Top Line Tommy, All Star Nicky, and the Holtbeast each had big nights in Brooklyn as the Washington Capitals scored four unanswered goals to knock off Caps Stanley Cup Winning Head Coach Barry Trotz’ New York Islanders on Monday night, 4-1. The victory was the Caps sixth straight and the seventh in their last eight games, which coincides with Tom Wilson’s return from suspension.
Former coaches Trotz, Lane Lambert, and Mitch Korn all received their Stanley Cup rings in the Caps locker room prior to the game and Barry gave an emotional speech that really showed how tight this team was over the four years he spent in DC turning around a franchise that was an absolute train wreck when he took it over (and GM Brian MacLellan deserves a ton of credit for the personnel moves, too). The coaches talked about commitment to one another and the memories they made that they’ll share at future reunions. Lambert also pointed out that the players all bought into the finer points of the game, such as blocking shots, and because of them, he and all of the coaches realized their childhood dream of winning the Cup. It was quite the scene and you can find the whole clip on the Caps twitter feed (@Capitals).
Afterwards, there was a hockey game to play and the Islanders were 9-1 against Metropolitan Division opponents coming into this affair. They looked to be building on that when Valtteri Filppula found the back of the net on a sweet backhander in the slot past Braden Holtby (32 saves) just 36 seconds into the contest. But that would be the high water mark for New York in this tilt.
Two minutes and 14 seconds later the game was tied when Willy took a sweet feed from Nicklas Backstrom (3 assists) on his backhand in the neutral zone, skated down the right wing, and in stride fired a dart past Thomas Greiss (20 saves). It was another big goal from Wilson and simply another all world pass by Nicky to set the tally up. After 20 minutes this one was tied, but Washington had a 12-8 lead in shots on goal.
Period two became a parade to the penalty box for the Capitals, which is usually the case when Ranger Dan O’Halloran is officiating the game. The Islanders would get three man advantage situations in the middle frame, but the only goal of the stanza came from Washington. The Caps fourth line had a superb outing and really set the tone in period one. In period two, they continued their fine play scoring the game winning tally. John Carlson caught the Islanders in a bad line change and fired a long pass from the Caps end to Dmitri Jaskin at the New York blue line. Jaskin skated in and left a gorgeous drop pass for Nic Dowd, and then Jaskin did a very smart thing by continuing to drive to the net taking the Islanders defensemen with him. That gave Dowd a shooting lane and Greiss didn’t really have time to get set. Before he knew it, #26 rifled the biscuit over his shoulder and into the cage for a 2-1 lead.
In that middle stanza, the Islanders outshot the Capitals, 10-3, but it was Washington who took a one puck lead into the last 20 minutes. Wilson was called for a questionable interference penalty 4:05 into period three, the Caps fourth straight infraction on the night, but the team easily killed it off. The Islanders would have some good looks trying to tie things up shortly thereafter, but the Capitals stellar goalie, the Holtbeast, was really solid in net making key save after key save without giving up any rebounds. Washington’s defense was blocking shots and when they didn’t, they allowed Braden to get a clean look at the shooter.
Jaskin, who has really amped his play up on this two game Mentors trip, drew a hooking call against Tanner Fritz to give the Capitals their first power play of the night at 12:04 and just 29 seconds into it, Thomas Hickey tripped Backstrom giving Washington a five on three. The Caps would not score on the two man advantage, but 13 seconds before Hickey was going to be set free, Backstrom from the half wall passed to Lars Eller below the goal line, and then Tiger put a sweet pass on Willy’s stick, who was filling the Osh Babe’s spot and role on the power play unit, and #43 buried it. It was a huge goal because the Islanders appeared to be getting some momentum killing off the lengthy part of the five on three. Give credit to Todd Reirden and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe for calling a timeout late in the five on three to calm the guys down. Getting that goal was the dagger in this one with it coming with just 5:39 remaining.
Alexander Ovechkin would then add his 18th goal of the season into an empty net after taking passes from Backstrom and Wilson and skating the puck out of the defensive zone. The Gr8, who has missed several open net situations this season, made no mistake on this one by turning on the jets to roar in on the cage, leaving Mathew Barzal in his dust.
It was a stellar finish to a game the Capitals gave up a lot of shots on net, but many came from the perimeter with the Caps continuing to focus on closing off the slot area and limiting high danger scoring chances. It was exactly the type of hockey they played last spring and it appeared that their former coach was smiling slightly in satisfaction when Ovi closed this one out by doing the little things that Trotz and his coaching staff helped teach them during his tenure in DC.
The Caps triumph improved their record to 14-7-3 (31 points) and they lead second place Columbus by one point in the Metropolitan Division. Washington lost Devante Smith-Pelly to a lower body injury in this game, he played only 5:26, but since the Capitals are off until a Friday night home affair with the Devils, there’s a chance he could not miss any more time.
Overall, this was not a pretty victory, but it was another solid effort with attention to detail in the defensive zone. This has been a different team since Wilson (2 goals, 1 assist) returned. They also received outstanding goaltending from the Holtbeast, once again.
Notes: Evgeny Kuznetsov skated after the morning skate, the first time he’s done so since the Brandon Tanev cheap shot to the head knocked him out of action on November 14th…T.J. Oshie was not on the trip so his return appears to be at least a week or so away…shot attempts were 62-47 for the Islanders, but they had 8 minutes of power play time to just 2:17 for the Capitals…John Carlson (1 assist) led the Caps in ice time with 23:47…Top Line Tommy has six goals, six assists, and 12 points in 8 games…Wilson, who had six shots on goal, led all forwards in ice time with 20:26…Matt Martin had eight hits in only 8:49 of ice time. Can you say “Cook the Books?”…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 27-20. Dowd went 4-4 and Wilson won the only draw he took.