Tag Archives: Winnipeg Jets

Missed Opportunities Expensive For Capitals

Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity. The Washington Capitals are learning that at their own expense.

They are learning that in split-second fashion; against the Philadelphia Flyers Thursday, Ilya Bryzgalov slid across the crease just in the nick of time to get a skate on what should have been an Alex Ovechkin goal to give the Caps a 2-0 lead in a game they ultimately lost 2-1 in a shootout. Against the Winnipeg Jets Friday, Mike Knuble could not convert a wide-open opportunity in front of the net that would have given Washington a 4-2 lead after allowing two unanswered goals. Instead, the Jets overcame a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3 in overtime.

They are learning that in the standings. After handing the Jets their first win of the season when trailing after 40 minutes (and earning their first loss when leading after 40), the Caps are now hanging onto the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference by a tiebreaker. For the third time this season and second time within the last week, Washington failed to render the fatal blow to Winnipeg’s postseason aspirations.

Yet, perhaps the most valuable lesson that the Caps can learn comes from the Jets themselves. Trailing 3-0 less than 10 minutes into the second period, the Jets did not falter. Jim Slater propositioned Brooks Laich at center ice six seconds after Ben Maxwell scored to cut into Washington’s lead. About one minute later, Bryan Little’s goal completely shifted the momentum in Winnipeg’s favor.

“We didn’t get down,” Jets head coach Claude Noel said. “We continued to play. We just plugged away. We needed a spark. The spark that really came on, for me, was the Slater fight. That’s really what got us going. It really showed the rest of the players, the rest of the team that we need to battle here, we need to keep going. I thought that was a real statement. If you look after that fight that he had, I think it was clear that our team got energized from that just from a team standpoint, that somebody stepped up. That was probably the turning point in the game.”

“Our guys didn’t look demoralized,” Noel continued. “They were good in the way they responded. We needed that one. There’s a lot of hockey to be played. We didn’t really waver.”

With seven games remaining in the regular season, the Caps must study and administer Noel’s lesson. For every problem, there is an opportunity, but a team that misses that opportunity cannot be saved.

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Playoff-Like Game Brings Back Nightmares Of Capitals’ Playoff Failures

The atmosphere was charged, the game intense. The palpable energy emanating from Friday’s game between the Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets could be felt from the seats at MTS Centre to television sets in Washington some thousand miles away.

It was an intense battle for 60 minutes, one that the Jets won by a 3-2 count, but the Caps and their fans could find solace in what looked like a complete effort that fell painfully short. After the final horn sounded, however, Comcast SportsNet color commentator Craig Laughlin made a short, but disconcerting comment that seemed to truly bring the game into proper perspective.

“Felt like a playoff game,” he said.

While Laughlin was certainly describing the ferocity of the game, he unintentionally uncovered something far more agonizing: the Caps, as recent history has dictated, could not come through in a playoff-like situation.

The Caps are surely used to complete efforts that fall painfully short in the postseason, but everything that has gone wrong in the past and could go wrong Friday did. Most notably, Washington’s superstars failed to deliver. Alexander Semin was practically invisible with just two shots on goal, while Mike Green did not even register a shot on goal in between two giveaways and a minus-2 rating. Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin’s freelancing in the defensive zone cost the Caps in the second period. By the end of the game, Ovechkin was attempting to do everything himself, which historically is a clear sign of desperation.

Entering Friday, three of Washington’s last five victories had come in comeback fashion. Yet, by failing to do so Friday, the Caps, just like they did against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009 and Montreal Canadiens in 2010, have provided their opponents new life. A win would have given the Caps a six-point cushion and perhaps a fatal blow to the Jets’ playoff chances. Instead, Winnipeg is two points behind Washington and potentially more confident than ever before.

Fortunately for the Caps, the difference between a playoff-like game and a playoff game is the fact that they have 11 guaranteed games left to play. Despite losing arguably the most important game of a five-game road trip, the Caps have the opportunity to rebound and regroup so that when the postseason does arrive, they are richer for the experience.

That is, if they make it that far.

