The Washington Capitals have been accused in the past of being unable to win 2-1 games. Cross that item off the criticism list because the Caps raced to an early 2-0 second period lead, allowed a breakaway tally by Michael Grabner in the middle frame, then put their defensive system to work in the third period en route to a 2-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday night. It wasn’t pretty hockey and it was boring to watch, at times, but there are no style points in the NHL and as a result, the Caps exit Long Island and the Nassau Coliseum with the two points they wanted to grab on the second tilt of their three game road trip. The win pushes the Capitals overall record to 26-14-8 (60 points) and they still trail Tampa Bay by a point in the Southeast Division since the Bolts knocked off the Atlanta Thrashers, 3-2, in a shootout.
Here are the highlights and analysis of an “ugly win” over the young and pesky Islanders:
– Last time Braden Holtby was recalled to Washington he started with a bang by winning his first two appearances (one in relief and one as a starter), played well in an OT loss in Buffalo, and then imploded in two road tilts at Atlanta and New Jersey. #70, after those two defeats back in November, went back to Hershey and worked hard on his game posting several shutouts with the Bears while awaiting his next recall. Well the phone rang once again and Holtby was coming up to “The Show.” To top things off, he would start in his first contest with the Capitals on this recall due to minor injuries to Michal Neuvirth (sent back to DC after Tuesday’s OT loss in Philly) and Semyon Varlamov (dressed as the backup goalie on Thursday night). The result was a very solid 24 save effort from the young goalie from Saskatchewan. Holtby did not make some of the mistakes he made in his last two disastrous NHL starts, such as overplaying the puck or over challenging the shooters, and he looked very comfortable and in control during all 60 minutes. The only tally he allowed was to Grabner on a breakaway at 5:15 of the second period. Kudos to Braden for keeping a good attitude and showing once again that he has NHL game.
– Towards the end of the second period in the OT loss to the Flyers on Tuesday, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau put Jason Chimera on the top line with Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and it worked well against a very good Philadelphia club. On Long Island on Thursday, the Caps bench boss kept that trio together and it paid dividends as the Great #8 set up both Chimera (1 goal, +2) and Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist, +2) for easy goals. For the most part this line dominated on the ice, except for some shifts towards the end of period two and in the final stanza where I thought Ovechkin (2 assists, +2) tried to do too much himself in the offensive zone and he also floated a bit in his own end. However, when the Capitals needed a key defensive play late in the game, the Great #8 cleared the puck off of the boards and down the ice without getting whistled for icing. That play by the team captain sealed this victory. For Backstrom, his tap in from the crease on a rebound of Ovechkin’s power move and shot on net, was his first tally since December 1st in St. Louis when had two goals (a 21 game drought). Adding Chimera to the line has been a great move because #25’s speed seems to open the ice up for the other two. In addition, Chimera is not afraid to go to the net and that is where he scored the Capitals first goal on Long Island.
– The Caps were fortunate to only give up one goal and once again they can thank their stellar penalty killing unit. Washington took six careless minors but the shorthanded crew was outstanding only allowing eight shots on goal over the 12 minutes. The Islanders moved the puck well, at times, on the man advantage but they could not solve Holtby. New York took only two penalties and they held the Caps to just four shots on those two man advantage situations. It is a good thing the Capitals did not need a power play goal to win on Thursday because once again they struggled to get pucks to the net on their PP opportunities.
– On the backend, the Capitals got very good performances from all of their blueliners. The Mike Green-Jeff Schultz pairing logged the most ice time and weren’t on for a goal against. John Carlson had an assist on the Caps second goal but was beat on the Grabner breakaway and #74’s usual partner, Karl Alzner, was +1 in 17:51 of ice time. Scott Hannan (+1) had his 14th straight contest with the Caps without being a minus player. If you watch #23 closely when he is playing you will see that he is a great communicator and is often talking to his d-partner. Hannan does a great job with this and he appears to be getting more and more comfortable with his role on this team. Finally, John Erskine was even (other d-man on the ice on Grabner’s goal) in 15 minutes of action dealing with a minor lower body injury (d-man Brian Fahey was recalled from Hershey in case #4 could not play).
– From the dot, the Caps once again dominated winning 34 of the 55 faceoffs taken. Boyd Gordon went 12-2 and Backstrom was 10-4. #1 NHL faceoff man, Dave Steckel, won four of his five draws. Only Marcus Johansson (-1) at 0-6 and Jay Beagle (1-4) struggled on draws.
– In summary, a win is a win is a win, and the Capitals will take it. However, if they are going to compete against the elite NHL clubs they need to find a way to get more offense going. They should get a boost once Alexander Semin returns to the lineup but the glaring need on the club still remains the second line center position.
Notes: Tomas Fleischmann, who was traded to Colorado in exchange for Hannan, was declared out for the rest of the NHL season Thursday due to a pulmonary embolism. Flash had been scoring consistently for the Avs…forward DJ King played only six shifts and logged 3:25 of ice time…next up for the Caps are the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday at 7pm. The Leafs have given the Capitals fits over the last two seasons and both contests this year at the Verizon Center went to the shootout.