Wednesday night in the “Big Smoke” the Washington Capitals did a lot of things correct against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
They scored the first goal to move to 20-1-2 when doing that this season.
They received stellar goaltending from Braden Holtby (31 saves).
They shot the puck extremely well, scoring “peanut butter style” (aka, top shelf) three times and tallying another time off of the far post.
They got traffic on Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier.
They received two goals from their second scoring line (Marcus Johansson had both tallies) and three from their third line (Eric Fehr had two and Brooks Laich had the other).
And, they STAYED out of the penalty box (the Leafs only had two power play chances).
All of those things added up to a 6-2 white washing of a struggling Toronto team.
The victory moves the Caps to 21-11-7 (49 points) and just four points behind the second place New York Islanders in the Metropolitan Division (the Caps have a game in hand too).
Washington did not play a perfect game, they struggled a little bit in the first period with getting pucks on the net, but once they got their legs going in period two, the Leafs really were no match for them. The Capitals certainly received some bounces in this game, but make no mistake about it, they were the better team despite losing the shot attempt battle, 59-53.
The difference in the contest was primarily defensive zone coverage. Washington’s was very good and the Leafs may have had shots on goal, but not a lot of quality ones. On the flip side, Toronto was atrocious on defense and time after time the Capitals received lots of space and open looks and when you provide that to a club as skilled as the Caps, you are going to get burned badly.
With Washington having to travel and play in Philadelphia on Thursday night (and clear customs too), a lopsided victory was important and it allowed Coach Barry Trotz to spread the ice time around (the lack of special teams play helped too). John Carlson, who was outstanding in this one going +3 with two helpers, led the Capitals in ice time with 24:13. The only player under 10 minutes was Tom Wilson, who logged only 6:46 and didn’t play after it looked like he hit his head doling out a check in the middle frame.
Wilson did come back and sit on the bench in period three (h/t @alexprewitt of The Washington Post), but his potential injury was likely the only real negative of the night.
So the Capitals are now 11-1-3 in their last 15 games. They are no doubt getting superb goaltending. Their only regulation loss in this run was on a back to back event in New York just before Christmas. On Thursday they will seek to win their first game all season on the latter half of a back to back sequence, when the second game is played on the road (0-4 so far this year in those situations). The question is does Trotz go with Holtby or finally play Justin Peters, who hasn’t seen the net since November 29th? Given that the Caps face the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday and have a busy upcoming schedule (7 games in 11 days), my money is on finally seeing #35 in the cage.
Notes: Washington lost the face off battle, 36-23…Ovechkin notched an empty net goal that was made possible by another super effort by Jay Beagle on the boards and a good cross ice feed from Nicklas Backstrom…Vincent “the diver” Trocheck of Florida, who went down from apparent sniper fire near Brooks Orpik on Sunday, was fined $2,000 by the NHL on Tuesday. That lack of integrity move by Trocheck gave the Panthers a 5 on 3 late in the game, that Washington fortunately killed off. It’s nice to see the NHL crack down on that “soccer like” move by Trocheck. The NHL doesn’t need that type of garbage.