Caps turning season around

With an eight-game slump now behind them, HBO cameras constantly with them and the over-hyped Winter Classic just in front of them, the Washington Capitals tried to prepare for the Canadiens on Monday as the Canadiens tried to get out of snowbound Long Island.

Since their losing streak ended, the Caps have gotten seven of a possible eight points and are trying to build some momentum headed into their New Year’s Day outdoor game on Saturday at Heniz Field. They weren’t great in defeating the Hurricanes on Sunday evening, but they were good enough to win, helped out by a major boarding call to ‘Canes defenseman Tim Gleason, which took Carolina’s most physical defender out of the game late in the first period.

How much of a distraction the Winter Classic hoopla has been for the Caps is uncertain. “It’s important to stay focused and make sure we take care of business
and take care of the right things,” Caps centre Nicklas Backstrom told Katie Carrera, blogging for The Washington Post. “When it
gets like day before the Winter Classic, that’s something you have to
think about then. You can’t really have thoughts about that right now.”

But the Caps were far from dominant against the ‘Canes, who were decidedly the better team in the first period, outshooting Washington 16-8, although they trailed 1-0. The Gleason major gave the Caps some life and they got better as the game went on.

Alex Ovechkin, especially, looked more like his old self as the game progressed, scoring what eventually was the game winner late in the second period (video) when a shot bounced off Carolina defenceman Joe Corvo right to Ovechkin who was unchecked to the left of the ‘Canes net. It was his first goal in eight games and only his 13th on the season.

“We got away with some stuff [against Carolina],” Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We
were trying to do the right things. We made mistakes but we got away
with them. We want to eliminate that. We want to make sure the way we
play, [that] everybody that’s on the ice knows exactly what’s going to
happen and there’s no questions beforehand. It takes time to practice

The Caps continue to try improving their team defence and they’ve adjusted their game somewhat, working more than in the past to get pucks behind the opposition’s defence and forechecking rather than making plays in the neutral zone and risking turnovers.

Ovie skated again with Backstrom and Mike Knuble against Carolina while Washington’s second line at the start of the game was Mathieu Perreault with Alexander Semin and Brooks Laich. Perreault scored the game’s first goal but had his nose broken by Gleason’s charge and he didn’t return. It’s not certain if he’ll be in the lineup on Tuesday.

Semyon Varlamov played well in goal for the Caps on Sunday after Michal Neuwirth had played the previous three games and may be back in goal against the Canadiens.

“Obviously tomorrow’s a big game; we want to beat these guys,” said Caps centre Matt Hendricks, “but we’re
looking more at the big picture — staying on top — and we need two
points any chance we have.”

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