The neutral zone trap. Those words send shivers down the spine of most hockey fans. It usually means boring, low scoring, dull hockey. However for the Washington Capitals it meant victory. The Caps played the neutral zone trap to perfection and escaped with a 1-0 victory over the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre.
The win was vital for the Caps as they vaulted past the Jets into second place in the Southeast Division and 7th place in the Eastern Conference. The loss ended the Jets 4 game home winning streak as the Jets failed to move into the top 8 in the Eastern Conference for the first time this season.
Both goalies were superb tonight. Michal Neuvirth made 26 saves to record his first shutout of the season. Ondrej Pavelec made 27 saves in the loss for the Jets.
The Jets came out strong in the first period, doubling the Caps in shot at 14-7. The Jets looked like the faster team but Neuvirth held his ground and the Caps remained composed in their own zone.
The second period started the same but at about the midway point, the Capitals began to find their skating legs and started to slowly take over the game. The trap employed by Dale Hunter’s crew bogged down the neutral zone and the Jets started to get frustrated. The Jets top line of Evander Kane, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler were especially annoyed by the trap. On too many occasions, Wheeler tried to do his best Bobby Orr impression by doing it all by himself. Wheeler has the talent but too many time he doesn’t know how to use his ability and size to his advantage. If he could ever learn that trait, Wheeler has the potential of being an impact player.
The third period was controlled by the Caps and the quagmire they created in the neutral zone. In fact, the Jets didn’t get their first shot of the period until the 12 minute mark. Finally with 1:14 to go, a turnover in the neutral zone led to a Caps counter attack when Alexander Ovechkin fired a quick wrist shot through the pads of a surprised Pavelec for the game’s only goal. A tough one to take for Jets fans.
No excuses for the Jets tonight. The Caps played a smart road game, weathered the early storm the Jets create at home, and found their game when they needed it the most. To top it off, superstars make plays at crunch time. Ovechkin, like him or not, is a superstar and made the big play at the right time.
Notes: The Jets still have some injury issues. Forwards Nik Antropov and Alexander Burmistrov both missed the game due to injuries. No word as when either will return. Jets next game is Saturday when Anaheim rolls into town. It will be an emotional game as Teemu Selanne makes his long-awaited return to Winnipeg and the Jets faithful should welcome him with open arms and lots of love.
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