In the midst of another record-breaking snowstorm, the Washington Capitals continue to break records of their own with each win they record.
Friday night, the Capitals added to their franchise-record winning streak, defeating the Atlanta Thrashers 5-2, before a healthy, hearty snow-braving crowd at the Verizon Center.
The winning streak is the longest in the NHL since the New Jersey Devils won 13 straight in 2000-01.
Goalie Michal Neuvirth, recalled earlier in the day from AHL Hershey, was stellar again in goal. He stopped 43 of 45 shots he faced, including a tremendous glove save in the third period on Ron Hainsey.
In his last two starts, Neuvirth has saved 78 of 81 shots, defeating his countrymen Tomas Vokoun and Ondrej Pavelec, the Czech Olympic team goaltenders.
"It's always something special when I beat a Czech goalie. Last game I beat Vokoun, now Pavelec. I beat Olympic goalies for my country so it's a big deal for me."
"I was not that sharp in the first, but I think I was getting better every minute and I think I had a good game," Neuvirth said after the game. "Its Theo's streak. I've been in a couple games, but he's playing really good right now. I'm just happy to help when he gets tired."
"Neuvirth played fabulous," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "They got their legs [in the second period] and we couldn't meet their push and we needed the goalie to be really good, and he was really good."
As for the streak itself, Boudreau still doesn't really want to acknowledge it all that much.
"You guys don't realize how hard it is to win. It's difficult to stay at a pace when every team that you're playing are coming at you in waves because they are the ones that want to end it."
"The reason winning streaks are tough is because you have to be at the top of your game all the time."
As has been common during the streak, the team came out sluggish in the first period, and got down quickly to Atlanta. Tobias Enstrom took advantage of Neuvirth, who was out of position a little bit, putting a bouncing puck into a fairly open net just 2:36 into the game.
The Caps tied it up later in the period on Alex Ovechkin's 40th goal of the season, a power play marker. The Great Eight broke a stick and had to go back to the bench for a new twig.
Center Nicklas Backstrom essentially held the puck along the boards until his captain could glide back into the offensive zone, where the silky Swede set the puck up on a tee, and Ovechkin hammered it home effortlessly.
Atlanta took it to the Caps in the second period, outshooting the home team 22-9 in the frame. But the only tally would come by Backstrom, slamming home a nice feed from Ovechkin.
The Capitals would, once again, steamroll their opponent in the third period.
Alexander Semin scored into an open net after Brooks Laich did the hard work, drawing Pevelec's attention, then sliding the puck deftly over to a breaking Semin. Jason Chimera picked up a loose puck at center ice, drove into the offensive zone, and blasted a slap shot high glove side, and Mike Green added an empty net goal as time ran down, lofting a backhand shot five feet from his own goal line.
The only pock mark on the period was a short-handed goal by Altanta. Semin tried a risky crossing pass on the power play that was picked off by Rich Peverly. Peverly came in on Neuvirth with Semin giving chase.
Neuvirth made the initial save, but Semin crashed into his own goalie and dislodged the puck, knocking in into the goal.
It cut the lead to 4-2 at the time, but Green's empty netter sealed the deal.
"The guys want to win more than anything," Boudreau said. "That's why they come out in the third period and they're pretty well in control so far in the third period lately."
The win sets up a nationally televised game with Pittsburgh on Sunday (weather permitting). Coincidentally, the Penguins own the league's longest winning streak at 17 games, set in the '92-93 season. You have to believe, as Boudreau does, that Pittsburgh would like nothing less than to end the Caps streak on their home ice.
"You're playing against the Stanley Cup champions," Boudreau said when asked about the Penguins. "I gotta believe, even if they say we're not a big rival of theirs, they would take an awful lot of pleasure beating us on Sunday in our building."
NOTES: Backstrom did not play in the third period, with what he described as a headache. Boudreau said that he was experiencing "flu-like symptoms," but expects his No. 1 center to play Sunday.
The team canceled practice on Saturday due to the massive snowstorm that has gripped the region.
Goalie Braden Holtby was assigned to Hershey to clear room for Neuvirth.
D John Erskine delivered a good, clean check on Marty Reasoner, knocking the Atlanta center to the ice, and winger Chris Thorburn took exception and engaged Erskine in some fisticuffs. Thorburn received an extra two minutes for roughing, but could (should) have been assessed a misconduct instigator penalty.