Tag:Nicklas Backstrom
Posted on: January 19, 2012 3:17 pm
Edited on: January 19, 2012 3:29 pm

Advice to the Washington Capitals: Shoot the puck

Ovechkin is shooting a lot, his team isn't. (Getty Images)

By Brian Stubits

It's almost everybody in hockey's belief that the Washington Capitals will, in the end, prevail and take the Southeast Division crown. They have been either behind the Florida Panthers or sharing the top spot with them (as they are now) since mid-November.

The rationale goes something along the lines of people believing the Caps can and will play better, or up to their potential, as many say.

Well I can't help but wonder ... what if this is their potential? They aren't the same team they were a couple of years ago. Under new coach Dale Hunter, they won't light teams up. It's not because they don't have players who can score, it's that they stopped shooting the puck.

I'm in attendance for most Capitals home games, I see them play first hand a lot. It seemed to me that every game they have played lately, they have been outshot and outchanced. In this case, perception is reality.

The Capitals have been outshot in each of the last seven games and 12 of the last 13. The only game where they outshot their opponent? The Calgary Flames where the Caps had a 21-19 shot advantage, a number that more often than not will be less than the opponent. In total, they have been outshot in 17 of the 23 games under Hunter.

It actually seems to be getting worse in this regard. The Capitals just played back-to-back games, Tuesday at home vs. the Islanders and Wednesday at the Canadiens. In those two games the Capitals had 33 shots on goal ... combined. The other teams had 59.

In fact, since Hunter came along, the Capitals are averaging only 24.7 shots on goal per game while giving up 30.5 per game. Those team totals are in spite of the fact that Alex Ovechkin is actually still shooting at a high rate, clocking in at fifth in the league in shots on goal. That means the rest of the team? Not so much.

Thanks to my colleague Adam Gretz, here is a chart showing the disparity in shots between the Capitals and their foes, splitting it up also to see the differences between the Bruce Boudreau reign and Hunter era.

You'll notice that the disparity lately is starting to settle into a trend where the Caps are not getting the shots off like their opponents are. It would be logical to assume that that must mean the Caps are focusing more on defense and aren't giving up as many shots either, but that's not the case. Notice in recent games how the volume of shots against has been at 28 or more. To state the obvious, that's not good either, it indicates that they aren't controlling the puck often enough.

What's more, another thing that seemed to me without looking at the stats to be the case is that when the Capitals get ahead, they shut down offensively. It has felt like every game they have won at home recently, the puck has been in their defensive zone for 75 percent of the third period. To illustrate that, take a look at this shots graph from Wednesday's win in Montreal and not the plateaus in Capitals attempts after the goals, marked by the vertical colored lines (via behindthenet.ca). Granted, most teams play more in their zone when they have the lead in the third period, but in the case of the Capitals, it feels pronounced.

Now the interesting part is where I tell you that the Capitals are winning these games. They have won eight of their last 11, in fact.

The question then becomes a matter of if the Capitals can continue to sustain their winning ways if the shot totals remain roughly the same. Let's just say the odds aren't in their favor.

On the season the Capitals are 13-13-2 when they are outshot. It's just more than a point per game, which would put them on pace for around 85 points or so in a full season. Conversely they are 12-5-0 when they outshoot their opponents. It's pretty easy to see the benefits of throwing the puck on net.

Sooner or later those numbers will catch up a team. It's hard to keep up a pace of scoring three goals on 16 shots as they did on Wednesday in Montreal. A shooting percentage a touch under 20 percent in a game? Unsustainable.

One reason why they have been able to creep on the Panthers in the division has been the play of former Panther Tomas Vokoun in net. He has rebounded since he was benched for five straight games and has done an excellent job of keeping the Caps in games and their leads safe.

They have also enjoyed the comfy confines of Verizon Center where they are 17-6-1 this season as opposed to 8-12-1 on the road. Of those eight wins in 11 games, seven have come at home.

Now to be fair, it has to be noted that Nicklas Backstrom has missed each of the last seven games. He is still dealing with post-concussion symptoms since his hit from Rene Bourque when he was with the Flames. That can certainly account for their recent drop in shots, after all he is still the team's leading scorer

The good news in all of this though is that they aren't in a division where a team is going to run away with the lead. We've already seen the Panthers come back to the pack. The same idea holds for the Eastern Conference as a whole. There's still a little less than half of the season to go, but it's sure shaping up to be a situation where there are 10 teams fighting for the eight postseason spots.

