In a penalty-filled game against Ottawa tonight, the Washington Capitals' man-down unit had almost as much to do with the club's 3-2 victory at Verizon Center as Alex Ovechkin's goal with 31 seconds to play in overtime.
Ovechkin's winner certainly was spectacular, and it's what teammates, coaches and fans have come to expect from perhaps the most talented player in the world. It no doubt will be played and replayed on SportsCenter, and it's probably the first of many memorable moments the left wing will provide this season.
What you're not likely to see on any highlight show is the Capitals' rugged work on the penalty kill, which went 5 for 5 against a Senators team desperate for a win. The penalty kill took on even more importance tonight considering the Capitals went 0 for 5 on the power play and got outshot, 31-26.
"The guys are really playing great," said goalie Michal Neuvirth, who had 29 saves. "They're really blocking shots and paying the price, and that's a big key. Our penalty kill was outstanding tonight."
The 22-year-old rookie had plenty of help from veterans and youngsters alike on that unit, which has not yielded a goal in 12 shorthanded chances over three games.
Left wing Jason Chimera, 31, played 2 minutes 26 seconds on the penalty kill and on several occasions was responsible for getting the puck out of harm's way when the Senators were bearing down. Defenseman John Erskine, 30, played 3:51 of short-handed time, and center Matt Hendricks, 29, played 2:45. Hendricks also blocked a team-high four shots and delivered some wicked hits.
"You know, anytime you get hit, it tires you out," said Hendricks, among the team's few new acquisitions for this season, "and if you keep getting repetitively hit, every time you go back to get the puck, it's in the back of your head someone's coming to hit me, someone's coming to hit me."
Defenseman Karl Alzner, 22, one of the team's most promising young players, spent 1:13 on the penalty kill. Although not technically a rookie, Alzner is set to play his first season predominantly with the Capitals after 30 games with the NHL club in 2008-09 and 21 games last season.
True rookies got into the act too, with defenseman John Carlson getting 3:44 in man-down situations and center Marcus Johansson playing 1:02. Carlson and Johansson both are 20.
"I just try to skate as much as I can in the neutral zone and in the offensive zone and then just do what everybody else does in our own end," said Johansson, whose defensive upside had a lot to do with him making the team after the Capitals drafted him in the first round last year. "It's a difficult job, but it's fun."