The Washington Capitals had six players with multi-point games, including a four assist evening from passing magician, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Braden Holtby was marvelous in net stopping 32 of 35 shots in a 6-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Nationwide Arena.
Holtby, who said on Tuesday that he left Sunday’s game against the Rangers with a migraine that caused him to have blurry vision, was dialed in from the get go against John Tortorella’s squad. Columbus fired 10 of the first 11 shots, including Kerby Rychel’s first goal of the season on a two on one break, to take a 1-0 lead 9:30 into the contest. But if not for the Holtbeast, it could’ve easily been more.
Less than three minutes after the initial cannon shot, Washington’s first line answered with a sweet passing play from Alex Ovechkin (1G, 1A), and T.J. Oshie that Nicklas Backstrom (two goals) buried past Sergei Bobrovsky (22 saves on 27 shots). Just under four minutes later, Tom Wilson hit the Blue Jackets defensemen in his own zone after a good pinch by Taylor Chorney on the right wing boards and the Columbus player passed the puck right to Marcus Johansson (1G, 1A) in the high slot. Jojo then adeptly slid a no look pass to Jason Chimera, who had just returned to the game after blocking a shot with his left hand, and #25 sniped it by “Bob.” Chimera eats rocks for breakfast.
Washington would take that 2-1 lead to the dressing room, but on the opening shift of period two, Columbus nearly tied it up, but Holtby would not allow that to happen. Johansson, just over three minutes into the frame, then drew a double minor for high sticking on Justin Falk, who is one of the biggest stiff defensemen in the league, and that gave the Capitals back to back power plays.
It took Ovechkin just 13 seconds to extend the lead to 3-1 off of a great cross ice, box splitting feed from Kuznetsov and then Washington took full control of the contest when Kuzya hit Backstrom on the doorstep for a layup to make it 4-1 on the back end of that double minor.
The Blue Jackets then scored on a power play after Ryan Stanton took an ill advised penalty, but Andre Burakovsky fired a laser top shelf past Bobrovsky to restore the three goal lead heading into the final frame.
Washington came out slow again on the first shift of period three and it took another good save from Holtby to prevent any Columbus early momentum. Seriously, somebody needs to get the Caps some new locker room tunes because they are coming out to start periods playing like they’ve been listening to “Mandy” by Barry Manilow far too often.
Ryan Murray then took advantage of another Stanton mistake that ultimately allowed the Blue Jackets to fire that freaking cannon for the third time of the game.
But Jojo, who also eats rocks for breakfast, would hit the empty net and the Caps were able to leave town with a win and 35-8-3 record (73 points). The Holtbeast picked up his 30th victory on the season and he really earned this one. The quality chances were close, but Columbus had slightly more, while the shot attempts favored Torts’ crew at 67-50.
The Capitals played fairly well and dominated for stretches after the first 10 minutes or so, but they also had their share of breakdowns, mainly with the third defensive pair of Stanton and Chorney on the ice. This was Stanton’s first NHL game this season and he looked like he was playing just that. Not a good night for him and with John Carlson traveling with the team and likely to practice on Wednesday and/or Thursday, there is a good chance #20 won’t play against the Ducks on Friday at the Verizon Center as Snowmageddon Two descends on our Nation’s Hockey Capitol.
Overall, the difference in this game was the goaltending of Holtby and the Capitals superior skill. Washington just has so many weapons while Columbus shipped their number one center, Ryan Johansen, off to Nashville for defensemen Seth Jones (two assists, +2) recently. As a result, Coach Barry Trotz was able to limit the effectiveness of center Brandon Saad, who killed the Caps on January 2nd in a 5-4 Columbus shootout victory. On this night Saad was a non-factor going -2 in 19:30 of ice time.
So the Capitals just keep on rolling. With Carlson likely back in the lineup and Mike Richards (12:23 of ice time) getting his hands and legs in NHL game shape, this Washington team should keep improving. It’s amazing how well the Caps have performed without #74 (9-2-1), who is one of the best 10 to 15 defensemen in the league. This roster is deep and they still are missing Jay Beagle and Brooks Orpik, as well.
One of the biggest reasons this team has been able to keep winning despite the injuries has been the play of Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt. On Tuesday in Columbus, Orlov was just outstanding. The Blue Jackets had no answer for his ability to take the puck and skate it out and get the Washington rush going the other way. #9 was all over the ice at the Nationwide Arena and despite being pointless in 22:07, you could make a case that he was the best defensemen on the ice for the Caps (Matt Niskanen was darned good too with two assists in 28:31).
This was a game that was a potential trap one for the Caps. It was their 4th in six nights and they were playing one of the leaders in the Auston Matthews sweepstakes, so a letdown was quite possible. But the Holtbeast did his part to keep his club afloat despite bad period starts in all three frames, and the Washington skill took over to provide another three goal victory.
Finally, with this being the last trip to Columbus for the season, the Capitals will not have to hear that cannon go off again until at least October, and that is a very good thing.
Notes: Justin Williams had two assists after getting hit early in the game with friendly fire. He was in obvious pain on the bench, but played on. He also eats rocks for breakfast…Richards was 8-6 on draws while Kuznetsov went 7-5, which was good because overall the Caps were down from the dot (29-34). Jojo was 3-10, his only blemish on an otherwise very good evening…Wilson had five hits and Ovechkin had four…Karl Alzner tied a club record with his 422nd game in a row. Kudos, King Karl!