In case you’ve been living under a rock since October, I have a memo for you:
The 2015-16 Washington Capitals are really good.
For the second straight contest, the Caps put themselves behind the eight ball stinking up the first period and trailing, 3-1, in Madison Square Garden, before reeling off six straight goals to demolish the New York Rangers, 7-3. Sir Paul McCartney was in the house with his son and actually caught a puck in the 1st period when the Capitals, after taking an early 1-0 lead on a Justin Williams goal (2 goals, 1 assist), played a terrible final 10 minutes of the opening frame. During that stretch they were not physical, made turnover after turnover, and also took a bad penalty that yielded the third Blueshirts tally. Washington was out shot 15-7 in those first 20 minutes and it appeared that the New York curse over the Caps would continue.
But there were still 40 minutes to play and fresh off of their three goal rally on Friday night against Tampa, Washington knew if they settled down and played the heavy style their coach prefers, they would be able to get back in it. From the opening shift of the middle stanza, where Marcus Johansson hit the crossbar, this was all Washington. Shortly after killing off an early unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored after a Rangers turnover, that was pounced on by Dmitry Orlov (2 assists) in the slot. Wilson, who had just returned to the ice from feeling shame, went to the front of the net and distracted King Henrik Lundqvist on a goal that turned things around. Just less than two minutes later, Nicklas Backstrom (three assists) dumped the puck perfectly off of the right wing boards and the biscuit was picked up by T.J. Oshie, who buried it pass Lundqvist to tie the game just 7:01 into the 2nd period. Oshie went flying in the air on that goal and would miss some time in that period, but return and play the final 20 minutes.
At that point you could see the Rangers, who have been banged up and struggling, realize they were in trouble. The Capitals continued to pounce and drew two penalties (Andre Burakovsky and Wilson) that they finished thanks to outstanding power play feeds by Johansson (1 goal, two assists). Alex Ovechkin (17th goal) and Williams buried those passes and following 40 minutes, Coach Alain Vigneault pulled Lundqvist, who I’ve been suspected of being slightly injured for several weeks.
Ovechkin would take a hooking penalty early in period three, but the Capitals PK unit responded with Wilson chipping a puck out that gave Jason Chimera a breakaway on goalie, Magnus Hellberg. Chimmer made it look easy notching his eighth goal of the season to pretty much end this contest. Johansson would close out the scoring off of a sweet Kuznetsov feed from behind the net just over two minutes later and this one pretty much became a glorified preseason tilt from then on.
The musical legend McCartney would get up to leave late in the contest, presumably to go get his new Ovechkin jersey, and I couldn’t help but think that Blueshirt fans would’ve have liked him to crank out “Yesterday” seeing how the Caps have turned the tables totally on New York with the acquisitions of Williams and Oshie in the offseason.
The Caps are now 24-6-2 (50 points) and lead the Metropolitan Division by eight points over the Rangers with three games in hand. In the Eastern Conference, they are seven points up on Montreal with two games in hand and overall they are tied with the Dallas Stars for the best record in the NHL, but they have a game in hand. Bottom line, this team is really, really good.
But they can still get better, and that’s scary. Yes, they brought their “A” game over the last 40 minutes on Sunday, much like they did the last 20 minutes versus Tampa. Still, this team needs to get off to better starts and clean up some things in their own zone. When they do that and play a physical style, they are awfully hard to beat.
It was a huge victory for Washington on 33rd street on Sunday night with Manhattan fireworks that sent the Rangers faithful home after they thought they were going to get another big win versus the Caps. Barry Trotz and company played the role of “The Grinch” and buried a New York team that looks lost right now (3-9-2 in their last 14 games).
There has been a changing of the guard in the Metropolitan Division and the Caps own the keys to the castle with 50 games left in the regular season.
Notes: Washington plays its last game before the holiday break on Monday night in Carolina. The Hurricanes have been playing better lately (5-4-1), so this has the potential to be a trap game. Coach Trotz may very well go back with Braden Holtby (33 saves) given that the Holtbeast had that break on Friday night…the blowout win allowed the ice time to be spread out in preparation for Monday’s tilt in Raleigh. Taylor Chorney (1 assist, +3) logged 9:49 in the 3rd period and played a total of 18:40, a season high for him. Nate Schmidt, who had a key shot block that stung him early in period three, was able to be rested a bit and only played 15:19…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time at a low figure of 22:13. Matt Niskanen logged 21:27, but no other Capital played over 20 minutes…the Rangers won the shot attempt battle, 66-52, but it was 23-12, New York, after one period (h/t to Dan Rosen of NHL.com)…the Caps lost the face off battle, 35-30, but Kuznetsov went 11-7…Washington was 2 for 3 on the power play while the Rags went 1 for 5.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Be sure to listen to 1570 AM Baltimore on Monday since I’ll be on air talking all things Washington Capitals with host and station owner, Nestor Aparacio. Listen Live via WNST.NET on your computer or mobile device.