And after more than 58 scoreless minutes, Alex Ovechkin finally put a puck past Ondrej Pavelec (27 saves) with 74 seconds remaining to break the deadlock and ensure Neuvirth would get a win for his efforts. Washington (16-13-1) improved to 4-4 under Coach Dale Hunter.
“I think when goalie makes unbelievable save, it give you a little breath, like, ‘He’s on fire right now, he keep us in the game,’ ” Ovechkin said of feeling additional pressure to help his young teammate earn a win. “Finally [the puck] go through, actually didn’t see the puck, I see only light. It was important goal for the team and I’m happy I scored it.”
The victory marked Neuvirth’s first shutout of the 2011-12 season and the Capitals’ second of the year, with the previous one coming 25 games ago when Tomas Vokoun held Florida scoreless on Oct. 18.
The Capitals knew they would need a strong start to match Winnipeg (14-13-4). The Jets entered the contest on a five-game winning streak at home and were 10-4-0 there this season.
But the Jets controlled the opening 20 minutes and held a 14-7 edge in shots by the intermission by flinging pucks toward the net from all angles and locations.
As the Capitals struggled to escape their zone, Neuvirth bailed them out with sharp stops and looked fresh in the building where he won a Calder Cup as a member of the AHL’s Hershey Bears in 2009.
“I thought we got a little outplayed in the first but after that I think we outplayed them. I think their only big scoring chances were on the power play,” Neuvirth said. “They had a lot of shots early and it’s always nice, after couple saves I settled down. It was a great team effort and a huge two points for us.”
Throughout the first, Neuvirth turned away one-timers, shots through traffic and wristers from point-blank range while demonstrating the conservation of movement he has become known for. Regardless of the extended time the Jets spent in the offensive zone, and how frequently they bulldozed their way into the crease, Neuvirth made saves look easy.
After escaping the first period without giving up a goal, the Capitals came out with more life at the start of the second, buoyed by their netminder’s performance.
“We’re trying to get one, that’s for sure. We’re doing all we can to get some goals for him and when you see an effort like that you want to reward the kid with a good, big win,” said Jason Chimera, whose four shots on Thursday tied for the team lead with Karl Alzner.
Perhaps Washington’s best scoring chance in the first half of the contest came when the team was shorthanded in the second period.