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Third Period Between Caps, Jets Features Rare Scoring Outburst

Before the floodgates opened in the third period of Thursday’s game between the Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets, a period that saw both teams score twice before the Jets ultimately won 3-2 in a shootout, the first 50 minutes featured scoreless, methodical hockey.

The last 10-plus minutes were an anomaly compared to how recent games have gone between the Caps and Jets. Entering the third period Thursday, in the previous five periods, there had been just one goal scored between the two teams, that coming in the third period of Washington’s 1-0 win December 15. The Caps have scored eight goals in four games against the Jets this season. Meanwhile, Winnipeg has scored nine goals against Washington this season, five of which have been power play goals.

That was no different Thursday as all four goals came on the power play, proving that there is little give in either team’s systems.

“It starts with their forecheck,” Karl Alzner said. “They’ve got a good forecheck. They bring all their guys back. It leaves us open at the point, but they do a pretty good job of coming back in the lanes. I think them having five guys fill the top of the circles is what helps them break the cycle.”

As Alzner pointed out, the Caps did shoot the puck from the point as well as the high slot quite often Thursday, but they also got in tight, which was partially a product of being on the power play. The Jets also blocked 18 shots as they filled the shooting lanes that Alzner referred to.

Both teams found themselves in a defensive stalemate during different parts of the game. The neutral zone was the site of the game’s more chippy play as the Caps and Jets tried their best to break through their opponent’s trap.

“They play [the] neutral zone like us,” Troy Brouwer said. “They clog it up, they’re patient, they take care of the puck and they don’t let you get much through the middle. We’re a speed team; we like to make plays, but that’s sometimes tough for us when we’re trying to make a play through the middle and they’re clogging it up. We have to find other ways to score. Good thing our power play was going tonight, because that’s what helped us.”

Despite the loss, there are positives to take out of Thursday’s game as there are after almost every game. One of those positives for Washington was continuing to find a way through the Jets’ defensive scheme, something that will come in handy in the teams’ final two meetings this season.

“I thought that we played a pretty good game,” Matt Hendricks said. “X-ing and O-ing, strategically sound. We got ourselves in a little bit of trouble there at the end.”

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Michal Neuvirth’s Confidence Paramount In Capitals’ Hard-Fought Victory

By Adam Vingan

As time ran out on the Washington Capitals’ 1-0 win over the Winnipeg Jets Thursday, the Comcast Sportsnet cameras zoomed in on Michal Neuvirth, whose 26-save shutout proved vital. Even a full face mask couldn’t contain the ear-to-ear grin that enveloped Neuvirth’s face as his teammates swarmed him with congratulatory fist and head bumps.

The Caps needed the type of win they earned Thursday: a closely-contested, dragged out game that ended in crunch time. While that win was important for the team’s overall morale, it may not have been more important to the psyche of one player like it could be to Neuvirth.

Neuvirth has had a horrible season. Less than one year after taking the reins of Washington’s goal crease, he had been relegated to back-up duty despite starting the season opener. Being out for three weeks with a foot injury certainly didn’t help, but upon his return, he sat on the bench as Tomas Vokoun struggled, only appearing in relief three times this season. When Neuvirth did get the seldom opportunity to start (he had eight starts coming into Thursday’s game), he also struggled, giving up four or more goals in half of them. Entering Thursday’s game, Neuvirth was next-to-last in the NHL in both goals against average (3.73) and save percentage (.875).

For one night, that all washed away. Neuvirth looked composed in goal, gobbling up pucks in the crease and controlling rebounds. He squared up to shooters and held on to make several momentum-shifting saves (though Dennis Wideman might have made the save of the night in the second period).

The only other time that the Caps entered the third period in a scoreless tie, they scored first within the last five minutes against the Nashville Predators November 15 before relenting and allowing three unanswered goals in a 3-1 loss. This time, however, the Caps held on after Alex Ovechkin’s game-winning goal and did not allow any shots on goal in a total team effort that has seemingly returned lately.

Because of the fifth shutout of his career, Neuvirth’s numbers improved to 3.38 and .885, respectively. It’s a small progression, but it’s noticeable, just like the Caps are doing as a whole under Dale Hunter’s watch. With every one of Neuvirth’s saves came confidence and with every win the Caps fight for, it will come to them, too.

