The Washington Capitals’ praise of the Detroit Red Wings was effusive.
“They’ve been to the top of the mountain every year for 15 years,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Their tradition of winning is unsurpassed in recent history in the NHL.”
Boudreau went on to say how Detroit does things “right.” Saturday night it all went wrong — and the Caps looked an awful lot like the glory days Red Wings, capitalizing on mistakes on the way to a 7-1 victory at Verizon Center.
“I thought they have a lot of depth. They have a lot of skilled players but they have a lot of guys that work hard too,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “I think they have a well-balanced team. They have guys that can put the puck in the back of the net.”
Washington is now 7-0-0, easily the best start in franchise history and just three wins short of tying the NHL record.
“Every day you wake up, there’s new challenges and you just find new inspiration — ways to make it exciting,” Boudreau said. “There’s a lot of games left: 75 games — if my math serves.”
It’s hard for hockey people not to admire and respect the Red Wings’ consistent success for the past decade, and the Caps know that. They looked dangerous in stretches but made un-Detroit-like mistakes often enough to cost themselves dearly.
Early, it was a boarding penalty by Todd Bertuzzi that set up a Mike Green power-play goal seconds later. On the power play, the Caps had the movement and smooth passing that had been the trademark of Red Wings’ power plays for years.
Later, it was a brutal turnover by Cory Emmerton — a lazy clear that Mike Knuble intercepted with a smart stick check — that set up a weird-angle Marcus Johansson goal.
“When you wake up tomorrow, it’s 7-1,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “The bottom line is two teams came here that both thought they were good tonight, and they were better than us. That’s just the way it is.”
The Caps also took advantage of seeing Ty Conklin instead of starter Jimmy Howard, the fifth time in seven games they’ve faced a backup goaltender. Conklin allowed the first three goals on nine shots and a total of seven on 25.
Meanwhile, Tomas Vokoun won his sixth straight start with perhaps his best pure goaltending performance of the season. While the offensively deep and talented Red Wings piled up quality scoring chances, he made a few spectacular saves to go with a lot of routine ones, preventing Detroit from building any sort of momentum. He finished with 32 saves.
“The difference was our goalie was better than their goalie tonight,” Boudreau said.
Green’s second goal of the night and Mathieu Perreault’s second of the season kept everything rolling for the Caps, who will enjoy four days away from game action before facing the Oilers in Edmonton on Thursday. Perreault scored again in the third, and Green’s four points tied a career high.
Saturday marked the Red Wings’ first loss this season. According to Elias, the game was just the second meeting in NHL history between two teams that were at least 5-0-0. Now, the Caps are the last unbeaten in all the land.
“It’s nice but we can’t worry too much about that. It’s a nice stat to have and obviously we want to accumulate as many points as we can right now, but we got a big game in Edmonton coming up here and Vancouver is a very tough team as well,” winger Troy Brouwer said. “We’ve just got to keep our mindset right and not get ahead of ourselves and keep playing the way we played tonight.”