Matt Cooke and Alex Ovechkin in happier times. (Photo credit: Mitchell Layton)
Once again the Super Bowl Sunday rendezvous between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins was a rousing success. Through three periods of hockey, the Caps laid siege to the Penguins’ net and their depleted forces.
Mathieu Perreault won a battle below the goal line to feed Brooks Laich, who was waiting eagerly in Fleury’s paint. His greasy backhander put the Caps up 1-0. On the penalty kill in the second, Marcus Johansson scored perhaps his prettiest goal yet, a no-look backhander. 2-0. Desperate in the third, the Penguins’ offense relented and allowed Mike Knuble the empty netter. Shutouts don’t feel so bad from the other side. Caps beat Pens 3-0.
- The Capitals offense was persistent and aggressive, tallying 18 scoring chances to Pittsburgh’s seven and denying them any chances in the first period. You can chalk that up to a sturdy defensive unit for the home team, anchored by…
- Mike Green, who pulled the unorthodox block-it-with-your-ear maneuver at the end of the first period. Green did not return to the ice, but Boudreau didn’t sound too concerned at the post-game. “It’s just day-to-day,” Boudreau said. “He’s got a little bit of a headache. I mean if you get hit in the head with the puck, you’re going to have a headache. We’ll re-evaluate and see how he is tomorrow.”
- Michal Neuvirth distinguished himself after a lengthy absence from the Washington net. His shutout was assisted competently by the aforementioned D, but his biggest boon might have been the Penguins’ anemic offense, who showed precious little threat without Evgeni Malkin (knee) and Sidney Crosby (Dave Steckel) among them.
- Speaking of “Danger” Dave Steckel; his rampage through the NHL continues. After leveling an monstrous one hit(s) in regulation and screening Fleury on the short-handed goal, the ever-bellicose Steckel picked a fight with the unassuming Tim Wallace. When will Dirty Dave’s reign of terror end?
- Everyone’s favorite heel, Matt Cooke, did a great impersonation of himself, kneeing Alex Ovechkin with four minutes remaining. Despite a resemblance to the incident with Tim Gleason that led to Ovechkin’s suspension last year, Cooke received only a humble, two-minute sentence, and that likely won’t be revisited by the league. On the hit, coach Bruce Boudreau commented, “It’s Matt Cooke. Need we say more? It’s not like it’s his first rodeo. He’s done it to everybody. Then he goes to the ref and says, ‘what did I do?’ He knows damn well what he did.” Yep. Cookie is the best there is at what he does, but what he does isn’t very nice.
- Holy what: John Erskine was on ice for 8 of the Caps 11 even-strength chances. Now, THAT’s the Caps-ocalypse.
- Mike Knuble was denied a goal early in the second after Matt Hendricks interfered with (read: was pushed into) Marc-Andre Fleury. His nine-game streak of goals against Pittsburgh was in danger until Fleury left the net in the game’s closing minute. That wasn’t an empty-netter, that was justice.
Quotes of the Game:
“They don’t like us. We don’t like them. That’s the way it should be.” – Bruce Boudreau
“I don’t get it…why are they allowed to punch each other with three referees right there?” – Peter’s mom
“It’s the kind of hockey I like to play. It’s fun hockey. It’s emotional hockey. It’s physical.” – Matt freakin’ Bradley
Too many good things happened in this game to list. Brooks Laich led the offense as we knew he would, Jay Beagle (0 even-strength scoring chances against ) and Mathieu Perreault were rabid terriers in the offensive zone, and Karl Alzner countered nearly every attack foisted upon him. The entire team was at or near their best, and when playing against a Pittsburgh team without its two stars, the outcome was never in doubt.
Two Super Bowl Sunday games in two years, both rowdy wins for the good guys. The Caps have again broken that two-goal ceiling that has been looming over them lately, and now they stand poised to play their very best hockey in the toughest month of their schedule. They’re a more cohesive team right now than we’ve seen all season, and that speaks to Boudreau’s leadership and a sense of cooperation on the team. “It is buying in,” Karl Alzner said of the shift in tone. “It is every single guy on the ice doing the same thing.”
Or you could say it like Mike Green: “We are starting to get our mojo back.”
Net crashed. Go Packers.
Additional reporting by Neil Greenberg. Interview coverage by Chris Gordon.