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Capitals Head Back On Road Searching For Consistency

By Adam Vingan

Much has been made since Dale Hunter’s arrival as head coach over two weeks ago about the Washington Capitals shifting from Bruce Boudreau’s system to his, one that emphasizes responsible play in the defensive zone and a more aggressive, man-to-man-like defense. Yet, after a lopsided 5-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers Tuesday, Brooks Laich is tired of hearing the word “system.”

“Everyone talks around here about systems, systems, systems,” he said. “I don’t know if you really pay attention to the game because the mistakes are obvious and it’s not system play. It’s not a flawed system. It wasn’t that under Bruce and it’s not that under Dale. It’s not system flaw, structural flaw. It’s the execution.”

The Caps, 3-4-0 under Hunter, did anything but execute Tuesday as they allowed the Flyers to dictate the pace of the game, which allowed them to take advantage of sloppy defensive zone play and score at will. Once Scott Hartnell scored late in the first period to give Philadelphia a 1-0 lead, Washington’s downward spiral continued as a one-goal game turned into a four-goal deficit by the end of the second period. The Caps were getting signals crossed, screening Tomas Vokoun at inopportune times and failing to sustain any offensive pressure.

If one play was a microcosm of Tuesday’s lackluster effort, it was the play that ultimately led to Maxime Talbot’s goal. Sensing urgency, Alex Ovechkin decided to do things by himself as he is known to do in desperation. Braydon Coburn pinned him against the boards and the loose puck came to James van Riemsdyk, who passed it to Talbot for the eventual goal. Ovechkin was several steps behind Talbot as he went to shoot and did not make any effort to get back into position.

With a two-game road trip ahead, Laich hopes that the Caps dig deep and find the drive to win.

“I want to see our work ethic through the roof, is what I want to see,” he said. “I want to see desire. People want to point fingers at systems and this and that, but you can’t execute anything without work ethic, so I want to see our work ethic skyrocket, see everybody hustle, see everybody compete, skate, shoot the puck, attack the net, be hard to play against. Do that sort of stuff, be physical. If you do that sort of stuff, you’re a tough team to play against.”

Laich added that Washington has been inconsistent lately, especially under Hunter’s watch. After a strong effort in defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins December 1 and a 3-2 overtime win over the Ottawa Senators December 3, the Caps took a step back in a 5-4 loss the Florida Panthers December 5. In similar fashion, after two straight, hard-fought wins over the Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs last week, the Caps fell short against the Flyers.

Washington will get a chance to establish some consistency Thursday against the Winnipeg Jets, a team that embarrassed them in a 4-1 loss November 17 at MTS Centre. The Caps have since exacted revenge in a 4-3 overtime win November 23, but they are looking up at both the Jets and Florida Panthers in the Southeast Division standings. Without a winning streak of three or more games to their credit since their season-opening seven-game streak, the Caps know how important games – especially divisional games – are at a time like this.

“Standings can change within a week drastically, but we don’t want to be winning two, losing two,” John Erskine said. “We want to put together a little streak here. Some teams are so close. This is the time of year where you have to bear down and get those points.”

“It’s big,” Karl Alzner said. “We obviously want to get a win in that building after the last time we played there and redeem ourselves for our last game against the Flyers. It’s important, all these Southeast Division games, especially with us not being at the top, coming in and out of playoff spots, we have to win these games now. It’s not a matter of wanting to. It’s necessary. We’ve got to recognize the situation that we’re in and go out there and get it. We have no opportunity to coast into the playoffs now. It’s something that’s going to be a battle right to the end.”

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In Washington, When It Rains, It Pours

By Adam Vingan

Let’s cut to the chase: the Washington Capitals are playing miserable hockey and have been for about a month now. Since starting the season as the NHL’s last unbeaten team at 7-0-0, the Caps are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games and losers of three straight after Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. When looking at Washington’s seven points through 10 games as compared to the rest of the league entering Friday, only the Carolina Hurricanes (six) and Anaheim Ducks (five) have earned fewer points over that span.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find different ways to express the fact that the Caps possess no killer instinct whatsoever, but perhaps a look into the turning points of some of the Caps’ most recent losses will provide more proof.

