Braden Holtby stopped all 11 shots he faced in the first period when St. Louis carried the play and the Caps erupted for six goals in the first 40 minutes to turn Thursday night’s affair in the Midwest into a laugher.
Andre Burakovsky, Jay Beagle, T.J. Oshie, Brett Connolly, Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, and Evgeny Kuznetsov all lit the lamp for Washington as they buried the Blues, 7-3.
Believe it or not, this was not a good first 21 minutes for Washington. They were sloppy with the puck and Coach Ken Hitchcock’s squad was dominating them with an aggressive forecheck. The shot attempts in the first frame were 20-9 for the home squad and it was clear, after Monday’s defensive meltdown in the Steel City, that the Capitals were still clearly missing number one defensemen, John Carlson, on the back end.
The Holtbeast, who was chased in that mess of an officiating affair on Monday in Da Burgh, rebounded as he always does after a game in which he’s pulled to carry the Capitals through a very shaky first frame. The Blues put a lot of rubber on #70, but he did have a good look at most pucks and very few were from the prime scoring area.
At the other end, the Caps received Burakovsky’s 8th of the season on a shot Jake Allen (4 goals allowed on 10 shots) definitely wanted back. Then just 124 seconds later Tom Wilson made a great hit on the fore check and then Daniel Winnik made a sweet pass to Beagle in the slot and #83 buried it. Out went Allen and the Blues, who had carried the play in the first four minutes, started taking over again after those two Capitals goals. Carter Hutton came in for a couple of minutes, but then Hitchcock went back to Allen.
St. Louis looked like they were going to make a game of this one when Jaden Schwartz scored just 19 seconds into period two. Karl Alzner was tied up with Alex Steen in front and Holtby never saw the biscuit. Just over three minutes later, though, the Capitals top line had a great rush up the ice and Nicklas Backstrom fed Oshie (1 goal, 1 assist) in the slot and with Allen thinking the puck was going to be moved to Alex Ovechkin (2 assists), #77 backhanded it home easily. From there it was all Caps the rest of the frame as the Blues seemed to come undone by their goaltending problems.
Connolly made it 4-1 on a breakaway as he blew by Carl “boat anchor” Gunnarsson and beat Allen top shelf to send #34 to the bench. 11 ticks later Kuznetsov made a nice play on the wall to force the Blues into a turnover and Jojo gobbled the puck up and fired it by Hutton and the rout was on.
Williams would then score on the power play to make it 6-1 with 26 and a half minutes still to play. Kuzy would get the final tally and make it 7-1 six minutes and 20 seconds in period three before the Blues scored two late garbage time goals.
The big key for Washington in this one was a recipe that has worked well for them in 2017: getting pucks and bodies to the net at the right times. The Caps scored six of their seven goals from in the prime scoring area. You will naturally have a higher shooting percentage when you are getting your looks from the difficult to get to parts of the rink. Ovechkin had two assists, but he was a huge factor on three of the Capitals tallies. St. Louis was keying on him, the Gr8 did have a hat trick in this barn last April, and that opened up lanes for other players, particularly Williams on the power play and Oshie’s goal that really took the wind from the Blues sails.
Washington continues to get great work from their third line of Connolly, Lars Eller, and Burakovsky. They were each +2. The fourth line also had a big early tally so the bottom six, which was great in Pittsburgh on Monday and has been playing well during this 10-0-1 run the Caps are on, is more than doing their share.
Bottom line, despite the shot attempts ending up 48-29 for the Blues, this game came down to one team getting to the prime scoring areas of the ice better than the other and one team having far superior goaltending. It was a victory the Capitals needed to erase the memory of the zebra aided loss to the Pens in OT on Monday. The win also came on the first half of the annual “Dad’s” trip and on Friday in Dallas, there will be a lot of laughs after this laugher of a contest.
The Caps are now 30-9-6 (66 points) and they lead the Columbus Blue Jackets (30-10-4) by two points in the Metropolitan Division, Eastern Conference, and the NHL standings. The Capitals plus 48 goal differential is also tops in the best pro sports league on Earth.
Notes: Steen and Schwartz each had three points for the Blues…the Caps got creamed on draws, 35-23, but Beagle was 9-7…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 21:12…Coach Barry Trotz had a huge lead so he just rolled the lines, which keeps guys fresher and reduces the chances of injury…Oshie, Brooks Orpik, and Kuznetsov were also +2 like the 3rd line….the Caps only took one penalty and killed it off. They were 1 for 2 with the man advantage…next up for the Caps are the Stars in Dallas on Saturday at 8 pm.