Braden Holtby owns Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday, plain and simple.
The Holtbeast made 32 saves, 15 of which came in a Maple Leafs first period shooting gallery, and held the Caps in the game until they got their legs going over the last 40 minutes. Washington recieved even strength goals from bottom six forwards Jason Chimera (7th) and Tom Wilson (1st) before adding two power play tallies by Marcus Johansson (5th) and Justin Williams (7th) to defeat Toronto, 4-2. Johansson’s goal came without him using his stick for the second straight night and as I’ve often said, good things happen when you go to the front of the net.
This was a very strange game for the first 25+ minutes before Washington took over the contest. Pucks were bouncing everywhere on a bad sheet of Air Canada Centre ice and some terrible turnovers by both clubs led to a couple of tallies.
Once again, the Capitals dominated a third period with a lead. They were up two pucks going into the final frame and despite the fact that the Leafs had 14 shots on net to just eight for the Caps, the margin was never in jeopardy. Most of Toronto’s chances came from far out on the perimeter after tired rushes up the ice, while Washington put on a cycling clinic in the offensive zone holding the puck for long stretches at a time. Normally shot attempts are indicative of puck possession, but this third period was not the case, the Caps totally wore the Leafs out with their big forwards and stifling puck support from their defense. It was another really solid final frame to salt away a victory.
Playing on back to back nights, Coach Barry Trotz elected to go with his elite goalie for the first time this season in that situation. The decision, criticized by some on twitter, paid off royally. Holtby was outstanding and won for a personal best seventh straight time. The Caps have now won five in a row and with the Rangers going in the tank this week by losing three straight tilts, Washington has stormed past them and into first place in the Metropolitan Division at 17-5-1 (35 points). They are a point up on New York and they also have a game in hand.
The Caps power play continues to generate chances and the last two nights it has gone an astounding five for seven. Washington is 12-0 this season when they score a power play goal.
Overall, the Caps have to be extremely pleased with where they are at standings wise. Some will say they’ve played a weak schedule, but my counter is you can only beat the teams that you’re slated to face by the league. This Washington club is very strong and still improving. I’m sure they’d like to clean up many of the turnovers they’ve had recently that have led to odd man rushes against.
This team is supremely talented and when they play the system, as coached, they are awfully tough to beat.
The Caps will now have Sunday off before returning to practice on Monday. They just finished a seven games in eleven nights stretch by going 6-1. Based on that, Coach Trotz may give the boys Monday off too since their next game is not until Thursday in Montreal. The Habs are really good and they drummed the Rangers, 5-1, last Wednesday despite losing goalie Carey Price to a knee injury in that contest. It’s doubtful last season’s Hart Trophy winner will face the Capitals at the Bell Centre.
Notes: Shot attempts were 57-52 for Toronto. Most of the Leafs advantage came in the first period, plus their third period shots were almost predominantly from three point range…Alex Ovechkin had an assist and 10 shot attempts (only three on net) in 21:57 of ice time…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 23:29 and John Carlson (1 assist) logged 23:27…Toronto won the face off battle, 31-29. Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) went 12-13…Be sure to tune in to WNST 1570 AM in Baltimore on Monday morning as Nestor Aparacio and I do our weekly Caps segment. Listen Live at WNST.NET.