Hockey fans in Winnipeg have quickly earned a reputation for being extremely loud and extremely passionate about their club, all the while showing a fondness for getting all over the oppositions star players. Minnesota Wild winger Dany Heatley received the royal treatment inside MTS Centre Tuesday, and tonight it was Alex Ovechkin. Fortunately for Washington, Ovechkin saved his best shot for last and for very late to silence the home crowd.
Dale Hunter should be very pleased with his clubs execution this evening, particularly in the neutral zone. The guys did a terrific job of gumming up the space between the two blue lines, which forced the Jets into more of a dump-n-chase game than they may have wanted to play.
I thought that Winnipeg carried the play over the first 20 minutes. They were buzzing around Michal Neuvirth, who was very sharp in goal. I mentioned during the telecast, I spent most of this mornings workout watching Neuvirth go through his game-day preparation and he was dynamite. I know that a good practice doesnt always carry-over to the actual game, but today it definitely was the case.
Dennis Wideman made the defensive play of the night in the second period. The Jets had a 3-on-2 break and the red-hot Bryan Little appeared to have an empty net waiting for him to deposit the puck. Wideman sprawled over at the last instant, as did Neuvirth, but it was the defenseman who had the puck glance off of him and away from the net.
The Caps would have multiple odd-man rush opportunities in that middle frame but failed to convert any of them, and in some cases over-passed the puck without even the benefit of a shot on goal.
John Carlson and Karl Alzner were very effective in neutralizing the Jets top trio of Little, Evander Kane, and Blake Wheeler. Wheeler is skating very powerfully at this time of the year, and is a handful for defenders when he comes barreling down the wing.
The Caps penalty-killers rose to the occasion a couple times in that second period, which enabled the game to move scoreless into period three.
The Capitals were getting stronger in front of Neuvirth as the game went along. Winnipeg did not have a shot on goal in the third period until near the 10-minute mark.
When the home team was able to fire, Michal was ready in the crease, hoping to out-do his fellow native of the Czech Republic Ondrej Pavelec, who it seems has stopped 98 percent of the drives the Caps have taken at him the past six or seven games.
A month ago in Nashville, the Caps played an excellent game that was scoreless very deep into regulation. They would eventually drop that game to the Predators 3-1, after being first on the scoreboard.
That would not happen tonight. After Nicklas Backstrom found Marcus Johansson wheeling through neutral ice, Johansson would overlap with a hard-charging Ovechkin at the attacking blue line. Johansson left a soft drop pass for No. 8 who let fly with a wicked wrist shot that pierced through the pads of Pavelec.
Ovechkin let out a huge roar as he celebrated along the boards, and it was met by deathly quiet in the stands.
There was 1:14 left on the clock for the Caps to endure and they did so in smothering fashion, barely allowing the Jets ,who had six attackers on, to cross their half of the center ice.
Neuvirth finished with 26 stops for the fifth shutout of his career. If all goes well (and the coaches decisions cooperate), it will be interesting to watch Michal match-up against his former stable-mate, Semyon Varlamov, on Saturday in Denver.