Capitals vs. Red Wings: Washington is NHL’s lone unbeaten team after rout

October 23, 2011

It’s likely few would have imagined a blowout on either side in Saturday night’s showdown between the Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings, the last remaining undefeated teams in the NHL.

In one of their most thorough performances to date, the Capitals lit up Red Wings backup goaltender Ty Conklin for seven goals on 25 shots en route to a 7-1 drubbing at Verizon Center to remain perfect on the season.

With the victory, the Capitals became just the fifth team in league history to start a season 7-0-0 and the first since the 1994-95 Pittsburgh Penguins. While none of the previous teams to achieve that feat went on to win the Stanley Cup, it’s still an impressive run for Washington after several early tests against rivals and previously undefeated teams.

“I think that we’ve stepped up to the challenges. This was a big week for us, and I think we knew that coming into it,” said Mike Green, who tied a career high with four points in a game on two power-play goals and two assists. “We’re definitely happy where we are, but we still have a lot of work to do. I think we played maybe a 40-minute game tonight, and it’s got to be 60.”

Thirteen other Capitals added their names to the scoresheet. When the Red Wings (5-1-0) threatened to make it a closer game, goaltender Tomas Vokoun put together another phenomenal performance with 32 saves. In five starts since his shaky debut with the Capitals, Vokoun has stopped all but six of the 170 shots he has faced for a .965 save percentage.

The game could have gone differently, considering how the Red Wings dominated its first 10 minutes with strong puck possession in the offensive zone that, at times, made it look like a power play. The atmosphere changed, however, when the Capitals had a real power play of their own after Todd Bertuzzi was called for boarding when he hit John Carlson late on an icing touch-up.

Green scored his first of the night on a one-timer from the top of the left circle that Conklin was helpless to stop, giving the Capitals a 1-0 lead with 14 minutes gone in the first. Sixty-one seconds later, Marcus Johansson made it 2-0 after Mike Knuble forced a turnover at the offensive blue line.

“They hit the post the first shot of the game — sometimes you get the breaks, sometimes you don’t,” Vokoun said. “I’m a believer of if you work hard, and you’re in right places, more than often you’re going to get the breaks. We’ve been on a roll. It’s a good feeling, trust me. I’ve been playing losing hockey for a long time and it’s really tough. No matter how we win, I enjoy it.”

Green, who needed stitches during first intermission after being hit on the chin by the puck, made it 3-0 nearly five minutes into the second with a wrister on the power play. Washington had a sizable lead less than 25 minutes into the game on just nine shots.

But penalty trouble threatened that advantage as the middle period continued. With Matt Hendricks already serving time for a hooking call, Roman Hamrlik pushed Johan Franzen into the net, knocking it off its moorings, and was whistled for delay of game, giving Detroit a two-man advantage for 31 seconds. Niklas Kronwall scored to make it 3-1, and less than four minutes after that penalties to Alexander Semin (high-sticking) and Johansson (tripping) resulted in another two-man advantage.

During that 38-second short-handed stint, however, Vokoun made a critical left-pad stop on Danny Cleary to keep the Red Wings at bay. On the ensuing five-on-four, Washington’s penalty killers allowed Detroit only one more shot on goal while erasing time with rushes up ice.

“It could have been 3-3 in a heartbeat,” Coach Bruce Boudreau said of the spurt of penalties. “I think once [the Capitals] killed that second five-on-three they got a little bit of confidence.”

Washington wound up the emotional victor heading into the third period when, after killing the second set of penalties, Mathieu Perreault scored his second goal in as many games to make it 4-1 with 7.6 seconds remaining in the second. Hendricks’s shot on net sneaked through Conklin’s pads, allowing Perreault to swat it home.

In the third, Joel Ward added his second goal of the year after Brooks Laich forced a turnover and passed to his linemate. Perreault scored again off a faceoff and Nicklas Backstrom tacked on the final flourish when he tipped a slap-pass from John Carlson past Conklin to make it 7-1 with less than three minutes left.

“The goal I scored at the end of the second period kind of took the wind out of them,” Perreault said. “After that we were just rolling. I thought we played really good with the lead tonight. We didn’t give them much in the third and this is what we wanted to do.”

Capitals notes: Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom became the 14th player in NHL history to play in 1,500 regular -season NHL games. . . .

Jay Beagle missed his fourth consecutive game since suffering a concussion on Oct. 13 in Pittsburgh when the fourth-line winger was knocked out by Arron Asham. . . .

Michal Neuvirth, recovering from a bruised right foot, was scratched for the fifth straight game. The 23-year-old goaltender is expected to travel on Washington’s trip to western Canada this week.

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