After a clunker on Tuesday night against the San Jose Sharks, it was expected that the Washington Capitals would come out with energy against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night at the Verizon Center, and that they did. Washington received goals from T.J. Oshie, John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, and Alex Ovechkin as they pulled away in the 3rd period for a 4-1 victory to improve to 2-1 on the young season.
Oshie scored on the power play at 8:48 after Viktor Tikhonov took a silly penalty. Tikhonov went after Tom Wilson after #43 hit Hawks captain Jonathan Toews in the defensive end and as is the case so often, if you take a bad penalty, the other team usually scores with the man advantage. The Caps only allowed one shot on goal in the first 10 minutes and only five in the first frame to get off to a much needed good start. Washington’s top line of Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Ovechkin was clicking and the third line of Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, and Wilson was flying around creating energy and putting the body to Chicago.
The second period, however, would be where Chicago would make their push given that they played on Wednesday night in Philadelphia (a 3-0 loss). Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby had no interest in seeing his club lose the early lead and he was stellar stopping 17 shots on net, many of which were of the quality variety. Carlson notched his first goal of the season on a point blast that Scott Darling had no chance on because Marcus Johansson was running a perfect screen in front of him. That goal came shortly after a point blank Holtby save. Chicago’s efforts yielded no tallies, primarily thanks to #70.
In the final frame, the Caps looked more like the team from the first period throttling Chicago and holding them to just five shots on net. The lone Hawks goal came shortly after Niskanen’s tally, which was the result of a super pass from Johansson. “Jojo” did the dirty work behind the net and then found #2 all alone at the top of the slot. Chicago’s Victor Svedberg would be the only one to dent Holtby, who never saw the shot. But Coach Barry Trotz commented afterwards that he really liked the way his team didn’t panic and shut the Blackhawks down the rest of the way. Washington’s top three lines did a super job of hemming their opponents in their own zone and as a result the game became a relatively stress free win down the stretch.
Overall, this was an encouraging game. Granted the Blackhawks played on Wednesday and had to travel from Filthy, but they are still a strong team with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Marian Hossa up front and Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook on defense.
The Caps received strong performances from several players. Holtby was deservedly the first star, but Carlson, Kuznetsov, and Johansson were at the top of their respective games.
Andre Burakovsky had a rough first two periods, but the 20 year old is adjusting to the center position after playing mostly wing last spring. #65 seemed to have his best period of the season in the third frame and confidence is so important to that young man. He was finally skating well and playing his game instead of looking like he was over thinking things on the ice.
Chimera continues to pick up where he left off in the playoffs and used his speed to keep Chicago on its heels. Wilson has really improved and was a physical force creating space for his line mates. He does an excellent job of getting under the skin of his opponents.
The Capitals now face the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night at the Verizon Center with a chance to go to 3-1 before heading away on their western Canada trip. The Canes are in the Auston Matthews sweepstakes so if the Caps bring the energy and play smartly, they should win. There is also a chance that Nicklas Backstrom, who had offseason hip surgery, could make his season debut.
Notes: The Caps only took one penalty on Thursday (a questionable roughing call on Ovechkin) while Chicago was in the box only twice. Coach Trotz noted that the Blackhawks don’t take many penalties and he was happy that his club moved its feet and didn’t take any penalties of the lazy variety. Overall, referees Francois St. Laurent and Marc Joannette let the players play the game, and that was pleasing…shot attempts were 55-54 for Chicago and face offs were dead even at 23 apiece…Carlson led the Caps in ice time at 25:01 while Keith played 22:13 for the Hawks (he logged 9:01 in the first period alone).