Alex Ovechkin notched his NHL leading 50th tally and added an assist, Braden Holtby made 23 saves, and Mike Green had a goal, an assist and was +3 in a Washington Capitals 4-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. The win moves the Caps to 42-25-10 (94 points) with just five games to go and kept them three and six points ahead of the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators, respectively, after both of those clubs won too. It was a much needed victory against a speedy and pesky Canes club that had drilled Washington, 3-0, in Raleigh on February 27th.
Brooks Laich, who had one of his best games of the season with a goal, six hits, and 1:40 worth of great penalty killing time, said the team had discussed that loss in their Tuesday morning meeting and noted that Carolina always plays the Caps tough. As a result, Laich said the team wanted to have a good start.
They did just that scoring on a deflected pass (Green’s goal) and then the Gr8 buried his biscuit at 11:12 after a nice feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Caps carried the majority of the early play, but then in the second period they got away from their game and allowed Carolina to generate numerous odd man rushes. The Canes would tie things up on Eric Staal’s tap in just past the midway point of the game and things looked shaky for the Capitals.
But then the Caps upped their effort and scored twice in 82 seconds to grab a 4-2 lead that they held rather easily in period three.
In that final frame, Washington went to their strengths by forechecking hard and taking the body in an attempt to wear out the Canes players. It’s a recipe they used successfully in New York on Sunday. On Tuesday, after the “loose” middle frame, they refocused and shut the game down in the final period with their pressure.
“If we can pressure them and hem them in there for more than 10 seconds, 15 seconds it really slows down their game. Their D won’t join as much. Their center gets tired because he’s boxing guys out and has to work to get the puck back. It really sets our game up well. It fits our strength as a team well if we can grind there. When they do get the puck out, all they have energy for is to chip it out. Then we get a change and we’re coming right back at them with speed, that’s kind of our identity, I think,” said Matt Niskanen on how the Caps want to throttle the opposition.
Carolina, like the Rangers, have a lot of speed. So will the Capitals upcoming opponents, the Montreal Canadiens (Thursday) and the Senators (Saturday). Thwarting that speed starts by keeping the puck in the offensive zone and being responsible. Washington got away from that in the second period and if not for some good saves from Holtby, the Canes may have seized the lead. But once the Caps got back to a strong forecheck, and the line of Laich, Eric Fehr, and Jason Chimera was a big part of that, they achieved what Coach Barry Trotz calls “managing the game.”
“Good dumps, coming out clean out of your zone and then puck placement in the offensive zone. Then running proper routes. First guy has to go do a straight line, make contact, then the strong side winger down the wall and the offside winger looking for that D to D behind the net. If it is not there, coming across over their center men in the middle of the ice. If we execute properly there is nowhere for them to go. Jason, Eric, and I have been able to do that,” said Laich on the strategy of a proper forecheck, that the Caps have been executing well the last couple of games.
That line, newly cobbled together for the Rangers game, has certainly been successful and the Capitals have dominated when they up the effort and execute the plan Laich described.
Now the Caps go on the road for three games in four nights, with the last tilt coming on Sunday in Motown. Washington has not beaten Montreal all season, they’ve lost in a shootout and then in overtime, but have dominated puck possession in each of those contests. Canadiens goalie Carey Price is likely the only thing standing between Ovechkin and his fourth Hart Trophy, at this point.
But individual trophies are not what the Gr8 cares about, at this juncture in his career. It’s all about the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Caps need three more wins to qualify without worrying about what their opponents are doing, so a strong road trip is paramount. Keeping up their effort and forecheck are the keys to victory on this upcoming trip.
Notes: Carolina out shot attempted the Caps 45-42. It was 11-7 in period three, but the Canes had the games only two power plays in that final frame…shots on goal in the 3rd period were 5-1 for Carolina…the Caps PK has been successful on its’ last 14 attempts…Washington won the face off battle, 29-24. Nicklas Backstrom was 9-5…Tim Gleason was +3 in 16:51 of ice time and had a strong effort against his former teammates…Ovechkin only played 15:13. That’s down due to the lack of power plays.