Braden Holtby returned to the Caps net for the first time in 10 days and Washington received a good game from the Holtbeast while putting up a six spot on the scoreboard to roll the hapless and undignified New York Islanders, 6-3, at Capital One Arena on Friday night. The triumph was the Caps fourth straight victory.
Alex Chiasson announced his presence with authority in this tilt with a goal and two assists and his linemate, Jakub Vrana (1 goal, 1 assist) used his speed to generate two Caps tallies, as well.
T.J. Oshie scored his third goal in two nights to get Washington on the board. His deflection of an Alex Ovechkin shot (1 assist) on the power play late in period one broke a scoreless tie and gave the Caps an early lead.
The Islanders tied the game up on a power play marker 5:30 into period two, but then the game changed when Ross Johnston went all Oggy Oglethorpe and instigated a fight with Tom Wilson. 11 seconds later, the cheap and whiny Cal Clutterbuck took an interference penalty to put the Caps on a five on three power play. Nicklas Backstrom converted his 19th goal of the season, banging home the rebound of an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot.
This affair stayed close until late in period two when Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) made a nice zone entry pass to Matt Niskanen, who smartly fired on net from the right wing circle and then skated behind the cage while Chiasson went to the net. Chiasson attempted to put a rebound on goal, but he chunked it left. At that point Nisky was coming from behind the cage and he gathered up the missed shot, skated into the left wing circle, and fired on net. With #39 screening Jaroslav Halak (25 saves), the puck hit the twine to make it 3-1 with 2:05 remaining in the middle frame.
Washington nearly scored again, and then Kuznetsov broke through the swiss cheese New York defense with five seconds left and took a vicious slash to his left wrist from Thomas Hickey. Kuzy then crashed into the back boards and would leave the game after staying down for several minutes. It seemed obvious that he injured his left arm and/or hand and he will be re-evaluated on Saturday, per Coach Barry Trotz. The injury did not look good and if Kuzy is out long term, Hickey will be forever compared to the dirty Denis Potvin, who broke Bengt Gustafsson’s leg and put him out for the season with a dirty check in March of 1986 when Washington was a bonafide Cup contender that spring.
Vrana and Chiasson then made New York pay for Hickey’s dirty slash with a goal 1:46 into period three that came with one tick left on the man advantage. #13 went around the Islanders defender and made a bee line for the net. Halak stopped the initial shot, but the rebound was laying at the top of the crease and Chiasson was there to deposit the loose change. It was a dagger of a goal and a playoff hockey type of tally.
At the 10:56 mark, Jakub used his speed again and he notched his 13th goal of the season with a sweet top shelf shot to make it 5-1 and pretty much put this one out of reach.
The Capitals, however, would have some late penalty troubles and that allowed New York to get two power play markers to make it 5-3 with just under four minutes remaining. The Holtbeast then had to make a huge pressure save on Matt Barzal on a breakaway with just over three minutes left. If that goes in, the Islanders might have forced OT, however, #70 looked like his old self and made the save appear routine. That, and several other timely stops by Braden had to help Holtby’s confidence. Lars Eller then hit the empty net to seal the deal with 1:58 to go.
This win improves the Capitals record to 41-23-7 (89 points) and they lead second place Pittsburgh by two points with a game in hand in the Metropolitan Division. The bad news, though, is the status of Kuznetsov. If this injury is serious, it could lead into the first round (or more) of the playoffs and also prevent Washington from winning the regular season division title. The Caps are built up the middle of the ice with Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and Eller so a loss to one of those guys is a game changer.
Defensively, Washington was pretty loose, at times. Part of that is the way the Islanders play. New York is very unstructured and they cheat to try and generate odd man rushes and power plays. The Caps, at times, were a little greedy and that allowed some chances the other way. All three goals for the visitors on Friday came on the power play.
The Capitals offense is starting to click and they tallied 13 times in two nights. None of those goals came from Ovechkin, who has carried this team offensively through 69 contests. Oshie is starting to heat up, as are other players such as Burakovsky and Vrana. The key though, is the play of the centers. Backstrom has been in beast mode since the Sharks game and Kuzy has been flying, as well. So all eyes will be on the medical report from Trotz this weekend, which probably won’t come until 3 pm on Sunday, since the Caps are off on Saturday.
One player who did have a really strong defensive game was Brooks Orpik. #44 had 20:04 of ice time (third highest in terms of the Caps blue liners), three shot attempts, four hits, and was +2. He also logged 5:25 of penalty killing time and was not on for ANY of the Islanders three power play goals. That’s three really quality performances for the grisly veteran in his last four outings.
As for New York, despite Coach Doug Weight exclaiming to the media that his team played hard for two nights, the bottom line is his squad gave up 13 goals and can start putting in their tee time reservations for April. They are an undisciplined club in so many facets of the game and super star John Tavares was a real no show for most of the 120 minutes of action. Clutterbuck remains a gutless punk who helped the Caps take the lead in both affairs with stupid penalties. Winning didn’t seem to be at the forefront of New York’s collective brains on Friday night, it seemed to be more of a desire to hurt some of the Capitals key players. They are a sorry bunch and an organization in disarray.
Washington is done with the Islanders now for the season and New York is done, for all practical purposes in the 2017-18 season. Next up for the Capitals are the despised 3rd place Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday afternoon at 5 pm from Filthy arena. The Caps are eight points up on Coach Dave Hakstol’s squad, but they could very well be without their second-best center in Kuznetsov for the upcoming tilt.
Notes: The Islanders were 3 for 5 on the power play while the Caps went 3 for 8…shots on goal were 31-26 for the Caps and shot attempts were 60-57 for Washington…the Capitals won the faceoff battle, 36-30. Eller was 9-4 and Jay Beagle went 5-1…Ovechkin had 10 shot attempts, but only three were on net…Clutterbuck left in the second period and didn’t return. He played only 6:50…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 22:19. Ovi logged 22:06 and John Carlson (1 assist) was next with 21:52.