The Florida Panthers rolled into Washington DC and were promptly blown out of the Nation’s Capital again by a 7-1 score. The Cats have real poor goaltending right now and are experiencing injuries galore, so it was no surprise that the Capitals ran them out of the Verizon Center on Thursday night. It was 4-0 just over eight minutes into this one so it really wasn’t much of a contest, at all.
Simply put, the Capitals are a streaking team right now and are playing with confidence. This victory makes it eight wins in the last 11 games and improves their record to 10-11-1 overall. They are 6-0 against the Southeast Division over this run and they trail division leading Carolina by six points, but have a game in hand. There are 26 games left for Washington to play this season and they have really righted the ship after a 2-8-1 start.
This club is coming together under Adam Oates and I will once again blog about the plusses of his great hockey mind. Oates knows that the Caps have a critical stretch coming up starting Saturday where they will face the Islanders, then the Rangers on Sunday, followed by a home and home with Carolina on Tuesday and Thursday of next week. A 2-1-1 or better stretch and the Caps can start thinking about playoff possibilities and becoming buyers before the NHL trade deadline set for April 3rd.
So what did the old #77 do when his team got up by four pucks early? He started resting some of his key players. Check the ice times out, Karl Alzner played just under 18 minutes and John Carlson didn’t even hit the 17 minute mark. Both of those guys have been logging 22 plus minutes lately. In addition, the bench boss was able to roll his forward lines the rest of the contest as Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Ribeiro were also in the 16 to 17 minute range, below their season averages by quite a bit. The Gr8 still managed to get a goal and two assists with the limited ice time.
Braden Holtby made 29 saves, some of the key variety, but you can expect him to go back to back this weekend the way he is going. Only a late defensive breakdown cost #70 a fourth shutout this season. Holtby is in a groove and seems to know where the shots are coming from as Washington is playing their system well. His ability to play the puck also aids the Caps breakout and takes pressure off of their defensemen. Oates watched how New Jersey used Martin Brodeur’s stickhandling prowess and now he is using Holtby’s similar skills to his advantage.
The Caps can enjoy this win for the night but they won’t face crummy goaltending on Long Island on Saturday where they’ll likely go up against Evgeny Nabokov. Then they probably face “King Henrik” Lundqvist at the Verizon Center on Sunday. Both of those guys are huge upgrades over what they shot against on Thursday.
So it’s a good thing Oates got an early lead and alertly planned accordingly, because the Caps will need to be firing on all cylinders for a tough weekend set with the teams from the Big Apple.
Notes: Wojtek Wolski had his second straight quality game after his benching last Saturday in Winnipeg. #17 had a goal and two assists. He is winning the one on one battles, as evidenced by Washington’s second goal where he won the puck on the backboards and came out in front of the cage and jammed the biscuit home…Steve Oleksy played his 2nd NHL game and led the team with 22+ minutes of ice time. The 27 year old D-man had two assists, as well…Troy Brouwer returned after missing Tuesday’s tilt vs Boston due to illness and had two assists in 16:29 of action.