Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals should petition the NHL to play every game on Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC). The Great #8 notched a hat trick in Toronto on Saturday night in a Caps 4-1 victory that was closer than the final score. Ovechkin also had two goals in his last game on HNIC back in October against the Calgary Flames giving him five on the season on the #1 Saturday night show in the Great White North. Braden Holtby received his second straight start and turned in his best performance in seven appearances this season. #70 stopped 35 shots, including several quality chances when the outcome was still in doubt. Matt Hendricks added the other tally on a beautiful breakaway in which he deked Leafs goalie J.S. Giguere to the ice and deposited the biscuit in the basket on the backhand. Washington improves to 27-14-8 (62 points) and are just a point behind the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Southeast Division.
Here are the highlights and analysis from a hard fought Caps victory:
– As good as Holtby was, you have to start with Ovechkin on this night. The Great #8 scored his first two goals thanks to some simplification in his game. On the first tally, which was the only marker by either team in the first two periods, Ovechkin came hard from the goal line to the slot and nicely deflected a Jeff Schultz point shot by Giguere. His second goal came after Mike Green’s slapper from inside the blue line hit Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf and bounced in the slot right to Alexander the Great and #8 quickly put it five hole to give the Caps a 2-0 lead early in the third period. His hat trick came late into an empty net but it was not a simple one, the Great #8 used his speed to blow by the Leafs defender, who tried to hook him (delayed penalty was being called), then Alex cut to the middle to fake out the other Leafs defender, and he slid the puck into the open cage for his first hat trick of the season. In addition to the goal scoring, Ovie had one of his better games on defense. His hustle on the back check allowed him to apply back pressure to the Leafs forwards and he was able to strip a Toronto player of the puck on occassion. Perhaps his biggest defensive play came inside the four mintue mark when he went down on the ice to block a Maple Leafs point blast. It was a clear message being sent by the Captain that each player had to do their best to help Holtby and the team win.
– Holtby was fabulous, and he got better as the game went on. He gave up a couple of rebounds early on but the Washington defense did a good job of clearing them. Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel of the Leafs will be having nightmares about #70 for quite some time. Holtby stopped Bozak on several occassions, including a shorthanded breakaway in period two when it was a one goal game. Kessel was robbed by Holtby with the glove late in the contest with the Leafs keeper on the bench. #81 appeared to have an easy goal on a great cross crease feed but the young man from Saskatchewan stuck out his glove and caught it on the goal line to preserve the victory. Holtby made 18 saves on 19 shots in the final period and in two starts on his second recall, he has stopped 59 of 61 shots overall. Yes Caps fans, your club is loaded with good goaltending.
– Hendricks goal 8:14 into the third period was the one that really cemented this victory for Washington. The scrapping forward, who was bloodied in a fight with Mike Brown in the first period, stole the puck from the Leafs defensemen at his own blue line and raced in all alone on Giguere, who at one time was one of the best netminders in the league. The fake shot, deke, and backhand finish was something you’d normally see from a 50 goal scorer but on this evening it was #26 doing the damage and that marker made it 3-1 and took a ton of pressure off of the Caps. From there on out, Washington played their trapping style very well and they were content to chip pucks out of their zone and dump it deep in the Leafs end to make them skate through a wall of Caps just to get a shot off.
– Another strong point for the Capitals in this tilt was their penalty killing unit, which is ranked third in the NHL. Toronto received three power plays, all in a whistle happy first period, but only mustered four shots and were kept off of the board. The Caps have now killed off 14 straight power plays in a row and 20 of their last 21 shorthanded situations.
– It wasn’t all roses for the Caps on this night, their power play was pretty awful in two attempts as they were sorely outworked by the Leafs penalty killers. In addition, defensemen John Erskine (-1) had a rough night getting caught pinching in at the point a couple of times and his failed clear led to the only Toronto tally. Finally, the faceoff battle went to the Leafs, 32-26, as Brooks Laich (6-3) and Dave Steckel (4-2) were the only Capitals to win more than they lost from the dot. Nicklas Backstrom (2 assists, +3) was 3-10.
Notes: Blue liner Scott Hannan had another good game and he covered several times for Erskine’s mistakes. Unfortunately he couldn’t do that on every shift and he ended up -1 for the first time in 15 games…Karl Alzner and John Carlson were both +1 and had another strong game logging close to 19 minutes each. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau put that duo out against the Leafs top line as much as possible…Ovechkin now has 19 goals on the season with 33 games to go…Green was named as an alternate captain for next weekend’s All-Star game…the Hershey Bears won 5-1 at the Giant Center over Rochester on Saturday night. Andrew Gordon scored and was named the game’s number one star…next up for the Capitals are the New York Rangers on Monday night at the Verizon Center at 730 pm. The game will be televised on VERSUS.