But if they don't start throwing the puck on net more, people are going to continue to wait to see their potential.

It's an adage as old as the game itself: Just throw the puck on net and see what happens. There is hardly ever anything bad that can come from getting the puck on goal. A soft shot might go in. A surprising rebound might present itself like a big present underneath the Christmas tree. Or in some cases the goalie can freeze the puck to cause a faceoff in the offensive zone. Stats show how valuable that is to creating offense.

I'd suggest the team adopt the motto of shoot first, ask questions later.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: January 18, 2012 1:03 pm

Capitals prepare to face Rene Bourque

By: Adam Gretz

Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom hasn't appeared in a game for the team since he was elbowed in the head by then-Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque earlier this month. It was a play that resulted in Bourque earning a five-game suspension from the NHL, and had some of the Capitals, including forward Troy Brouwer, lamenting the fact they weren't going to play another game against Bourque and the Flames this season.

That all changed, of course, when Bourque was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens last Thursday in the trade that sent Mike Cammalleri back to Calgary.

And which team are the Capitals visiting on Wednesday night? You guessed it, Rene Bourque and the Canadiens.

Not surprisingly, John Erskine, perhaps the Capitals' most willing fighter, is expected to be in the lineup, and some fireworks are expected. It's pretty much a given that somebody is going to challenge Bourque, even if the Capitals are downplaying it and talking about how the two points are the important thing (and, truth be told, they are the most important thing for the Capitals right now).

“For us to say we're going go out there and take liberties at him or something like that, probably not," said forward Joel Ward, via Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times. "I think we'll definitely be playing hard for sure. I'm sure guys are going to be playing pretty hard, especially against him and let him know that what he did we thought was a pretty cheap shot.”

With all of that in mind, the folks at Capitals Blog Russian Machine Never Breaks have their own idea as to how tonight's game is going to play out ... if it were a version of the classic Nintendo game, Mike Tyson's Punch Out.

(H/T Russian Machine Never Breaks)

Previously at Eye On Hockey

Rene Bourque suspended 5 games
Bourque traded to Montreal for Mike Cammalleri

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 4, 2012 7:28 pm

Rene Bourque suspended 5 games

By: Adam Gretz

For the second time this season Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque has been suspended by the NHL, and this time it's for his elbow to the head of Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom during the third period of Washington's 3-1 win on Tuesday night.

He had a disciplinary hearing early on Wednesday, and later in the day it was announced by NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan that Bourque will miss Calgary's next five games. He was banished earlier in the season for two games for boarding Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook.

Said Shanahan, "Backstrom is carrying the puck up the middle of the ice as Bourque pivots and pursues Backstrom, Backstrom makes a pass to Mike Knuble on his right. Bourque continues his path and throws an elbow, making principal of contact with Backstrom's jaw. This a hit to the head and a clear violation of rule 48."

Shanahan also added that he believed Bourque's argument that his elbow was an "instinctive" reflex as opposed to an attempt to injure. He also added that it was "reckless" and "indefensible." Bourque's two-game suspension for hitting Seabrook, which occurred less than a month ago making him a repeat offender, as well as the fact that Backstrom removed himself from the game after his condition became worse. He's currently listed as being day-to-day.

In 38 games this season Bourque has scored 13 goals to go with three assists. He will miss games against Boston, Minnesota, New Jersey, Anaheim and Los Angeles. He will be eligible to return to the Flames lineup on Tuesday, Jan. 17 when the Flames travel to San Jose to take on the Sharks.

More NHL Discipline News Here

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: January 4, 2012 10:23 am
Edited on: January 4, 2012 1:48 pm

Rene Bourque has hearing for elbowing Backstrom

By Brian Stubits

While we await Brendan Shanahan's verdict of one repeat offender's actions in Daniel Carcillo, he added another repeat offender to the list of pending suspensions on Tuesday.

Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque seemed to go out of his way in Tuesday night's game against the Washington Capitals to hit Caps leading scorer Nicklas Backstrom. Despite the puck being up the ice already and it happening behind the play, Bourque gave Backstrom an elbow anyway. To the head. And it's all that he gave him.

