The Washington Capitals struggled at even strength for good portions of the first 40 minutes, but they turned on the jets in the third period and then in overtime to win, 2-1, in Motown on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s goal.
So that’s five losses this year for the Caps (including one in OT last Friday night) and five wins in the games immediately following the defeat. As I blogged last Thursday night, that’s the mark of a good team.
Why were the Caps able to pull this one out? First, their goaltender, Braden Holtby, was outstanding for 40 minutes stopping 19 of 20 shots, including three of them on two Detroit breakaways (Darren Helm got a rebound attempt on his one on one with #70). Holtby gave up an early tally to rookie sensation Dylan Larkin, but that was a tough stop considering the Caps defensemen, Taylor Chorney, put his stick in the shooting lane right as the young American was firing the biscuit. That was a big distraction for the Holtbeast. But Braden would shut the door the rest of the way, including a sweep stop in period two with the puck heading for a go ahead Red Wings goal.
On the flip side, Peter Mrazek, who stopped all 36 shots in Detroit against the Caps on November 11th, was a brick wall once again. It took a super set up by Matt Niskanen on the power play to Justin Williams to get the rubber by the Czech goalie to even the game at one.
Washington would have four first period power plays, scoring only once. They then received two more in the third period, but they couldn’t convert despite some good looks on the last one. Overall, the man advantage was 1 for 6 and is struggling to bury its chances. Detroit had two power plays, but the Caps denied both.
Niskanen, next to the goalies, was the player of the game, in my book. He logged 23:51 and had two assists. He was all over the ice at both ends and nearly set up Karl Alzner, who also had another excellent outing, with the game winner moments before Kuznetsov closed the deal for Washington.
That’s two OT game winning goals now for the young Russian and afterward Holtby told Pierre McGuire that he thought Kuznetsov was the Caps best player in the playoffs last spring. Clearly #92 continues to improve. He centered Marcus Johansson and Andre Burakovsky and like many of his teammates, struggled for the first two frames, but really clicked in the third period. Burakovsky was really good in those last 20 minutes and he set up Johansson for a wide open shot in the slot, however, MJ90 missed the net when it looked like the puck rolled on him.
Alex Ovechkin had five shots on goal in the opening stanza and then one after that, so he still sits on career goal #483. The Gr8 will be happy with the win, which is more important than a record that is inevitable.
Washington is now 12-4-1 overall and will take on the Dallas Stars at the Verizon Center on Thursday night. The Stars are super fast and have been sitting in their hotel rooms eating Bon Bons on Wednesday while the Caps will have to fly home late before facing a club that is off to a 15-4 start after missing the playoffs last season. The biggest difference for the Stars has been their goaltending. They didn’t get much of that last year, but this season the teams’ save percentage is over 91%.
This was a big win for Washington as they really stormed the castle down the stretch without needing any magic pills from Miracle Max. It was a simple formula, they moved their legs and won puck battle after puck battle against the Wings. If not for Mrazek and some narrow misses, this one was a Caps win in regulation after Holtby held the fort for 40 minutes.
Notes: The Caps outshot Detroit, 27-26. That’s 15 games in a row for Washington holding a team under 30 shots and the club record is 20 straight, set in 1984-85 (h/t to the great Mike Vogel)…Washington lost the faceoff battle, 29-27. Nicklas Backstrom was 10-6 and Kuznetsov was 2-10…Tom Wilson led the Caps with five hits…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:45, 7:16 of which came on the power play, and he had five shots on goal.