Joe B: Sudden Improvement

Joe B: Sudden Improvement
January 26, 2013, 1:15 am
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Oates pleased by Caps effort in New Jersey

I am well aware that there are no moral victories in professional sports, but the Capitals' overtime loss in New Jersey Friday night should give the team and its fans a better night’s sleep. For two periods, it appeared as if the visitors would return to Washington completely empty-handed; instead, a spirited third-period rally forced the game into overtime. Ilya Kovalchuk would eventually put the Devils into the winner’s circle, but not without a fight.

Martin Brodeur and Michal Neuvirth put on a very good show in goal for their respective teams.

The Devils future Hall of Famer made a sweet stop on Mike Green on the first shot he faced in the game. Whenever he makes a strong save early, you are allowed to worry that he might throw a shutout.

Neuvirth was up to the test throughout the night. He made several brilliant stops, the best of which was a fully-extended glove grab that frustrated Marek Zidlicky.

New Jersey would jump to the lead in the opening period thanks to the combination of Stephen Gionta and Jacob Josefson. The Devils had just killed off a penalty when Josefson made an awesome stickhandling move to almost beat two Caps defenders. The puck was deflected away by Tomas Kundratek, unfortunately it went straight to Gionta who was trailing the play and he buried his chance at 13:55 of the first frame.

The second period has been a downer for the Caps this week and it turned out be that again tonight. Once more the penalties started to add up, putting Adam Oates’ troops in trouble. With Washington playing two men short, Patrik Elias jumped on the rebound of a Zidlicky blast to deposit his first goal of the new season at the 19-minute mark.

A 2-0 deficit against the Devils can sometimes feel like you are down 20, but not this time. The third period would see a huge turn in momentum thanks largely to the fact the referees kindly awarded the Caps six power plays.

The penalties began piling up at an alarming rate for the Devils near the midway mark of the period. The Caps wound up having extensive 5-on-3 power play time, and that’s where the game became really interesting.

Mike Ribeiro put the Caps on the scoreboard when he slam-dunked a beautiful cross-crease pass from Joel Ward at 12:45.

Now that Brodeur’s shutout spell was broken (he blanked the Flyers on Tuesday) he appeared human when a long Mike Green snapshot from the right point skipped past him with only 2:56 left in regulation time.

The overtime was nerve-wracking. Mike Green took an early interference penalty, but the penalty-killers and Neuvirth managed to fend off the Devils best threats.

It was as if Kovalchuk never came off the ice in the extra session. With only 21 seconds separating the teams from a shootout, he took a nice relay from Zidlicky and pumped the winning slapshot past Neuvirth.

The crowd erupted. The Devils celebrated. And the Caps could not be totally displeased with taking one point home with them.

Let’s move on to the Sabres Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center. See you on Comcast SportsNet.

For more Caps coverage, please visit Joe B's blog.