Alexander Ovechkin loves the bright lights and the big city and he seems to always have his “A” game when he goes into Madison Square Garden. Tuesday night was no exception as the Great #8 notched two assists, had four hits, and was +1 in 21:51 of ice time to lead the Washington Capitals to a 5-3 come from behind victory over the New York Rangers. Brooks Laich, who was injured in Sunday’s game against Philadelphia and missed the last portion of that tilt, had two goals and an assist plus he went +3 on the evening as Washington’s other big star of the contest. Laich now leads the NHL in plus/minus at +13 (h/t @CapsMedia). The win was the Caps fifth straight and they improve to 11-4.
Here are the highlights and analysis from a super Capitals road effort:
- This was a wild tilt and the Caps jumped out to an 11-2 early shots advantage but due to some bad d-zone coverage by Jeff Schultz and Mike Green, Brian Boyle (two goals) was able to give the Blueshirts the early lead with a sweet backhander from in front of Michal Neuvirth (25 saves). The other two goals allowed by Washington were gaffes made by defensemen but I put some of the blame for those on the notoriously bad Gah-den ice. First, Karl Alzner fanned on a clearing attempt after a clean Caps defensive zone face-off win and that allowed Boyle to snap one by Neuvirth to make it 2-1. Then after John Erskine scored on a top shelf, short side laser (on another face-off win), Tyler Sloan overskated the puck while on his backhand and Derek “The Boogey Man” Boogaard raced down the left wing uncovered and blasted one by Neuvirth. So just over 23 minutes into this tilt three Washington mistakes by their young defense lead to three Rangers tallies. But that is all the Blueshirts would get.
- The Caps were carrying much of the play against a Rangers club that was trying to rough the Caps up early on. Washington took advantage of a 4 on 3 power play to tie things up at one on a nice Laich deflection of an Alexander Semin pass but the Capitals failed to tally on their next two attempts and the Rangers gained momentum. They were leading 3-2 when the game changing play came via the skates of the Great #8. Ovechkin took the puck in his own zone and went end to end with the biscuit. As he crossed the Rangers goal line he appeared to have nothing but he smartly threw the puck off of Henrik Lundqivst, who has to have nightmares about the Great #8, and it bounced right into the slot where Mike Knuble buried it into an empty cage to end his 13 game goal scoring drought. That goal came at 9:18 of the second period and from there on out the Capitals seemed to gain energy and it translated into the victory.
- One thing the Capitals continue to do well of late is go to the net. On Erskine’s goal, all three Capitals forwards were moving in that direction and that presence had to impact Lundqvist. Laich’s first goal came from the doorstep, Knuble’s came in the slot, and Matt Hendricks game winner 7:53 into the final stanza came in the slot as well after Laich and Matt Bradley made super plays behind the Rangers net to work the puck free. It was a blue collar goal and Washington seems to be getting more and more of those, something that will bode well in April and beyond.
- The entire winning goal sequence came after a headsy play by Jason Chimera that lead to an offensive zone face-off. #25 came flying down the right wing and he hit the brakes seeking to pass to a teammate in the slot. However, like many teams do against the Caps, the Rangers crowded the center of the ice. So instead of trying to thread the needle and likely cause a turnover, Chimera alertly dumped the puck behind the Rangers cage and Washington got their cycle game going leading to the offensive draw. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau will likely use that video clip to show how avoiding careless cross ice passes in the offensive zone will often lead to good things.
- Neuvirth had a shaky opening 25 minutes and his rebound control seemed off. Needless to say, the only goal that he should have had was the Boogaard blast, but #30 righted the ship after that and made some big saves in the final period, including one in tight on Brandon Dubinsky to preserve the win.
- I am not a big fan of the zebras and I have gone easier on them this season but tonight the pair of Don Van Massenhoven and Justin St. Pierre were downright awful. The calls they made all evening were inconsistent. Case in point, they allowed a Ranger defender to clearly hook Boyd Gordon on a partial breakaway late in period two yet the only penalty whistled in period three was a very borderline one on Alzner for hooking? The penalty on Rangers Erik Christensen in period one was bad too but it also came right after they missed a couple of hooks that Michael Del Zotto put on Chimera. I imagine the players had no clue what was going to be called or not called on Tuesday night.
- In his in game interview, New York coach John Tortorella stated that his club could not try to trade chances with the highly skilled Caps. The Rangers did a pretty good job of that in the last 30 minutes and the Ovechkin to Knuble play was a perfectly good example of why the 2004 Stanley Cup winning bench boss didn’t want to engage in that type of contest. His strategy was a good one but the Capitals are a better team and they also outworked the Blueshirts on the game winner.
- Next up for the Caps is Thursday’s home game against the resurgent Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bolts have the NHL’s goal scoring leader in Steven Stamkos (13) and are off to a fabulous 8-4-2 start. Stamkos also leads the NHL in points with 24 while Ovechkin is second with 20. This game should be a dandy and the first of what should be six major battles between the two best teams in the Southeast Division this season.
Notes: The Caps are now 9-0 with Gordon in the lineup. According to some post game tweets from Corey Masisak, it sounds like Gordon’s back is very sore after this evening’s tilt. Gordon logged 15:30 of ice time, was 11-11 from the dot, and was +1…Green was +1 and had two assists in over 25 minutes of ice time. He also got into a first period fight with Dubinsky in which I gave the decision to #52…Washington won the face-off battle 38-31…Nicklas Backstrom was held pointless and missed a couple of shifts in the middle of the 3rd period due to skate issues (bad ice)…Eddie Olcyzk on VERSUS was hard on Alzner tonight but I don’t put much stock in the words from a man who was fired by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the post lockout era (a team that was loaded with good young players that he couldn’t reach). For all of the belly aching on King Karl, #27 ended up +1 in 19:55 of ice time and he was on with Green for the final shift. Yes, I’ll take Boudreau as my head coach any day and pass on the critiques from the current Blackhawks broadcaster.