Capitals 3, Hurricanes 0
The Canes came ever so close to finding the back of the net several times in their home opener, but great goaltending and bad breaks stymied them time after time.
By dropping a 3-0 decision to the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night, the Hurricanes were shut out in their 2010-11 RBC Center debut. The only other time that’s occurred in franchise history was last season, when they were blanked 2-0 by the visiting Philadelphia Flyers.
In this instance, the home team felt good about several high-quality chances they generated throughout the night, particularly in the second period, but several key saves by 22-year-old goaltender Michal Neuvirth and a hit post frustrated them at each instance.
“It’s one of those nights where it was tight,” said Eric Staal
. “We thought we were going to break through with one and get this crowd going, but it was unfortunate that it didn’t happen.”
Staal had many of the Hurricanes’ best chances. On a second-period power play, he placed a shot perfectly inside the near post only to see Neuvirth come up with a highlight-reel glove save – one of his 29 on the evening. Minutes later, Staal’s effort on a shorthanded two-on-one with Chad LaRose
rang off the post to preserve Neuvirth’s first career shutout.
“If I got a few of those over I’d like to cash in, but it was one of those nights where it didn’t happen,” said Staal.
“(Washington) played a real tight road game, and we liked some of the chances that we had,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice.
It may not have made a difference given the way Neuvirth performed, but the Hurricanes did acknowledge feeling the effects of the long road trip in the early going. Staal estimated that the fatigue factor was as bad as any game he’d played this season, which is saying something given the brutally long road trip through Russia, Finland and all corners of North America that concluded just days ago.
“I just don’t think we could do anything with the puck very easily, but it wasn’t from a lack of effort,” said Maurice. “The half step that we rely on for our game wasn’t quite there. It wasn’t a willingness or a want, it was just the bodies weren’t doing what the brain wanted them to do.”
The Capitals didn’t break the game open until midway through the third period, when Nicklas Backstrom scored the first of his two goals on the evening. On that play, a Mike Knuble rebound from along the right wall took a hard bounce right into Backstrom's path as he raced down center ice.
Prior to that, Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward
had been locked into a blow-for-blow duel with Neuvirth, having made several impressive saves of his own. Ward’s highlights included a pad save on Knuble as he moved laterally across the crease and a quick blocker save on Alexander Ovechkin in the second period.
“When we did break down, Cam kept it 1-0 and kept it close,” said Staal.
The only way the Capitals could solve Ward for most of the game was through a controversial play near the midway mark of the first period. David Steckel, who had been positioned as a screen in front of the Carolina goal, made contact with Ward at the top of the crease and caused both players to fall over, resulting in an easy open-net tap-in for Matt Hendricks.
Despite the Hurricanes’ protests the contrary, referee Francois St. Laurent was emphatic that the play should stand as a good goal.
“His argument was that Cam was expanding out into the player, in which case the player has the right to his own ice,” said Maurice. “For me, he didn’t. Cam was focused on the shot and the player came into him. I didn’t agree with the call at all, and I didn’t agree with his interpretation. He was absolutely wrong.
“I’m not looking for a penalty,” Maurice continued. “It’s incidental contact, the whistle blows and it’s outside of the zone. That’s all I was looking for.”
Aside from Staal’s efforts, the Canes’ best chances to score came via Jeff Skinner
, whose wraparound attempt disappeared under Neuvirth and prompted a lengthy video review, and LaRose, who missed on a hard cross-ice pass from Joni Pitkanen
in the third period.
A penalty by Capitals’ defenseman Mike Green with just under three minutes remaining led to a six-on-four power play as Maurice pulled Ward with plenty of time to spare, but the Canes couldn’t break through before Backstrom scored his shorthanded, empty-net goal to seal the victory.
“Down two in this league is a big hill,” said Maurice. “We needed to score one and leave enough time on the clock to give ourselves a chance.”
The Canes are back at the RBC Center on Saturday night to host the Pittsburgh Penguins, but not before having to play yet another road game against the Rangers in New York on Friday.
|Three star selections