The result was a two-minute minor for elbowing, Backstrom having to be evaluated after the game -- though he did play after the hit -- and a hearing being scheduled for Wednesday with Shanahan.

Here are some replays of the hit for you to judge for yourself.

It goes without saying that the Capitals are probably holding their breath right now regarding Backstrom's health. He has been their best and most consistent player this season, an easy pick to go to the All-Star Game representing the Capitals. He assisted on all three of Washington's goals in the 3-1 victory.

“We removed him from the game, it was precautionary,” coach Dale Hunter said on Tuesday night. “He was getting evaluated right now. We’ll know more tomorrow.”

On Wednesday, Hunter called Backstrom day to day.

As to the repeat offender status, Bourque was given a two-game suspension earlier this season from Shanahan for a boarding hit on Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook.

After the game, Bourque told the Washington Post that he wasn't even really aware if anything had happened.

"Did it look really bad? Was he hurt? I didn't even know if I clipped him," Bourque said. "I didn't even know if I hit him in the head."

Well, he did hit him in the head. So now we all know what comes next. Bourque, who has 13 goals and three assists on the season, will be banished to the corner for a timeout for a couple of games.

More NHL Discipline News Here

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: January 3, 2012 12:04 pm

Caps getting Mike Green back for Flames game

By Brian Stubits

Things are starting to turn around for the Washington Capitals, it seems.

The Caps ended 2011 with a run of three consecutive wins, their first such stretch since the season-opening seven-game win streak. Now they are going to start 2012 with one of their most important players back, defenseman Mike Green.

Judging by the fact that the Capitals are 8-0-0 this season when Green plays, it's not a stretch to call him arguably the team's MVP. He isn't the sole reason why they are unbeaten when he plays, but it sure helps matters. The Capitals will welcome his three goals and three assists in just eight games this season on the blue line.

“Finally,” Green said after Tuesday's morning skate. “It’s been frustrating sitting out and obviously a couple months ago coming back and then the first game back, back on the press box. I’m just happy to be back, focused. Preparing to do the right things tonight and that’s all that’s on my mind right now.”

As I said, his return from a groin injury that has kept him out since Veteran's Day comes at a moment right when the Caps appear to be finding their footing and showing everybody why they were pegged as a Stanley Cup contender. Alex Ovechkin, who was behind even last year's career-low paces until recently, has found his touch. He has four goals in the last two games. He has six goals in his last six games, including three straight multi-point games, his first since Nov. 4.

But the Caps won't be showing off their full complement of players on Tuesday against the Calgary Flames in D.C. One player who will not be on the ice is Alex Semin, who is currently listed as day to day. He, too, has picked it up recently since the Ovechkin, Semin and Nicklas Backstrom line was reunited. He has five goals and four assists in the last seven games.

Instead, coach Dale Hunter is going to suit seven defensemen, a rarity for the Caps under Bruce Boudreau. But it makes sense, there's no telling how Green is going to play and what type of minutes he can give the team. Good to have some insurance on the bench.

“I think you’ve got to ease yourself in,” Green said. “I’m not going to be jumping up all over the ice or whatnot. I think it’s important for me to get my game back and it’s better that I do that slowly rather than quickly. I don’t intend on being up and down the ice tonight.”

Sounds like some defensive insurance on the bench is a pretty good idea.

Hopefully for the Capitals and Green, he can stay healthy this time. That's been a bug-a-boo for him recently. In addition to the groin injury he is recovering from, Green missed time earlier this season with a twisted ankle and fought a concussion through much of last season.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 20, 2011 5:09 pm

Weekend Wrap: Wild move to top of the NHL

By Brian Stubits

When I was trying to wrap my head around the aftermath of the weekend in hockey, you must pardon me if I'm a bit staggered. It's not exactly the college football landscape after Saturday, but it's equally as jolting.

It's still only late November, but a tour of the standings is surprisingly fun. And confusing.

Who'd a thunk the NHL's top team at this (or any) point in the season would be the Minnesota Wild? Was there anybody not busy laughing at Dale Tallon that they could have seen the Florida Panthers ahead of the Southeast Division? Did anybody believe Dave Tippett could work his magic again and have the Coyotes in first place of the Pacific? Lastly, who saw the Maple Leafs atop the Northeast Division?

This is the bizarro NHL. Or maybe it's just that this is the NHL with the 2-1-0 point system.

