Alexander Ovechkin scored on a great steal and power move just 6:14 into the game and Braden Holtby made 27 saves as the Washington Capitals defeated the New Jersey Devils, 5-2, at “The Rock” on Thursday night.
The goal by the Gr8 was a tone setter for the Capitals, who were playing their 17th contest in the last 31 days. It was an important tally because on Tuesday in Ottawa, the Caps had no legs and with both John Carlson (lower body injury) and T.J. Oshie (family matter) out of the Devils tilt, they needed an early spark to get them through this contest and off to a weekend away from the rink for the All Star break.
Evgeny Kuznetsov (two goals), Dmitry Orlov (two assists), Andre Burakovsky (goal and an assist), and Brooks Orpik (+3 in 20:22) all had monster outings as the Caps were able to find enough juice in the tank to survive a Devils team that thrives on using neutral zone speed to generate opportunities.
For most of this game, the Capitals did a nice job of throttling that speed, especially in the first 15 minutes of period two when they increased their 2-0 first frame advantage to a 4-1 lead and chased Keith Kinkaid on 17 shots. In came Cory Schneider (18 saves) and despite a few early quality chances for the Caps, #35 stabilized things for New Jersey and when they scored a late second period power play goal and then hit the pipe on the next shift, this one was far from over.
During the first 10 minutes of the third period, the Devils stormed up and down the ice on Coach Barry Trotz’ squad, but the Capitals did a good job of keeping New Jersey on the perimeter and any shots that made their way through were gobbled up by the Holtbeast.
At that point, it looked like the Caps were gassed and already on their break, but then Washington turned up their intensity and for the next four plus minutes they hemmed New Jersey in their own zone and stifled any comeback. The Capitals would make the final six minutes look pretty easy and when the Devils pulled Schneider, Kuznetsov stole the puck in the neutral zone and skated in uncontested for the empty net clincher.
#92 was very much on in this one. His hit in the left wing corner set up a turnover that allowed Burakovsky to make it 2-0 and then on the next Washington power play, in the second period, he received a super feed from Orlov and raced in all alone on Kinkaid and beat him with a backhand through the five hole as he was being hooked.
Orlov was sensational in the second period in earning his two assists and he could’ve had more. He was excellent at stopping any New Jersey rushes and was getting his stick in the lanes so that the Devils could not enter the Washington zone cleanly. Offensively, he is finding ways to get his shot through to the net. It was his great snapper that Kinkaid played off of his pads with Lars Eller screening him. As a result, #20 was able to swat home the Caps third goal from the paint, which came five minutes after the Devils had closed to just a goal.
For New Jersey, Taylor Hall was flying most of this contest. He had seven shot attempts (four on goal) in 22:22 of ice time, but he’ll be most remembered in this one for getting blown up by Orpik on a clean hit 6:52 into the final frame. #44 logged 20:22 and was a force on the back end.
Once again, the Capitals offense produced four or more goals and they all came from going to the cage. Net presence has been a big staple of Washington’s attack since the Christmas break and during these 17 games, they’ve gone 13-2-2. They lost the first one to the Islanders after the lay off and then they had the 40+ shot effort versus New Jersey that was primarily perimeter based and resulted in a shootout defeat. Since that game, it’s been all pucks and bodies to the net, except for Tuesday’s Ottawa tilt where Washington had a Jackson Browne type of effort, Running on Empty.
With no Oshie and Carlson and weekend plans away from hockey for everyone except for the Gr8 and the Holtbeast, this looked like a trap game. Ovechkin, however, set the tone and the rest of the crew followed his lead to grab another two points and improve to 33-10-6 (72 points). This 13-1-1 run since December 31st has given the Caps a four point lead over Columbus (CBus has a game in hand), a seven point cushion on the Penguins (PIT has a game in hand), and a nine point edge on the Rangers as many of the Capitals head to a beach or golf course down south.
Simply put, the Caps have seized the top spot in the NHL in January with an incredible run of hockey. They showed that when they are motivated, they are a really tough team to play against. Washington has four lines that can score and their back end, with Carlson, is very solid. Without #74 things got a bit shaky, but they were able to bury enough biscuits to overcome some periodic defensive trouble.
With the trade deadline just over a month away (February 28th), GM Brian MacLellan has a lot of guys playing near their peak making them very valuable commodities. This will be a tough trade deadline, though, with the NHL expansion draft looming in June, so this could be a year where most teams stand pat. If that’s the case, the Capitals have to feel really good about their team, with the only real need likely being a top four D in case one of Carlson, Matt Niskanen, or Karl Alzner goes down with a serious injury.
Overall, this team looks better positioned for the postseason than last year, but there are still 33 games and two and a half months to go. Washington has played a lot of hockey over the last month and have to be exhausted. It’s time for a well deserved break.
Notes: Shot attempts were 54-48 for Washington, including 36-29 in shots on goal. The Caps blocked just five shots but the Devils only blocked seven…Washington won the faceoff battle, 31-28. Eller was 7-5…Kuznetsov had eight shots on net in 16:57 of ice time…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:55. No New Jersey skater was within two minutes of #2’s game leading total…Tom Wilson was questionably kicked out of the game for third man in after Oprik blew up Hall and Kyle Palmieri jumped #44…next up for the Caps are the Islanders in Brooklyn on Tuesday, January 31st…enjoy All Star weekend everyone, I know I will since there will be no weekend blogs, but on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness, so you got that going for you…