When the Capitals lines and defensive pairings for Thursday night’s contest against the Jets were tweeted out by Washington Capitals writer Mike Vogel during warmups, I tweeted back the following:
“Strongest Lineup All Season”
Well the Caps proceeded to make me and more importantly, themselves, look good as they smoked Winnipeg, 4-0 at the MTS Centre in a must win game.
Alex Ovechkin had a goal and two helpers and Braden Holtby stopped 20 shots in a dominant performance by Washington.
It was the Capitals best game of the season and it is no coincidence that it came when they were able to field their best lineup of the year.
Mike Green returned to the ice after the Caps got back Brooks Laich and Dmitry Orlov for the first time this campaign on Tuesday in Pittsburgh. Marcus Johansson is finally healthy as well. As noted in Tuesday’s blog after their loss to the Penguins, Washington’s effort was very good. On Thursday the effort was excellent and with a nearly healthy lineup for the first time this season (only John Erskine is really missing at this point), Adam Oates’ crew delivered a dandy performance.
Oates could finally put two scoring lines on the ice and he had three very good defensive pairings to use for the first time this season. As a result, John Carlson didn’t have to play close to 30 minutes and that helped him have one heck of a hockey game. #74 was downright superb in his 23:23 of action. That total led the club and looking at the ice times, the depth in the lineup allowed the Caps to roll the lines and the defensive pairs. As Alan May tweeted before the contest, the defense was the most mobile Oates has been able to play all year. Predictably, Washington’s ability to get to the puck and move it up the ice increased tremendously. Overall players were fresher and more productive with not many guys playing out of position. It is a shame that it has taken 30 games to get a healthy lineup, but it is, what it is.
Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) have reformed their chemistry from past seasons and are both heating up. The Gr8 now has 27 points in 30 games and five points in his last three games. It’s no surprise that his numbers have improved as the team is getting back to full strength.
So the Caps get a huge win in Manitoba to pull within seven points of the Jets with a game in hand in the Southeast Division race. With the Carolina Hurricanes losing their fifth in a row, Washington is just five points in back of them.
On Friday at 7pm, the Caps and Jets go at it again. It is another must win for Washington. If they can get it, they are back in the division race. If they lose, then the hole they dug is likely too deep to recover from to make the postseason.
It is tough that it comes down to this game on Friday, but that’s what happens when you put yourself so far behind the eight ball.
Still, the fact that the Capitals played at a high level when they finally iced a nearly healthy club has to be very encouraging. It gives the team and its fans hope that they may be able to salvage this season after all, especially if they can get a W for the second straight night.
We will know more around 930pm on Friday night.
Notes: Steve Oleksy continues to play solid hockey and he also took on big forward James Wright and held his own in a first period fight. #61 played 16:40, which is a good amount for a guy just cutting his teeth in the NHL this season. He doesn’t look out of place at all so far…Orlov played just 14:40 but he was +2 and looked really good at getting and moving the puck. He was paired with Green…Ovechkin had two monstrous hits in the second period on one shift (Bryan Little and Mark Stuart). Stuart only played one shift in the third period…Holtby’s best stop came in the 3rd on a sweet pad save on an all alone Antti Miettinen.