Alex Ovechkin scored three times to reach the 50 goal plateau for the third straight season and the seventh time in his career, Nicklas Backstrom added three assists to hit 50 helpers on the campaign, and Justin Chimera scored his 20th goal of the season in a Capitals 5-1 rout over the St. Louis Blues.
Most importantly, Braden Holtby notched his 48th victory of the season with 19 saves and this triumph ties him with Martin Brodeur for the most wins ever in an NHL season. The Holtbeast gave up an early goal to Vladimir Tarasenko just 75 seconds into this tilt, but the Blues were shut down the rest of the way.
“We are happy for him. He deserved it and he’s the beat goalie in the league right now,” said Captain Oveckhin afterwards, who is heating up nicely for the first round of the NHL playoffs, which will start against the Philadelphia Flyers this week (likely Thursday).
Wow, this was one dominating performance by the Caps!
After two periods they led 4-1 and had a 26 to 10 shots on goal advantage. For the game, shots on goal were 36-20 and shot attempts were 60-41 for the Caps.
Following the contest Coach Barry Trotz was pleased and noted that his club played a 200 foot game. The bench boss was spot on as Washington was more engaged physically and emotionally than they’ve been in recent weeks. They were taking the body, getting pucks deep in the offensive zone, and they weren’t cheating positionally. You’d be hard pressed to find any odd man rushes for the Blues in this one.
What’s also interesting about this win is that the Caps had pretty much nothing to play for except individual milestones while the Blues still had the Central Division title at stake. As a result of the defeat, Ken Hitchcock’s squad will face the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks in the first round while the first place Dallas Stars will take on the sinking Minnesota Wild. That’s quite a difference!
TJ Oshie played his first game back in St. Louis after last summer’s trade. He received a standing ovation from the fans and he was fabulous as the top line right wing playing with the Gr8 and Backstrom. That first unit, which was victimized by the Blues to open the scoring, came back with a vengeance. Oshie had just one assist, but he played a big factor in all three of Ovechkin’s goals with strong board work, defensive back checking that led to a big steal, and great net drive. #77 had 11 shot attempts and five shots on goal. He narrowly missed scoring on several occasions.
John Carlson and Brooks Orpik were paired on defense together and they were dynamite. Both were +3 and Carlson had a goal and an assist. Carlson’s goal was a thing of beauty as Tom Wilson fed a sweet pass to #74 that he backhanded home from the slot. That defensive pair was outstanding and physical. Carlson looks great and his skating and play is back to where it was before he was injured on December 26th.
For Chimera, this is his second 20 goal season (2011-12). It’s amazing how far he has come since December of 2014 when he was a healthy scratch. Right before last spring’s playoffs he finally bought into what Caoch Trotz was selling and at age 36 (he’ll be 37 on May 2nd) he looks as good as ever. Big credit to “Chimmer” for rethinking things and taking his play to another level under this coaching staff.
Mike Weber received a sweater for the first time in weeks and he played well paired with Dmitry Orlov. Weber’s physical style looks to be a good fit for playoff hockey and with the big and chippy Flyers up in round one, you could see him in the lineup.
Perhaps the only bad news of the evening was that Jay Beagle took a shot to his left ankle from Tarasenko and had to leave the game. He will be evaluated on Sunday and is considered day-to-day according to the Capitals PR staff.
With the victory the Caps move to the 120 point mark at 56-17-8 with just one game remaining. Perhaps most impressive of all is the Caps will go the ENTIRE NHL season without losing back to back games in regulation. The last team to do that was the Montreal Canadiens in 1976-77 (h/t to Ben Raby). Oh by the way, that club won the Stanley Cup. Just saying!
The regular season finale will be at the Verizon Center on Sunday night against the Anaheim Ducks. It would be a meaningless game for both teams since the Ducks cannot win the Pacific Division if the Kings are victorious on Saturday night over Winnipeg.
Given that the game likely will not be a factor in the standings, will Coach Trotz start Holtby to try and set the victory record? After all, the Holtbeast did have a fairly light workload on Saturday. Following Thursday’s loss, Coach Trotz stated that Holtby and Philipp Grubauer would both play this weekend. It remains to be seen if that decision is re-addressed given how well Saturday night played out for Washington.
In summary, the Caps were outstanding and look ready for the playoffs. They just need to get through Sunday’s tilt without suffering any more injuries.
Then it is bring on the Flyers!
Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:51…Ovechkin locked up the “Rocket” Richard trophy with his 50th goal of the season…Holtby should win the Vezina Trophy…Wilson was +2 in 13:42 and played his best game in weeks. He had 0 PIMs…the Caps won the face off battle, 30-25. Mike Richards was 13-6…Richards, who had another strong game, played 3rd line center with Marcus Johansson and Chimera. That unit looked great…Richards and Orpik led the Capitals in hits with four each…the game against the Ducks on Sunday night at the Verizon Center is the makeup from the originally scheduled tilt on January 22nd that was wiped out due to Jonas. Puck drop is at 7:30. It will be Justin Williams’ 1,000 NHL game.