After the Caps smoked the Jets, 4-0, on Thursday night, I blogged that we’d know around 930pm if the Capitals were back in the Southeast Division race.
I was wrong, we actually knew an hour earlier as the Capitals destroyed Winnipeg, 6-1, on Friday night. The victory puts the Caps just five points in back of first place Winnipeg with a game in hand. In addition, Washington is just three points behind the 8th place New York Rangers with a Sunday date at 7pm looming with the Rags.
Everything has pretty much come together for Washington this week and as I mentioned after Thursday’s win, it starts with having a close to full lineup. The return of Brooks Laich has done wonders for the forward combinations and suddenly Coach Adam Oates has two lines that can put the biscuit in the basket. It was the second line that set the pace again scoring first as Laich buried one by Ondrej Pavelec off of a sweet feed from Mike Ribeiro. Then Ribeiro set up Troy Brouwer on a two on one to give Washington a 2-0 advantage.
In the middle frame Jay Beagle scored after a nice pass from Joel Ward to chase Pavelec and then the Gr8 greeted Al Montoya with a top shelf snapper that made it 4-0 and ended this one for all intensive purposes. In the third period, Mike Green scored with Laich doing a super job of screening in front and then Alexander Ovechkin tallied on the power play for his 2nd of the night and 15th of the season (now tied for 7th in NHL goal scoring) to round out the Caps markers.
Braden Holtby continued his stellar play and didn’t lose his shutout until late in the third period. #70 made some big stops early in the game when Winnipeg was playing hard and physical against Washington. The Jets also received the first four power plays of the game but Holtby didn’t allow any rubber to get past him.
So the Caps are now 14-16-1 with 17 games remaining. It is very clear that despite the loss to the Penguins on Tuesday, they picked up some confidence in that tough defeat. Pittsburgh has won 11 in a row and Washington nearly beat them in that game in the Steel City. Since then the Capitals have built on that confidence in the two white washes of Winnipeg. Confidence is so critical in hockey and the Caps clearly have that right now. Their more mobile defense with Green and Dmitry Orlov is getting to the puck quicker and getting it up to the forwards so that they can create more offense. The improved health has brought a lot of optimism this week.
The question now becomes, can they finally beat the Rangers, who have won both affairs this season? The Rags have the Caps number lately and John Tortorella’s crew has two talented top lines. New York has been struggling of late but you can bet they’ll be fired up for the Caps.
A win on Sunday in Madison Square Garden and things get really interesting. That is one tough place to play and the Capitals are due for some luck there after the game five disaster last spring.
Going in healthy in this third and final matchup between the two teams will certainly help.
But that game can wait until Sunday evening, Washington’s season was on the line coming to Manitoba and the Caps are leaving the province with a sweep of the Jets. Winnipeg and the MTS Centre are still trying to figure out what hit them and I’m not sure the Jets recover the rest of the regular season after getting their rears slapped around. The Capitals came in and showed Winnipeg who was boss, now Washington needs to continue to do that down the stretch to the rest of the teams they face.
Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 28-19. Laich was 9-4 on draws and as a result, Ribeiro only took one face-off, which is not #9′s strength…John Carlson had another really strong game logging a team high 22:37. No other Capital played over 20 minutes and none were under 10 minutes. Oates was able to just roll the lines which hopefully helps keep everyone fresh for the huge Sunday night contest.