ex-Canadien and Montreal native Mike Ribeiro has had good success in limited showings against his former team. Ribeiro has two goals and six points in four career games against the Canadiens.
“I didn’t play [them] often,” says Ribeiro. “It’s probably my fifth game against them. Any kid I think who plays against Montreal – it doesn’t matter if you’re from there or not, if you’re from Russia you still watched the Canadiens back in the day – it’s always special to play against a team like that. I’m obviously from there, I played there, it’s a little bit more excitement. I’m just anxious to play this game.”
Caps center and Quebec native Mathieu Perreault has also had good success against the Habs with four goals and six points – his highest total against any opponent – in seven career games against Montreal.
Getting and maintaining a lead and getting a good performance from the penalty-killing unit would go a long way to putting the Caps in the win column for the first time this season.
Thanks as always to Carter Myers for a lot of the statistical data contained in this post.
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