The difference between the best in the NHL (Wild and Chicago Blackhawks) to 25th place (Winnipeg Jets) is only eight points. Four of the six divisions have the fourth place team within four points of the division lead.

One of the divisions that doesn't fit that bill is the Northwest, and that's not because the Vancouver Canucks are running away with it again. Instead, the Wild are, building the biggest division lead in the NHL, holding a five-point lead on the Edmonton Oilers (we told you this was bizarro world).

If we want to take the last 10 games (which we do, it makes this look better) the Wild are the hottest team in hockey alongside the Boston Bruins. Each of them are 8-2-0 in that span after the Wild took the two points from the St. Louis Blues on Saturday with a shootout victory.

It must be the offseason additions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi, right?

They haven't hurt matters, to be clear. But I wouldn't go as far as to call them the reason the Wild have the most points in the league. Offensively speaking, the Wild have been well below average. Their 2.20 goals per game ranks 28th out of 30 teams.

Obviously that means it's the defense that's led them to a league-high 12 wins. The Wild are surrendering a very impressive 1.95 goals against average. It's funny how starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom is the "worst" goalie of the tandem of he and Josh Harding as he sports a 1.97 GAA and.935 save percentage.

The most amazing part about this is the Wild are doing it with what most would agree is a no-name group of defensemen. Brent Burns is gone to San Jose. Greg Zanon has been sidelined as have Marek Zidlicky and Marco Scandella. That leaves a cast of characters that I doubt anybody outside of Minnesota or Houston (the Wild's AHL affiliate) had heard of; guys like Justin Falk and Kris Fredheim.

This is all under first-year NHL coach Mike Yeo, by the way. He has come in from Houston and has this team as one of the biggest turnaround stories of the season. I defy anybody, including those fans in Minnesota, to say they saw the Wild starting this well.

Speaking of surprising turnarounds ...

There's another team shocking the NHL under a first-year coach after an awful season a year ago. That would be the Florida Panthers.

Kevin Dineen, certainly with a great pedigree as a player in the NHL, has put his name in the early running for the Jack Adams (next to Yeo) with what he has done in Florida. Or perhaps we should say with what Dale Tallon has done.

The top line for the Panthers is making all the difference right now. For years, the Panthers didn't have much production from the top line. If you had to rank where they stood, it was always in the bottom five of top lines in the NHL, that includes when it featured Stephen Weiss, David Booth and Nathan Horton.

The new top line of Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg showed its prowess on Saturday night against the Penguins in South Florida. They were in on all three Florida goals, including Weiss' power play tally in the final minutes. Each member of that line is on pace for about 80 points or more. None of the three has ever had more than 61 points in a season (Weiss in 2008-09).

The team has some serious gumption. After taking the late lead on the Pens, they withstood a massive barrage, particularly the final 65 seconds when the Penguins pulled goalie Dan Johnson. That's when Jose Theodore -- another surprise -- stood tallest and denied Pittsburgh's numerous scoring chances. Theodore, by the way, has a very respectable 2.46 GAA and .923 save percentage.

We are close to a quarter of the way through the season and it's just so weird to call them the first-place Panthers. But that's exactly what they are.

Getting Bizzy

Another one of the surprising teams (boy, there are a lot of those) is the Phoenix Coyotes -- we'll have more on them this week. They have been winning in seasons past, but I think many believed that Ilya Bryzgalov was a big reason for that and when he left for Philadelphia, most predicted they would falter.

Surprise is a word that would aptly describe Paul Bissonnette's night on Saturday, too. Maybe even surprise doesn't cut it, shocking would fit better.

The Coyotes tough guy who hardly plays but is one of the most popular players in the NHL due to his Twitter fame, had the rare shot to play in Buffalo, near his hometown of Welland, Ontario. It also happened to be the first time his mother had the chance to see him play live in the NHL. And so wouldn't you know it, this happened:

As I said, shocking. That goal brings his total to five goals in the past three seasons with the Coyotes. Maybe equally shocking was Tyler Myers' play to give Bissonnette the shot on the doorstep.

Meanwhile, the Coyotes' 4-2 win moved them into a tie with the Sharks for first place in the Pacific Division.

We want 10!

How crazy are things right now? The Oilers scoring nine goals on the Blackhawks and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins recording five assists goes here. Oh, and Taylor Hall had a hat trick.

