There was a much greater sense of urgency in the Capitals tonight, and that was a welcome sight after the events of last week on the road. A 2-0 deficit to Phoenix also promoted a heightened sense of awareness. With Verizon Center faithful unsure of the outcome, the home team roared back for a 4-3 win in regulation.
I would think that the coaches had to be very pleased with the puck control and the defensive zone coverage tonight. The two Coyote goals came via shorthanded breakaway situations, and other than that Tomas Vokoun was rarely threatened at even strength. That had to be a comforting experience, even if the Caps found themselves down by two.
Radim Vrbata stepped in front of a John Carlson cross-ice pass and walked in for the first shortie on the evening. Vrbata managed to quiet a rolling puck long enough to slip past Vokoun on a deke to his forehand.
The Coyotes are the toughest team in the NHL to score against in the first period and they kept the Caps off the board through 20 minutes. Red-hot goalie Mike Smith was kept on the bench tonight by Head Coach Dave Tippett, so his understudy Jason LaBarbera had the honors in net.
Phoenix grabbed a 2-0 lead in the second period, thanks to another breakaway. Lauri Korpikoski managed to get behind the defense, was fouled on his way to the goal, and awarded a penalty shot. He worked in to his forehand and snapped a wrister through Vokouns blocker-arm and his body to put Washington in trouble.
There was an uneasy feeling inside Verizon Center (read: booing) but thankfully for the Caps the first of two favorable bounces was not that far away.
A John Carlson blast deflected past LaBarbera only 53 seconds after the Korpikoski goal. Coyotes center Martin Hanzal had the puck clank off his stick and by the stunned to goalie to get the Caps back in it.
Cody Eakin would follow about three minutes later with another bouncing biscuit. A quick lead pass from Jeff Schultz sent Eakin down the wing into the Phoenix zone. He ripped a slapper off defender Keith Yandle that bounced crazily past LaBarbera to tie the score at two.
The final 20 minutes of regulation saw the Caps stick to their game plan of getting the puck deep into the Coyotes zone and fore-checking effectively to wear down their defenders. They were rewarded for getting the puck to the net, instead of being too cute and passing it around the perimeter too often.
That strategy led to the third goal by Nicklas Backstrom. He was parked in front of LaBarbera, rebounded a Joel Ward shot and finished it up high to give the Caps the lead. Ward has been a little under the weather the past few days , but he played hard again tonight. Alex Ovechkin ended a four-game pointless drought with an assist on the play.
The key stretch in the game would come six minutes after the Backstrom marker. With Shane Doan already in the penalty box, Coyote defenseman David Schlemko cleared the puck from one-knee over the glass for a delay of game penalty. The Caps would strike on the two-man advantage. Brooks Laich hammered a slapshot through a Troy Brouwer screen past the glove side of LaBarbera to give the home team some breathing room.
Theyd need it, because Korpikoski put Phoenix back on the board with 9:32 to go in regulation. From there, the Caps tightened up again and finished off a very solid defensive effort by clamping down to protect the one-goal advantage and secure their seventh win in nine tries at Verizon Center.
To finish up, a word on two Russians . 20-year old Dmitri Orlov kept things simple in his NHL debut. If you go back to the preseason you could remember a few instances of high-risk play that put him in trouble. Tonight he played a smart game with Karl Alzner by his side to keep him comfortable.
As for Alex Semin sitting this one out, it was another example of Bruce Boudreau taking a more hard-line approach to business this year. Facing a very disciplined Phoenix team, my opinion would be the coach thought it best to keep Semin out of this one thinking it would be a close, low-scoring game with little room for the type of mistakes Alex has been committing. It was a bold move, one that will bring scrutiny, but it wasnt the first Bruce had made this fall. Boudreau did not play Tomas Vokoun on opening night, he sat out Marcus Johansson that same game, he kept Ovechkin on the bench late in a game with his team trailing against Anaheim, and tonight he put a high-priced, highly-skilled forward in the press box with the hope that his team would benefit and that the winger would learn from it. Half of that formula worked, and now we will see how 28 responds this week.
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