If you want to make the playoffs and compete for a division title in the NHL, you need to win the games you are supposed to win.
On Tuesday night the Washington Capitals were scheduled to play one of those games against an injury decimated Columbus Blue Jackets squad.
The Caps did just that getting two goals each from Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson and 24 saves from Braden Holtby en route to the club’s 3rd straight victory and just the second in regulation at home.
This one, however, was not pretty.
Washington played an outstanding first frame jumping all over Columbus and grabbing a 3-1 lead. In that opening period the Caps out worked the Blue Jackets getting strong plays from Troy Brouwer on Johansson’s first tally and neutral zone pressure that led to a beautiful Jay Beagle drop pass to Ovechkin for the third marker. The only blemish in those first 20 minutes was a face off goal that occurred after a bad icing by the Capitals. Had the Washington defender taken the single stride he had to get to the red line, there is not a defensive zone draw at all. Unfortunately, the Caps lost that one clean, and Holtby gave up another goal on a long shot that travels through a maze of bodies. Other than Jason Chimera’s interference penalty, there wasn’t much else to pick at in a period the Capitals totally dominated.
But then came the middle stanza where the Capitals looked nothing like the club from the first 20 minutes and Columbus amped their intensity and physical play up and found a way to crawl back into a contest they had no business being in. Holtby allowed a late goal on a shot he initially bobbled and later kicked in, but #70 did make some other strong saves in a period that saw the Blue Jackets out work the Caps.
The third period started the same as the second finished, and Washington was lucky Scott Hartnell hit the cross bar on a 2 on 0 rush after a bad neutral zone turnover by the Caps. For the next 12 minutes or so Columbus would dominate, but Holtby was excellent. Finally the Caps started working hard again and MJ90 took a sweet feed from Andre Burakovsky (two assists) and wrapped home the clincher.
Again, this was a game the Capitals were supposed to win, and they did that. They improve to 7-5-3 (17 points) and will next face the New Jersey Devils at the Verizon Center on Friday night.
On the positive side, it was good to see the Caps not give up a goal in the third period and it was nice that they finally scored to get a two goal cushion back. The Caps haven’t been able to close teams out until the buzzer since early in the season victories over the Devils and Bruins. Holtby, like he did on Friday in Chicago, clamped down when he had to, plus he caught a break on Hartnell’s cross bar shot. Johansson continues to be a major positive playing with Brouwer and Burakovsky too. MJ90 now has eight goals in just 15 games and he’s shooting more and getting to the cage more often. He’s clearly benefitting from the Barry Trotz regime so far.
On the down side, this team still has prolonged stretches where they are very sloppy and to me that’s a work ethic issue. This Caps team has lots of talent but it is almost like they get too proud of themselves at times and forget you have to consistently move your feet to be successful. When Washington works hard, they win the puck battles and dominate with their superior talent. They still haven’t figured out yet how to keep that up more consistently.
So on Tuesday the Caps got another win, but to me, there’s still lots of room for improvement and I’ll continue to call this team a work in progress. But that’s okay when there are still 67 games to play.
Notes: Columbus won the shot attempt battle, 59-56. The Caps dominated the first period but then it was mostly Blue Jackets over the final 40 minutes. Some of that is score effects but most of it is on Washington’s work ethic…the Caps dominated from the dot, 41-25, but they once again allowed a face off goal against. Coaches despise that!..Karl Alzner had two super blocked shots on the Blue Jackets third period power play when the score was 3-2…referees Tim Kowal and Steve Kozari called a very good game, about the only gripe you could have with them was the missed slash by David Savard on Brouwer in period two. Dirty play there by the Blue Jacket.