The Washington Capitals raced out to a 4-1 lead just past the midpoint of Wednesday’s late game with Colorado and then hung on for the last 26 plus minutes to eke out a 5-3 victory at the Pepsi Center.
The Caps, who played in Minnesota the night before while the last place Avs rested, were sloppy in the opening frame, but managed to forge a 2-1 advantage. Washington’s third line of Lars Eller, Andre Burakovsky, and Brett Connolly, who struggled against the Wild on Tuesday, were dominant on their first shift and #10 drew a penalty just 2:27 into the contest.
Alex Ovechkin and company were red hot on the man advantage, having gone three for four on Tuesday, so to get an early power play, was big for Coach Trotz’ crew. The first unit was unable to score, but the second unit fended off an Avalanche shorthanded rush and caught the cellar dwellers with a four on one rush of their own. Burakovsky made a sweet feed to Kuznetsov, and with Justin Williams driving to the net, #92 dropped one to John Carlson coming hard in the slot, and #74 buried it top shelf at the 4:00 mark of this game.
Washington was not sharp in the opening twenty, and as a result Colorado was generating speed coming through the neutral zone and getting scoring chances. One of those would go in at the 11:11 mark, but Jay Beagle restored the Capitals lead when he deflected home a sweet point shot from Kevin Shattenkirk just 37 seconds later. That was a good omen, because coming into the game the Caps were 10-0-0 this season when #83 scores a goal (h/t Adam Miller) and 33-1-5, all time.
Colorado had a 21-18 advantage in shot attempts after one period.
In the middle stanza, it was mostly all Capitals. Washington chucked the kitchen sink at Calvin Pickard (30 saves) and it took a deflection goal off of a Shattenkirk shot that first hit T.J. Oshie’s stick and then Marcus Johansson’s chest to get a biscuit by #31 on the power play. The Caps really had their legs going and when Jojo made a great rush down the left wing and fed Kuznetsov for an easy goal at 11:03 it looked like the rout was on.
Just a minute and 35 seconds later, Shattenkirk made another great pass, this time to Beagle in the slot, and #83 fired it quickly, but it hit the cross bar. While he was shooting he was cross checked badly in the rib section from behind by Matt Duchene, but no penalty was called as the zebras were once again officiating the score. That non call would prove costly and started to change the game.
The Avs would pull to within two goals 62 seconds later on a two on one rush. Matt Niskanen was hung out to dry and he tried to block the pass by leaving his feet, but he failed badly and Matt Nieto had a lay up tally. Coach Trotz’ squad kept the pressure on and nearly scored again, especially late in the period on a power play, but the Avs were saved by the bell. For those middle 20 minutes the Capitals outshot attempted the Avalanche, 27-9. It was pure domination, but Pickard made some big stops and had some luck to keep Colorado with a chance at getting even by game’s end.
In the third period, after an early flurry that saw Pickard flat out rob Williams, it was clear that the Capitals legs were growing weary. Just 4:29 into the frame, Nathan MacKinnon made a great rush up the ice and he went inside out on Dmitry Orlov and beat Philipp Grubauer (32 saves). An iffy cross checking call on Brooks Oprik, after #44 was felled much worse in the crease by a cross check just beforehand, gave the Avalanche a power play and they nearly tied it, but Gruabuer was strong. For the remainder of the game, #31 was super solid as the Caps literally hung on to their one goal lead. Finally, with Pickard on the bench for the extra attacker, Shattenkirk and then Tom Wilson made good defensive plays, and that allowed Eller to fire the puck from his own blueline into the vacant cage with 1:22 remaining.
Grubauer, who was really good in this one, made a few more big saves down the stretch and the Capitals gladly were ready to leave the Mile High City with two important standings points.
Shattenkirk was clearly the best player for Washington in this one. He logged a team high 21:22, had two assists, and was +2. He is really fitting in well, especially on the power play, where the Caps went two for three. That is five for seven over the course of these two back to back games and a huge reason why Washington won both tilts.
The Caps third line, after a rough outing in Minnesota and reduced ice time, stepped up in this game and played a big role in the win. I still would’ve liked to have seen them get a few more shifts, they only had 14 together, but if they keep playing like that and shooting the puck (they had 12 shot attempts) they will see their time on ice go up.
Overall, this was not a pretty victory, but the Caps did what they had to do to move to 110 points (51-17-8) and they take a five point lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets and seven points on the Penguins in the Metropolitan Division. The Blue Jackets have a game in hand, which they’ll play on Thursday, at Carolina. Washington will be in Arizona on Friday night before taking on Columbus at Nationwide Arena at 6 pm on Sunday.
Notes: The Avs dominated the third period and ended up winning the shot attempt battle, 63-57…the Caps were a perfect three for three on the penalty kill…Johansson and Kuznetsov each had a goal and an assist…Washington’s top line, which carried the team on Tuesday in Minnesota, looked exhausted on Wednesday. Luckily lines two through four really stepped up to get the win…the faceoff battle was tied at 28. Nicklas Backstrom was 9-5.