Tom Wilson notched his first career game winner on the eve of his 22nd birthday and Braden Holtby stopped 21 of 22 shots as the Washington Capitals scored three times in the third period to defeat the Columbus Blue Jackets, 4-1, at the Verizon Center on Monday night.
AND THE CAPS HAVE WON THE FEDERAL LEAGUE!!!!
Well, not exactly, Slap Shot and hockey fans, but this victory improves Washington’s record to 54-16-5 and gives them 113 points on the season to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy. It’s not the team’s ultimate goal, but nonetheless, it is a valuable piece of hardware, and more importantly, the Capitals are assured of home ice advantage in each round they play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There was a lot to like about this triumph on Monday night. The Caps scored the first goal, by Justin Williams, after John Carlson made a super play in the offensive zone to keep the puck until he could find an open teammate. #74 came from behind the net along the left wing boards and fed Nate Schmidt in the middle of the point just inside the blue line. The Minnesota native then faked a shot and fed the biscuit back to Carlson, who one timed it into Sergei Bobrovsky’s pads and right to “Stick,” about five feet back from the far post. The man with the crazy hair then promptly buried the puck into the yawning cage. Williams was outstanding again in this contest and he almost always seems to be in the right spot on the ice. His hockey sense is off of the charts.
Washington’s lead would not last long (1:36) as Dmitry Orlov, for the second straight contest, made a terrible giveaway into three Columbus players and Cam Atkinson snapped one by Holtby. Afterwards Coach Barry Trotz called that turnover “a pizza that ended up in the back of our net.” It was clear the bench boss was not happy about the mistake and he said he doesn’t have any patience with those types of miscues. It should be noted that #9 did not receive a single shift over the last 7:21 of period two, clearly as a result of his defensive mistakes piling up recently. Those types of plays can kill a team in the post season, so Orlov has some serious cleaning up to do in his own end.
The second period was pretty much a snooze fest as both teams looked like they were in preseason form, but Washington was better, outshooting the Jackets, 8-4.
In the final frame, the Caps showed why they have dominated that period all season long putting on relentless offensive pressure. Washington fired 18 shots on goal to just six for Columbus. Wilson scored his game winner at the 3:46 mark when the Caps had a three on two rush that was made even easier when a Blue Jacket defender broke his stick. Both Daniel Winnik and Mike Richards assisted on the play and Willy did a super job of going to the net, being patient, and burying the rebound that Richards created with his own net drive. Afterwards, Coach Trotz commented on where #43 is at in terms of his progression.
“I think there’s growth in Tom’s game, he’s turned out to be a pretty good penalty killer for us, he’s got an increased role and ice time, the offensive part of the game is slowly coming. That’s probably the next thing we’ll have to check off and move forward with. His maturity, his dealing with the referees is coming around. Before last year, he’d get a call and the arms are up and he’s in the referees face and trying to show him up. I think that part of the maturity of his game, he’s dealing with the referees much better. He does have a little bit of a target on his back as a reputation and it’s going to take him awhile. He is playing a cleaner type of game.”
The winning tally has to do wonders for Wilson’s confidence and I don’t know about you, but I’ll cut him some slack if he’s dancing around his room cranking Taylor Swift’s “22” after his big marker on Monday night.
Following the Wilson tally, the game would stay a one goal affair until Brandon Dubinsky took a goalie interference penalty by crashing into Holtby. It was nice to finally see the zebras call this type of infraction and the Capitals made John Tortorella’s squad pay immediately as T.J. Oshie tipped home a Matt Niskanen point blast for his 24th goal of the season just eight seconds into the Washington’s fifth man advantage of the evening. Nicklas Backstrom would add an empty net marker with 2:25 remaining to close out the scoring.
The Holtbeast earned his 46th victory of the season and is now just two wins shy of Martin Brodeur’s NHL all time single season record. Braden had a relatively easy night, except for Dubinsky slamming into him, but it was nice to see the referees finally call that, and it was also good seeing Brooks Orpik take exception to the infraction and shoving Dubinsky into the net in retaliation. It was one of those, “Stay the bleep off of my goaltender” moves that make a goalie feel good to have that player in his corner.
“No, I didn’t see anything at all. I just remember getting hit, somehow,” started the Holtbeast when I asked him about Orpik’s reaction.
At that point I then described what #44 did to Dubinsky and Braden certainly liked what he heard.
“That’s not surprising from Brooks, he’s a leader, a great teammate, and always sticking up for guys. I’ll have to thank him for that,” added the man who is now 46-9-4 this season.
There were lots of other strong performances in this tilt as Washington tightened up in their own end as the contest progressed. Karl Alzner was fabulous in this affair and was +2 in 21:48. #27 was around the puck all night and won a large majority of the one on one battles he was involved in. His defensive partner, Niskanen (two assists), was also +2 in 25:14 of work. Carlson (1 assist), in just his 3rd game back after missing a dozen due to injury, continued to look really strong on his skates in 21:10 of work.
So now it is on to Philadelphia for an 8pm grudge match with the despised Flyers on Wednesday night on NBC Sports Channel’s rivalry night. It warmed my heart afterwards hearing Coach Trotz get excited discussing the upcoming contest with the boys from Filthy. He stated that he and the club were really pumped up to face the Flyers, especially given that General Manager Ron Hextall’s crew is fighting for their playoff lives. The team formerly known as the Broad Street Bullies is 7-2-2 in their last 11 games and is playing their best hockey now, so this will be a very good test for Washington. The rivalry with the Flyers goes back to 1974 and I don’t have to tell any of my loyal followers what a win against those guys always means given my long history of being around and working for the Capitals franchise.
Notes: Washington was 1 for 5 with the power play while the Blue Jackets went 0 for 3…Columbus did not have the injured Brandon Saad in the lineup…the Caps won the face off battle, 33-27. Oshie was 4-0 on draws…Jason Chimera and Niskanen led the Capitals with five shots on goal apiece…Alex Ovechkin had two shots on goal and was +2 in 17:06 of action…the Caps are 33-2-0 when scoring first this season.