In his first game back after missing 12 contests, John Carlson showed why he is so valuable to this Washington Capitals team as he fired a laser just inside the far post past Scott Wedgewood to give the Caps a 1-0 overtime victory over the New Jersey Devils.
Carlson’s rocket, after a super feed from Jason Chimera, ended Wedgewood’s shutout streak at 159:34 and put Washington just a single point away from clinching the Presidents’ Trophy. In addition, Braden Holby (22 saves) earned his 3rd shutout of the season, in Martin Brodeur’s old building. The Holtbeast notched season triumph number 45 and he is just three victories away from tying Marty’s all time NHL leading single season win total.
Washington came out strong early on, which has been a recent trend, once again dominating the shot attempts, but they failed to find the handle on several sequences around the net. The Caps would outshoot the Devils, 10-4, in that opening frame, however, Wedgewood and several missed opportunities kept this one scoreless.
The second period mirrored the first, with the Caps outshooting the Devils, 9-6. Both goalies made some decent stops and with New Jersey having played the night before in Pittsburgh and ending the Pens six game winning streak on Thursday, one would think they would be the more tired club in the final frame.
That was not the case as the Devils fired 11 shots on Holtby while Washington had just five. The Caps were guilty, once again, of over passing the puck and therefore, were not able to not consistently get the biscuit to the cage. Alex Ovechkin drew a penalty with 2:16 remaining, but Washington’s power play struggled to get set up and off to overtime we went.
In the extra session, Wedgewood made a huge stop on Ovechkin to extend the game. Shortly thereafter, Marcus Johansson made another great zone entry and he gave the puck to Chimera on the left wing boards. Chimmer skated behind the net looking for a pass and he came patiently out the other side to tee it up for #74 for the game winner.
This was tough sledding for the Caps as New Jersey basically conserved energy by guarding their own net like a fort. They tried to sit back and counter attack, but Washington did a nice job of not forcing plays which will often lead to odd man rushes. However, skating through the Devils and trying to get pucks to the front of the opposing goaltender was exactly how Craig Laughlin termed it, “like a tractor pull.”
It was not going to be pretty hockey, much like the case in the Capitals previous visit to the Prudential Center. In that contest Washington had to overcome the Devils in a shootout. Simply put, New Jersey doesn’t have the fire power that the Caps have so they really have only one way to try and win, sit back and hope for mistakes. That style earned them a point on Friday night, but their season is basically over, except for the mathematics.
Overall, this was a solid effort from the Capitals and Coach Trotz will be pleased that they stuck to their game plan without getting frustrated. They kept doing what they were supposed to do and maintained strong puck support all evening, which prevented the opportunistic Devils from capitalizing on any turnovers.
Perhaps the most encouraging item of the evening was getting Carlson back. His goal, in my book, was just icing on the cake to a solid performance in which he actually appears to be moving much more like the player he was before originally sustaining a lower body injury against Montreal back on December 26th. Carlson is the Capitals number one defensemen and an elite NHL blue liner, so his return to form is important for the post season. Washington was finally able to ice its top six defenders and it was clear how much of a difference it makes in terms of controlling the play.
The victory improves the Capitals to 53-15-5 and an astounding 111 points with nine games remaining. They are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games despite really having nothing to play for. On Saturday at the Verizon Center, Washington will take on the St. Louis Blues, who rolled over the Canucks on Friday night. It will be a matchup of two teams coming off of shutout victories that also had to travel to the District afterwards. As mentioned above, any point earned by the Caps yields them the franchises second Presidents’ Trophy.
That piece of hardware has been a foregone conclusion for weeks and the team focus has been on better starts and building their game for the playoffs. On Friday in New Jersey, large portions of this game were playoff-like in terms of the lack of open space on the ice, so it was another good tune up in order to help the Caps prepare for the all-important post season.
Notes: Both teams failed to score on the power play (NJ was 0 for 3 and Washington went 0 for 2)…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:14. Carlson logged 19:27 and Nate Schmidt had the lowest for a blue liner with 16:25. That is excellent ice time management by the coaching staff since no one was overworked…the Capitals dominated from the dot, going 32-20 (62%). Mike Richards was 9-2 and Nicklas Backstrom went 10-7…Ovechkin had nine shot attempts with four that made their way through to Wedgewood…T.J. Oshie missed the game due to the flu. Stan Galiev received a sweater as a result and logged 8:21. He had two shots on goal.
Special thanks to budding journalist, Anthony Poisal, for providing me with key statistics and assisting in the development of this game story.