Marcus Johansson returned after missing four games and boy did he deliver on Tuesday night in Nashville. Jojo was absolutely brilliant scoring the game winning goal, adding two helpers, and going +3 on the evening in a Capitals 5-3 victory over the Predators.
Washington once again had a slow start and Braden Holtby (23 saves) was the key early as the Preds fired 14 first period shots on goal. The Holtbeast was outstanding keeping his club afloat while they tried to find their legs. Thanks to a Jason Chimera tally, his 14th of the year, on a great feed from Tom Wilson after Willy forced a Predators neutral zone turnover, the Capitals led 1-0 after the first frame despite only getting six shots on Pekka Rinne (18 saves).
The Caps took three penalties in the opening frame and then after taking a 2-0 lead on Wilson’s fifth goal of the season after a sweet feed from Johansson on an odd man rush, Washington made some bad mental mistakes. Coach Barry Trotz’ crew took two consecutive too many dudes on the ice penalties, overlapping by four seconds. Some excellent penalty killing almost got the Caps out of those brain cramps, but Filip Forsberg (two goals) scored late on the last power play on a wicked top shelf snipe over Holtby’s glove that may have nicked John Carlson’s stick.
Through 40 minutes the Caps would lead, but they had yet to really play their best hockey.
In the third frame, Washington amped up their intensity and started winning more of the board battles and using their size to negate the Predators speed. Dmitry Orlov marvelously outworked a couple of Nashville skaters on the wall in the offensive zone and that allowed Evgeny Kuznetsov to find Justin Williams in front of the cage and he batted the biscuit home to give the Capitals a 3-1 lead.
Three minutes later the Capitals third line struck again as Jojo buried one into a vacant cage as Rinne furiously flopped back and forth in his net to stop Karl Alzner and then Williams (1 goal, 1 assist) before #90 made it 4-1 with 11:57 remaining.
Game over, right?
Well, not so fast. The Predators, who only had five shots on goal in the third period, would get two markers just two minutes and eleven seconds apart to cut it to 4-3 with eight minutes to go. Both goals were on weird deflections in front of the Holtbeast.
But Trotz’ crew settled down and started playing smarter hockey by getting pucks in deep and forechecking with their heavy style. Nashville didn’t get many good looks and the Capitals had several shots at making it a two goal cushion again. With just under three minutes to go, the line of Wilson, Jojo, and Chimera then put on a cycling clinic and really took the Predators last bit of energy away. This forced Coach Peter Laviolette to keep his goalie in longer than he wanted and then Alex Ovechkin drew a penalty with the keeper pulled to put Washington on the power play.
After a Nashville clear, they pulled Rinne again, but the Caps worked the puck around and the Gr8 deposited it into the vacant cage for his 31st goal of the season to close this one out. That ended a long Capitals power play drought at 19.
Over those last eight minutes, the Predators had only four shot attempts, and two came after the Ovechkin empty net tally. None of the four shots made it on goal, either. Now that is the way to protect a one goal lead!
Andre Burakovsky, on his 21st birthday, extended his point scoring streak to eight consecutive games with his 14th assist of the season on the Williams goal that was totally set up by Orlov. #9 had a really strong third period when the Caps seized this contest.
But this night belonged to the third line, particularly Johansson, who has really made the Capitals extra dangerous with a unit that can skate, hit, check, and score. This allows Mike Richards to lead a fourth line that is effective as well, and should get even stronger once Jay Beagle returns. Overall, the Caps have lots of players they can shift around up front and be effective. That’s a nice luxury to have.
The win improves the Capitals record to 39-9-4 (82 points) and per Matt Williams of the Caps PR staff, Washington is the first team in NHL history to achieve 39 wins through 52 regular season games. Wow!
I’ve been saying since the summer this is the best Caps team ever, but we all know when they really have to prove it.
Notes: The Predators were 1 for 6 on the power play while Washington was 1 for 3…5v5 shot attempts favored the Caps, 41-36. It was 17-13, for the good guys in the final 20 minutes…Matt Niskanen led the Caps in time on ice with 26:11 and he was +2…the Capitals blocked 18 shots and won the faceoff battle, 35-29. Richards was 7-2 from the dot…next up for the Caps are the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night. That will be the second game on a three tilt road trip before it ends Saturday in Dallas against the Stars.