Against the Jets Thursday, things went from bad to worse very quickly. After Evander Kane scored his second goal of the night at 6:38 of the second period, Jeff Halpern and Brooks Laich found themselves on a 2-on-0 shorthanded breakaway. Halpern fed Laich, who missed completely, but still had the gumption to raise his arms in celebration as the puck sailed wide and around the boards. Blake Wheeler picked up the loose puck, cut to the net and beat Michal Neuvirth to give the Jets a 3-1 lead just 1:53 after Kane’s goal. That wasn’t enough, however, as Kyle Wellwood scored 2:23 after Wheeler to put Winnipeg up 4-1.

The Jets scored three times within a span of 3:16. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it happened Tuesday in the Caps’ 3-1 loss to the Nashville Predators. Martin Erat, Colin Wilson and Shea Weber scored three times within a span of 3:58. The New Jersey Devils scored twice within 6:36 in their 3-2 shootout win over Washington Saturday.

Not to be outdone, the Dallas Stars scored three times within 7:41 – including the last two within 32 seconds – in a 5-2 win over the Caps November 8. The New York Islanders also got in on the fun, scoring twice within 45 seconds in their 5-3 win November 5. Don’t forget about the Vancouver Canucks, who did the “score three times within” thing in just 4:07 in their 7-4 win October 29.

When it rains, it pours for the Caps.

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Winnipeg Not Uncharted Territory For Some Capitals

By Adam Vingan

It’s been nearly 16 years since the Washington Capitals have played a game in Winnipeg. On December 10, 1995, the Caps defeated the Jets 6-1 thanks to a Steve Konowalchuk hat trick. Before Washington could head back to Manitoba again, the Jets relocated to Phoenix (not that memories weren’t made there). Only one member of the current Caps roster – Roman Hamrlik – has ever played a NHL game against a team from Winnipeg, but the team is familiar with the MTS Centre and the enthusiastic crowd that fills it, which they will see Thursday against the Jets.

Mathieu Perreault, Karl Alzner, John Carlson and Michal Neuvirth were part of the 2009 Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears who defeated the Manitoba Moose in six games to capture the franchise’s 10th Calder Cup. Game Six – a 4-1 Hershey win called by current Caps radio play-by-play announcer John Walton – came at MTS Centre. Neuvirth was awarded the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the playoffs’ most valuable player.

“It was a special time,” Carlson said of winning the Calder Cup after Monday’s practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “It’ll be nice going back there.”

There was a sellout crowd of 15,003 at that game and the Jets are continuing to sell out as well. Through six home games, the Jets are averaging 15.004 fans per game, all sellouts. The MTS Centre is the smallest building in the NHL, but a small building can create an intimate, yet intense atmosphere.

“The fans there are excited,” Dennis Wideman said. “I’m really excited to go there and see what kind of reaction it is there. I hear it’s unbelievable.”

Meanwhile, Winnipeg native Cody Eakin wasn’t watching the last Caps/Jets game; he was just four years old at the time. In fact, he admitted Monday that he doesn’t really remember having the Jets around, but he’s looking forward to a homecoming.

“Looks like I’ll be making the trip, so I’m pretty happy,” Eakin said. “Everyone’s from Winnipeg, mostly all my family.”

Other than a new city and uniform, the Jets are still the Atlanta Thrashers, a team that defeated Washington in four of six meetings last season, including the last four. The Caps are tied atop the Southeast Division with the Florida Panthers as of Wednesday, so while there will be plenty of warm memories in chilly Winnipeg, they will have to be put aside come puck drop.

“I think the thing we’re all excited about is that we haven’t had a chance to play there yet,” Alzner said. “Fans haven’t really had a chance to see guys like [Alex Ovechkin] and [Nicklas Backstrom] really, so they’re going to be pretty fired up for it. In turn, it’s going to spill onto the ice and it’s going to pretty exciting.”

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