The Washington Capitals jumped all over the Ottawa Senators scoring three times in the first 15 minutes and then played solid defensively the rest of the way to earn a 4-2 road victory.
By doing so, they clinched the Metropolitan Division and the top seed in the Eastern Conference with a record of 52-15-5 (109 points). They are just five points away, with 10 games remaining, from locking up their second Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history (2009-10).
The Caps came out flying in this one and tallied just 2:32 into the contest as the fourth line forced a turnover along the right wing wall. Tom Wilson, who had his best game in several weeks, collected the Sens mistake and fed Mike Richards all alone in front of the net. #10 then made a nice move to his left and managed to push the puck past Craig Anderson (18 saves) to give Washington its first opening frame marker in 20 days.
Alex Ovechkin would then notch his league leading 43rd goal of the season on the power play at 12:22. Marcus Johansson made a super pass from below the goal line to a charging to the cage Gr8, and Ovi made no mistake about the finish. Nearly two and a half minutes later Nicklas Backstrom would complete a beautiful passing play with Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle to make it 3-0.
In the last five minutes of that opening period, the Caps would kill off a 63 second five on three power play to maintain their three goal lead. They are now 20-0-0 when leading after the first 20 minutes.
From there, Ottawa had the puck a lot, but they didn’t really get many quality chances. Washington wasn’t yielding odd man rushes and they kept the fast, but smallish Senators on the perimeter most of the night. Chris Wideman did score just past the game’s midpoint on a long range shot that Braden Holtby (28 saves) missed after Karl Alzner tried to snag it with his glove. That allowed the Sens to close to 3-1, but they only had 19 shots on goal through two periods, while Washington generated just 12. The Caps were guilty of passing up some good looks and also missing the net on several decent chances.
In the third period, Washington managed the game extremely well giving Ottawa no quality chances until late in the game when the Senators pulled Anderson. After referees Steve Kozari and Trevor Hanson missed an obvious closing the hand on the puck infraction on Zack Smith, Mika Zibanejad banked one in off of Holtby to make it a one goal affair with 1:33 to go.
But Richards, who was dynamite in this contest, Backstrom, and Beagle worked their tails off to keep Ottawa out of the offensive zone and then T.J. Oshie notched his 23rd goal of the season when he outraced Erik Karlsson to the biscuit and deposited it into the empty net to halt the Capitals three game road losing streak.
This was the 44th victory of the season for the Holtbeast and he’s just four wins shy of tying Martin Broduer’s NHL record.
Washington’s victory was important because they kept their season long streak alive of not losing in regulation in back to back situations. They are now 14-0-1 after a loss. That last defeat, to the Pens by a 6-2 margin, caused several Caps fans to lose their collective minds on Twitter on Sunday night. It was maddening to see the doom and gloom and first round loss predictions flowing for a team that has lost just 15 games all season in regulation. Yes, you heard that correctly, the Capitals have lost only 15 times in regulation all season. That’s amazing!
So I’m sure the local hospitals were all full on Sunday evening and Monday morning to deal with all of those from the Debbie Downer crew who broke their legs jumping off of the bandwagon following the meaningless defeat to Pittsburgh.
Hey, bad games happen, especially when the other club is fighting for their playoff lives and you are just going through the motions. The Capitals really haven’t had much to play for in a month or so because they have been just so darned good since the start of the season. Hockey is an intense emotional game and if you aren’t invested in the game, it’s hard to play at your peak. The Caps have not played at their peak consistently in awhile, but that doesn’t surprise me given the large standings lead and the length of the regular season.
I’ve been telling everyone since last summer that this is the best Caps team ever. I still 100% believe that, and oh by the way, they’ve been playing without their best defensemen, John Carlson, for most of the second half of the season. But words are just that, and this team will have to back me up in the post season with 16 W’s.
We are still three weeks away from the playoffs, so the Caps will continue to play pretty much meaningless affairs and the main goal will be to stay fresh and avoid injuries.
This stretch is like a second pre-season for the Capitals, but hopefully in the end, their regular season dominance will pay off in April and beyond.
Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:22. Alzner played 22:55 and Brooks Oprik logged 22:20…Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky only played 12:17 and 11:09, respectively, as Coach Trotz played the third line of Jojo, Chimera, and Beagle quite a bit. That line was very good in this contest…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 31-30, but Beags went 8-3 and Backstrom was 10-7…Karlsson played a game high 31:54 for Ottawa, that is just too many minutes and it is indicative of the lack of depth on the Senators roster…next up for the Caps are the New Jersey Devils at the Rock on Friday night at 7:00.