Alexander Ovechkin returned to the Capitals lineup on Tuesday night after missing a pair of games and notched two power play goals and an assist, Nicklas Backstrom had three helpers in another dominating performance, and Braden Holtby made 34 saves as the Caps smoked a good New York Islanders club, 6-2, at the Verizon Center.
Through 15 games, I’ve chronicled the lack of effort on certain nights from this Caps squad. On Tuesday evening, that was definitely not the case. Washington played by far their most complete hockey game of the young season and dominated a very fast Islanders team, routing them in the process. The Caps came out strong in the opening frame and even though they trailed after 20 minutes by a single tally (1-0), one felt that if they returned to play the second period like they did the first than the game would turn in their favor.
Boy, did it, as they scored five times in the middle stanza.
Washington was relentless in this contest doing “all of the little things” as Backstrom described it to me following the game. The Caps repeatedly won the loose puck battles. They came out of their zone with solid passes on the majority of the occasions, and they kept their feet moving. They played with passion and energy. It was refreshing and the results spoke for themselves. Coach Adam Oates afterwards perhaps gave the most telling remark when he said, “that looked like last year.” Last year, the Capitals won 15 of their last 18 games of the season playing with intensity, desperation, and passion. We saw the intensity and passion on Tuesday as Washington imposed their will on New York.
All four Capitals lines played well. The Backstrom-Ovechkin-Martin Erat unit set the tone and #10’s strong play along the boards and savvy decision making helped Washington get out of their own zone much easier. The fourth unit set up a goal for defensemen Alexander Urbom, with forward Tom Wilson getting his first NHL point via a beauty of a pass while sliding on his rear end. Wilson would also garner his first NHL goal on the power play late in the third period, for which he received a shaving crème pie in the face from Ovechkin following the contest. Speaking of the power play, it went from dangerous to deadly with the Gr8 back in the lineup. Ovechkin had two markers with the man advantage, one of which came as a result of a super feed from Marcus Johansson down low that gave Alex an empty cage to shoot at. Johansson himself chipped in a power play goal as well by going to the net and potting a rebound. Overall, the power play was 4 for 6!
The Caps penalty killing was really good, going 5 for 5, although the first Islander goal by John Tavares came just as Mikhail Grabovski’s minor penalty was expiring. Washington’s PK continues to allow the goalies to see the shots, which limits rebound chances. This is the best the Capitals have killed penalties in a few seasons, however, Oates would like to see the number of power plays allowed per game diminished. In the last two games they’ve had to kill off six and five opponent man advantage situations, respectively. That is just too many (although I thought the 3rd period tripping call on Urbom was completely bogus).
The victory, their third in a row, pushes the Caps to 8-7 overall and in sole possession of second place in the Metropolitan Division. During the winning streak they’ve been getting excellent goaltending from both Holtby and Michal Neuvirth. As much fun as the 7-0 pounding of the Flyers was on Friday, this victory was far more impressive. The Islanders have one of the best lines in the league in Thomas Vanek-John Tavares-Kyle Okposo and even though that trio had the two tallies, they were outplayed by Washington. John Carlson, who started the Caps scoring by keeping a puck in at the offensive blue line and lasering one by Evgeni Nabokov (33 saves), played solid defense with partner Karl Alzner. That duo is back to routinely facing the opponent’s top trio and performing well.
So the Caps received a well-earned victory over a playoff likely Islanders team on Tuesday night by putting forth an excellent effort, something Holtby was questioning as recently as last week too. Backstrom believes that this victory is something the team can build on going forward. There is a lot of talent on this Capitals team, especially up front, as evidenced by the fact that Eric Fehr, who has been playing extremely well, was a healthy scratch on Tuesday with the Gr8 returning from injury.
When you combine talent with the effort the Capitals displayed on Tuesday, they are an awfully tough team to beat. Just ask the Islanders after this one.
Notes: Wilson played 10:05 and in addition to the goal and an assist, he had 12 PIMs. Matt Carkner, who is one of the toughest players in the league, gave #43 a couple of cheap shots near the end of the game to try and entice Wilson to go for the “Gordie Howe” hat trick. The 19 year old rookie declined to fight garnering praise from his head coach, who termed his decision a “smart play.” Wilson knew who Carkner was and didn’t lose his temper. He showed maturity with his level headed demeanor, and more importantly to me, he showed that he is doing the preparation necessary to get ready for games at the NHL level…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 36-38…Shot attempts were 66-60 in favor of Washington…next up for the Caps are the red hot Minnesota Wild at the Verizon Center on Thursday night. The Wild have star defensemen Ryan Suter and are being led in scoring by forwards Zach Parise and Jason Pominville.