The Oilers had eight goals at the mid-way mark of the game, prompting the chants of "We want 10!" from the Edmonton faithful. They came close, real close, in the final minutes, but didn't get it. Instead they had to settle for a 9-2 rout. For shame.

For the Oilers, it's what you would call a rebound win. They entered the game on a four-game skid. The quick start to the season seemed long ago in the rearview mirror. But then in 60 minutes they scored more goals (nine) then they had in the entire span of that losing streak (eight).

What's more, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continues to live up to the billing. Labeled as a play-making center, the Nuge's five-assist night was the a record-setter. No 18-year-old had ever done that before in NHL history. His 19-year-old linemate Hall had his second career hat trick. Whatever they wanted to do, they did.

As for the Blackhawks, their four-game win streak ran into the Alberta armor and went kaput in back-to-back nights to the Flames on Friday and then the Oilers.

"Right now, it seems like every little mistake we make it's in the back of our net and we're making a lot of mistakes," defenseman Duncan Keith said on Saturday. "We all as a team need to focus on committing to playing the right way and the way we know how to play. We have to. The last two games have been embarrassing. The only thing we can do is try and learn from it and move on."

Make it eight

The Boston Bruins can't be touched right now.

With their 6-0 trouncing of the Islanders on Saturday, they have won eight games in a row. With that run, they have finally climbed back into the top eight of the Eastern Conference standings.

The most amazing part of the eight-game run? The Bruins have outscored their opponents 42-14 in that time. That's an average margin of victory of 3.5 goals per game. As I said, they can't be touched right now.

Caps popped

The Capitals are in a tailspin, leading to the annual chatter of Bruce Boudreau's job safety starting up again. That can happen after taking a 7-1 pounding by the similarly struggling Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

When asked after the game about a vote of confidence for Boudreau, GM George McPhee game a "no comment."

But it's still hard to put this on Boudreau in my mind. He's trying everything he can to right the ship. The problem is partly on the shoulders of Alex Ovechkin, who has failed to score a point in any of the past four games. The last time that happened? Go back to February of 2007.

So what's the next step after a team meeting and a practice on a typical off day? It could be the benching of Alexander Semin. The other talented Russian forward on the Caps, Semin has already seen demotions this season. In Sunday's practice, he was dropped all the way to the third line and when Boudreau was asked if Semin might be a healthy scratch on Monday against the Coyotes, Boudreau didn't say one way or the other.

Matters could be coming to a head very soon in D.C. one way or another.

Coming back to Earth

Once sitting atop the NHL in points, the Dallas Stars have gone into a funk, losing five in a row, topped off by a 3-0 loss at Colorado on Friday and a 4-1 defeat in San Jose on Saturday.

That prompted first-year coach Glen Gulutzan to go off about this team, leading to ...

Quote of the weekend

From CSN Bay Area:

“We whine like little babies throughout the game,” Gulutzan said. “I don’t know if there’s been a history of that here or not, but every team that I’ve coached, we’ve always been at the other end of the scale. I think we’re the worst penalty differential in the league, and every team I’ve coached we’ve always been the opposite.

“That’s going to change. We’re going to change that culture here. We’ve got to do it by zipping our mouths one step at a time. The refs are human, and if you whine that much, they’re not going to give you calls. That’s just the bottom line. We’re not getting some calls, and it’s our fault.

“I’ll be glad to go back to Saskatchewan if we don’t get out of this, but at the end of the day we’re going to do it the way we’re going to do it,” he said. “We’re going to be men, we’re going to have character, we’re going to shut our mouths and we’re going to play. If that’s not good enough, then so be it.”

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: November 2, 2011 10:38 am
Edited on: November 2, 2011 12:59 pm

Ovechkin benched in crunch time; big deal or not?

By Brian Stubits

WASHINGTON -- When it came crunch time on Tuesday night for the Washington Capitals, trailing by one with less than a minute to go, Bruce Boudreau put his best line on the ice. That did not include putting Alexander Ovechkin in the game. And wouldn't you know it, Nicklas Backstrom scored on a big rebound to send the game to overtime.

The Caps eventually prevailed over the Ducks when Backstrom again beat Jonas Hiller. Ovechkin was on the ice for that goal, getting an assist as the pass to Backstrom went off Ovie's skate.

