The Washington Capitals scored a goal just 14 seconds into the game and then tallied twice in the last four minutes to knock off the New York Rangers, 4-2, at Capital One Arena on Friday night.
The victory, the Caps seventh in their last eight games, was their fourth straight on a five game home stand against some very good hockey clubs. The triumph improves Washington to 18-11-1 (37 points) and they are now tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for first place in the Metropolitan Division. CBus has a game in hand (18-10-1), though.
Tom Wilson took over this hockey game late setting up the winning goal by Matt Niskanen and then adding an insurance marker at 18:28 after the Rangers had clawed their way back into this affair from a 2-0 hole. Nicklas Backstrom notched Washington’s second goal after a bad turnover by Michael Grabner midway through period two, beating Henrik Lundqvist (36 saves) with some top shelf cheese. For the night, the Caps top trio of Alex Ovechkin (1 assist), Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist), and Willy (1 goal, 1 assist) were +3 and a major reason why they won the game. Ovi hit the post late on an empty net attempt, so it could’ve easily been plus four.
That line, which was dynamite against Chicago and has been since they were put together by Coach Barry Trotz, had 19 of the Caps 67 shot attempts. They are physical and relentless on the fore check. Wilson had six hits and as #19 stated in his television interview between periods, #43 opens up space on the ice for Ovi and Backy and they are using their talents to make the opposition pay.
Jay Beagle opened the scoring on the game’s very first shift after Chandler Stephenson knocked the puck away from former Capital Kevin Shattenkirk on the left wing boards in the offensive zone. Devante Smith-Pelly swooped in to grab the disc and then fed Beags streaking to the net in the right slot area. #83 smartly shot quickly and it beat Lundqvist.
Washington would continue to play well the remainder of opening frame and they fired 17 shots on King Henrik, who kept his club in this one. Braden Holtby (27 saves) also was very solid to start this tilt stopping all nine shots he faced, but at least a handful of them were really good opportunities.
In the second period, the Caps ran into turnover problems, once again. They continually made poor decisions coming out of their own end and in the neutral zone. Too often the puck was going east-west instead of north-south. The Capitals lucked out, though. They didn’t have much sustained pressure for the first 11 minutes of the stanza, but then Grabner’s turnover was an early Christmas gift for Backstrom and the Caps.
Washington looked like they might escape the first 40 minutes up two pucks, but then Niskanen was hesitant with the puck and it was stolen from him leading to an easy tally in the slot for Grabner with 57 seconds to go in period two. It was a really shaky period by the Caps, they were outshot, 13-8, and Backstrom was clearly not happy while doing his interview between the second and third periods.
Coach Trotz’s crew actually played a very strong game in the last 20 minutes, overall. Yes, there were more turnovers, but they were up 10-4 in shots on goal yet the game became tied when Jesper Fast scored on a pass from former Capital Paul Carey with 10:23 left. Carey outworked Madison Bowey for the puck behind Washington’s net and when Brooks Orpik didn’t cover Fast tightly, #17 received the puck from Carey and fired a shot through #44, who was screening his goaltender.
At that point, one had to figure the Capitals would sag and the Rangers would gain momentum and energy and find a way to win.
Give the Capitals credit, though, they didn’t turtle and they amped their game up with five more shots on net. Wilson was the difference maker using his speed and size to go around the Rags defense twice. Top line Tom now has five goals and 10 assists in 30 games.
There were things to really like in this game, such as the Caps putting 40 shots on Lundqvist and Washington’s domination on faceoffs (34-20). The Capitals are successful when they are putting pucks and bodies to the cage, and they did both of those things well on Friday. Evgeny Kuznetsov had six shots on goal and his line with Jakub Vrana and Alex Chiasson played pretty well despite being on the ice for both Ranger tallies. Vrana is going to the net and using his speed and it’s great to see. Kuzy is shooting the puck and opening up the ice. #39 is just a fill in until T.J. Oshie, who was hurt Monday by Jumbo Joe Thornton, can get back in the lineup, but that doesn’t sound imminent given that the Osh Babe is still not even skating.
Andre Burakovksy returned to the ice after missing 20 games with a fractured thumb playing on a line with Brett Conolly and Lars Eller. Burky played 14:08 and was clearly trying to shake off the rust, but Coach Trotz will need that trio going when Washington takes on the Islanders in New York on Monday night.
There are still things to clean up in the Capitals play, the turnovers need more attention, but when they put out the effort and move their feet, they dominate on the ice. They also don’t get into penalty trouble when they have the wheels going and on Friday, the Blueshirts only had three man advantage situations. Washington killed off all of them while the Rangers did the same to the Caps on their four power plays.
This game was decided at even strength and the Capitals, thanks to their top line and the Holtbeast, prevailed.
Notes: John Carlson once again led the Caps in ice time with 25:52. Niskanen was a close second at 24:04. Bowey (10:34) and Christian Djoos (9:21) only had a dozen and 11 shifts, respectively…Eller was 10-5 on face-offs…Tyler Graovac cleared waivers and was sent to Hershey, along with Travis Boyd, to make roster and salary cap room for Burakovsky…Carlson had seven shots on goal. He’s playing extremely well and with the NHL announcing that next season’s salary cap will increase to between $78M and $82M you can bet that General Manager Brian MacLellan will be working on a long term deal for the Caps best blue liner. The Caps are now five points up on the Rangers, but they have two games in hand…per NBCSW, the Capitals are 38-1-6 lifetime when Beagle scores a goal.