A night after playing the right way in Vancouver and dominating the Canucks in a 5-2 victory, the Washington Capitals were back at it in Calgary on Sunday night. Traveling in the wee hours of the morning, losing an hour of time (Pacific to Mountain time zone), and going into the higher elevation of the Rockies against a rested and red hot Flames team (winners of three straight) appeared to be a daunting task.
But Coach Barry Trotz’ crew passed the test with flying colors taking the play to Calgary for much of the night en route to a 3-1 triumph and improved their record to 5-2-1 on the season.
Washington made no lineup changes following Saturday’s win. Coach Trotz stated beforehand that he felt the guys who played against the Canucks deserved a sweater again because of how hard and how well they performed. On Sunday, it was more of the same as the Capitals moved their feet and won the majority of the loose puck battles.
It was that hard work that got the Caps on the board early, and to no surprise, it was Jay Beagle who battled behind the Flames net to find a wide open Brett Connolly in the slot, and #10 buried the biscuit for his first tally as a Washington Capital just 121 seconds into this contest. Zach Sanford was a big factor on the play by knocking the puck away from Calgary captain Mark Giordano on the goal line and as a result, he earned his first NHL point.
Just over five minutes later the Capitals would get the only other goal they’d need on the power play. Alex Ovechkin made a sweet pass to Marcus Johansson at the side of the net for an easy tap in. That two goal early burst continued a trend of strong first periods this season, something that was hard to come by in 2015-16 for Washington.
The Capitals would continue to work hard and carry the play, but Brian Elliott (26 saves) was really strong in net, something the Flames did not have last season, at all. Calgary would get a goal back later in the first period when rookie Matthew Tkachuk knocked Nate Schmidt to the ice in the right wing circle and that allowed Mikael Backlund to beat Braden Holtby (21 saves) from a bad angle. The Holtbeast likely wanted that shot back, since he was a little too deep in his cage, but the goal easily could have been waved off for interference by Tkachuk on Schmidt, however, that play is not reviewable.
Nonetheless, the Capitals were undeterred and kept taking pucks deep in the Flames zone and putting pressure on Elliott. The Calgary net minder would give the home team some hope heading into the final frame with his club only down a puck.
After a shaky first five minutes of period three, a tired Capitals crew fought through the fatigue and really throttled the Calgary rush through the neutral zone from then on out forcing the Flames to routinely dump the puck. Washington’s structure was very good and the Caps blue liners rarely had trouble getting the puck out to the forwards, who from the 10 minute mark on basically did whatever they could to get the biscuit on net or below the Calgary goal line. As a result, the Holtbeast didn’t have to make any huge saves down the stretch. It was textbook execution with a one goal lead.
With just over a minute remaining, the Flames finally pulled their goalie for the extra attacker on an offensive zone draw, but Beagle (two assists) and Johansson (two goals) forced Johnny Gaudreau into a turnover at the blue line and they went the other way on a two on one rush with the net empty. Beags feathered a sweet backhand pass to Jojo in the center of the ice and the Swedish forward, who has been superb in the first nine games, deposited the puck into the yawning cage to end the scoring.
This was not a pretty win, but it was a fundamentally sound one. The Capitals played the right way once again and limited their turnovers. They moved the puck out of their end with pace and precision and they made the Flames defensemen have to turn their backs to play the puck in their own zone. It was smart hockey with a lead and something Coach Trotz and his crew had to do given the circumstances of the back-to-back contests situation.
Holtby didn’t have to do anything spectacular in this one, but he did make some strong stops to preserve the lead. T.J. Oshie, Beagle, Sanford, and Johansson were all strong on the puck like they were in Vancouver and Evgeny Kuznetsov had one of his better games, as well. #92 didn’t shy away from contact and he limited his turnovers. He still has a ways to go to get out of the funk that started late last season, carried into the postseason, and now into October, but his last two outings have been encouraging.
Washington talked last season about playing fast, but in Edmonton they tried to do that without using their size and strength. Over this recent weekend, they did that and got back to a heavier hockey style that fits them. Playing fast and heavy are not mutually exclusive. You need both and the Caps showed on Saturday and Sunday how combining those elements can be extremely effective for themselves.
Notes: Washington out shot attempted Calgary, 51-45, and out shot them, 29-22…the Caps lost the face off battle, 32-28. Kuznetsov was 2-12. Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) was 9-5…Ovechkin only played 15:05 due to the minimal power play time and Coach Trotz spreading the ice time around in a back to back situation. The Caps were 1 for 2 in their 2:35 of man advantage situations…Washington’s penalty killing unit was a perfect two for two…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 23:47…next up for the Caps are the Winnipeg Jets in Manitoba at 8 pm on Tuesday.