But back to that end of regulation. Coming out of a timeout, Boudreau had just diagrammed a play and pulled his goalie Tomas Vokoun. That's when Ovechkin was ready to jump on the ice, only to be told to take a seat.

As you can see from the video, Ovechkin was saying the right things afterward. But at the time? Well he didn't seem too pleased with the benching, now did he?

The obvious answer is why wouldn't he? Of course he wanted to play and be on the ice in the final minute. If he weren't angry and wanting to play, just taking a benching with disinterest, wouldn't THAT be cause for concern? So he muttered something to himself. Big deal.

Boudreau explained -- quite well, if you ask me -- why Ovechkin wasn't on the ice. Was it due to poor performance?

"You tell me," Boudreau responded. "I got to put out the guys that I think are going to score the goal. Ninety-nine percent of the time Alex is the guy I think is going to score the goal. I just didn't think he was going to score the goal at that time tonight."

Ovechkin responded on Wednesday, explaining he was, indeed frustrated, but supports Boudreau's system of accountability. (Quotes from Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post.)

"I was pissed off. Of course I want to be in that situation on the ice. It was just a little bit frustrating because I’m a leader in the team and I want that kind of responsibility."

As to what he said that was caught on TV?

"It doesn’t matter who I said it, and what I said. It looked funny on TV."

The funny thing is that Boudreau is making a heck of a lot of calls this year, brave ones. He started Michal Neuvirth over Vokoun on opening night. He specifically said Ovechkin needed to be better ... after Game 2 of the season. He split up his stud defensive pairing of Karl Alzner and John Carlson so they could extend their versatility. Mike Knuble? He's been pushed down to the fourth line. Ol' Bruce has been pushing a lot of buttons, and a lot of them have been the right ones. After all, the Caps are 8-2-0.

Is there big trouble in little China Town, aka Washington (see, Verizon Center is located in D.C.'s China To ... ah forget it)?

Not at all. Feelings might be a little hurt, but that's about it. Boudreau was right, the third line of Jason Chimera, Joel Ward and Brooks Laich was excellent not only on Tuesday, but all season long. Oh, and Washington scored the goal. Doesn't that vindicate Boudreau a little bit?

Fact of the matter is that Ovechkin isn't playing the same way that we're used to seeing. Check that. He IS playing the same way we're used to seeing and everybody in the league seems to know what he's going to do before he does. But we aren't seeing him produce the same way. He isn't producing the goals that make you say "wow." He has scored five goals and has five more assists in 10 games, but you can see it isn't coming as easily. The up-ice rushes are shut down nearly every time now with defenders expecting that cutback to center ice and then the shot flying.

That's why this is being blown a bit out of proportion.

If it happens in the next game, then there might be some more there. As of now, Boudreau had a hunch, and his hunch was right.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: March 7, 2011 10:06 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2011 11:24 pm

Capitals lose Neuvirth, Holtby shines in releif

Washington Capitals rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth was knocked from Monday's contest after he absorbed a shot to his mask off the stick of Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nate Thompson

Neuvirth, making his sixth consecutive start and the leading candidate for the No. 1 job heading into the playoffs, had his mask knocked off on the shot from 25 feet out. Although the volley came 21 seconds into regulation, Neuvirth didn't leave the game until the first intermission.

Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau told The Washington Post's Katie Carrera that a piece of metel from Neuvirth's mask went into his eye, but he'd be OK.  Neuvirth's replacement, Braden Holtby, was more than capable as he stopped all 21 shots and turned away all three shooters in the shootout for a 2-1 victory over the Lightning as the Caps extended thier lead in the Southeast Division.

The Caps were already without Semyon Varlamov for about another week with what it thought to be a knee injury, never a fun injury to come back from when you're a butterfly goalie. 

Washington's injury troubles weren't just limited to goaltending. First-line center Nicklas Backstrom didn't come out for third period. He was playing through a broken thumb, which limited him in the faceoff circle. There was no immediate word on the injury. 

Boudreau told The Washington Post that Backstrom fell on his injured hand and should be fine. 

Coincidentally, Neuvirth and Backstrom are scheduled to visit St. John the Baptist School in Silver Spring, Md., Tuesday afternoon. (Assistant coach Dean Evason and the team's mascot, Slapshot, were also the roster.) The visit was scheduled to inlcude a Q & A and a skills demonstration.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com