The Capitals came out of a two game home series this past weekend with a much-needed four points to add to the standings. The home cooking was good, but it was time to take their late season desperation to the west coast. Washington’s next three games were against three of the better teams in the Western Conference.
Tuesday was the Caps first test against former Washington coach Bruce Boudreau’s Anaheim squad. The Ducks were 3-2 winners at the Verizon Center in an earlier contest this season, but the tables turned on a 3-2 score Tuesday night.
Jaroslav Halak stood on his head with a 40+ save performance and the special teams were stellar in a 3-2 Washington victory. Joel Ward scored minutes into the first frame of action and Troy Brouwer put in a rebound on the power play right before the periods conclusion.
Former Cap Mathieu Perreault scored the only Ducks man advantage goal early in the third period. The score was tied up at two, then Washington was onto another power play. Alex Ovechkin put in his 46th goal of the season and his 9th game-winning goal as well.
The special teams made it count when they were on the power play and the penalty kill unit was spectacular as well. They gave up a goal to Perreault with just one second left remaining on the extra man, but they killed off a 5 on 3 opportunity Anaheim had earlier in the match.
Washington tried to carry their momentum into last night’s game against the Los Angeles Kings, but one person was standing in their way. Jonathan Quick is one of the games premiere goaltenders and fans got a chance to see a show last night.
The Kings are a physical team that focuses on puck possession with good positioning in their defensive zone. The defense does not give away many premium-scoring chances, so teams need to make it count when the opportunity arises.
LA struck first in the first period on a set dump in play that was run down by Marian Gaborik. Gaborik, who was recently acquired at the trade deadline, beat John Carlson to the puck and threw it back behind him toward the front of the net. Team captain Anze Kopitar put it past Jaro Halak for the one goal lead. It was a goal that Halak could not believe went by him as he looked all around after the horn sounded.
The first half of the match was all Kings as they grinded away with solid puck possession and allowed nothing to the Caps offensively. The game tilted in Washington’s favor toward the second frames end once they were able to get pucks to the net.
Time was running low in the third period and rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov was moving amongst the boards. Kuzy worked his way below the net and stretched a pass in front of the net cross side to Joel Ward, who had several wacks at the puck before putting it behind Quick. Kuznetsov made the excellent pass and Joel Ward has been a hot hand with four straight games with a goal.
Washington had a chance in overtime when they went to a power play, but the offense was unable to get anything going. The overtime period came to a close and a shootout was needed.
Kuzy was first up for Washington in the shootout and his excellent skills were on display. He put his first career shootout attempt past Quick for the quick 1-0 lead. Unfortunately for the Caps, Halak was unable to stop the next two Kings shooters and Ovechkin and Backstrom were unable to extend the shootout. A much-needed two points were squandered by the excellent play of Jonathan Quick.
The opposing teams that the Capitals are chasing in the hunt for an Eastern Conference playoff birth earned two points last night. The Caps had a chance at two, but let a good opportunity go to waste. Washington has not won a game in LA since 2003 and they now head to San Jose this Saturday night where they have not won since 1993.
Washington has come away with three out of a possible four points against great competition on their west coast trip thus far. That is a positive even though they were so close to a potential four for four. Since they were unable to muster two points last night, it is imperative that Washington comes away with a victory against the Sharks this Saturday night.
A victory would conclude a three game trip on the west coast with an earned five out of six points, which would bid well for them in the standings. They currently sit just one point behind the Rangers for the second wild card slot and the Blue Jackets for the third position in the Metropolitan division. Both those teams face off tonight, so it is essentially a lose-lose situation for the Caps.
Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward have been two players that have stepped up and have taken their game to another level as of late. Washington is going to need these guys to keep the secondary scoring going for the final stretch. The special teams struggled last night, but they will need to continue to make their opportunities count when they come. Kuzentsov has been a nice addition into the top six rotation offensively when he came over from Russia as he now has five career assists.
All these players’ contributions on top of better defensive play and consistent goal tending will be a necessity for them to carry over into San Jose. A victory Saturday against the Sharks would cap off a successful west coast trip with good positioning for a playoff spot for the last stretch of the season.