Zach Sanford probably could not have picked a better time to score his first NHL goal.
With the game tied at four with just under three minutes remaining, #82 took a great feed from Brett Connolly and blasted it off of John Gibson (33 saves) and into the cage to give the Washington Capitals a 5-4 lead with 2:39 remaining. From there the Caps held off a furious final push from the Anaheim Ducks and Marcus Johansson closed out the deal with 13 seconds left by scoring into an empty net.
Sanford’s goal was huge in so many ways.
First, it was the first game that the Capitals were playing without Andre Burakovsky, who broke his hand in the first period against Detroit on Thursday. Zach was put in #65’s slot on a red hot third line with Connolly and Lars Eller and his marker kept that lines point scoring streak alive. Connolly now has points in six straight contests.
Second, Washington had a 3-0 lead after a super first period and then a 4-1 advantage following a sensational shorthanded tally by Daniel Winnik (1 goal, 1 assist) before the Ducks came storming back to tie this game up on a Ryan Getzlaf breakaway with 8:12 remaining.
Finally, the goal extended the Caps winning streak to six games overall and their 12th straight at home to send the team off on their bye week on a high note.
Saturday’s tilt against the “Dirty Ducks” was quite the affair. After a Kevin Bieksa high hit on Alex Ovechkin bothered the captain, Corey Perry blatantly tripped former teammate Winnik on an Anaheim power play. That uncalled for move by #10 lit a fire under Washington and allowed the Caps to take a 1-0 lead when Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom set up T.J. Oshie for his 23rd tally of the season just 6:45 into this contest.
At the 14:35 mark Backstrom made it a two goal cushion when he buried the rebound of an Ovechkin shot in the slot that Gibson saved, but could not control. Winnik then set up Tom Wilson for his 4th goal of the season to make it a 3-0 Caps lead. Jay Beagle had an assist on that goal, as well. It was as perfect a first frame as the Caps have played all season, according to Winnik.
The Caps started period two on the power play and despite not scoring, they earned another advantage situation 1:52 into the middle stanza. Washington would not convert and at the 7:18 mark Jakob Silverberg scored from the right wing circle on Braden Holtby (14 saves), top shelf. The puck appeared to nick Karl Alzner’s stick on the way to the cage and that caused the biscuit to ramp up. That made it 3-1, but Winnik notched his shorthanded marker and things were looking great for the Caps with just under 28 minutes of hockey left.
The Caps, primarily the second line, then had numerous chances to build on the 4-1 lead, but Gibson came up big and Washington missed a couple of open looks. That inability to bury the Ducks would prove costly and a poor defensive zone shift by the top line enabled Hampus Lindholm to make it a two puck difference heading into the final frame.
In the first part of the third period, Coach Barry Trotz’ crew was doing a decent job of not sitting back and managing the game, but then Dmitry Orlov came out from behind his own net and tried to skate through several Ducks defenders instead of making the smart play up the boards. Ryan Kesler pounced on #9’s poor decision making and snapped one by Holtby. It was a play that Orlov just cannot make there and he had done a good job over the last two months of getting those types of mistakes out of his game.
The Orlov blunder set the stage for the Getzlaf breakaway and ultimately Sanford’s game winning goal.
So what does Zach get for scoring the GWG? A trip back to Hershey while the rest of the Caps at the NHL level enjoy their bye week.
Coach Trotz noted afterwards that a game like this crazy one with the Ducks was something his team needed, a tight contest against a very good hockey team. Sure, Washington probably should’ve blown out the Ducks once up three pucks, but Anaheim gets paid to play too.
The win was a big one in many ways for the Capitals.
They are the second team in NHL history to score five or more goals in 11 consecutive home games, joining the 1970-71 Boston Bruins.
They have a +71 goal differential overall and a 63-25 first period scoring advantage.
They are 27-2-2 this season in games in which they have one day of rest.
They have a 39-11-6 overall record, good for 84 points.
The above are some pretty amazing numbers that apply to this Caps team.
They are truly a special crew and it’s becoming clear that this club is on a mission and is likely better than last season’s Presidents’ Trophy winning squad.
Last season, Coach Trotz stated that after the snow storm in January, Washington was not the same team down the stretch and into the playoffs. Since New Year’s Eve, this season’s Capitals team has been on fire and Oshie attributed the goal scoring success to all 20 guys getting pucks deep, backchecking, and forechecking and playing with desperation.
You can certainly see the results of that desperation. It has given the Caps a nine points standings lead. Columbus and Pittsburgh are tied for second, but both do have two games in hand on Washington. We’ll see how they and the New York Rangers do over the Capitals bye week.
What’s more important, though, is how the Caps play after this bye week. It’s imperative that they don’t lose momentum and that they get healthy for the playoffs, which start in mid-April.
Notes: the Caps top line was -2. Winnik and Beagle were +2…shot attempts were 61-44 for the Caps. Washington did not sit back with the lead, but they did make some careless mistakes that they’ll need to clean up going forward…the Ducks won the faceoff battle, 34-21. Eller was 4-3…Ovechkin only played 14:54…Matt Niskanen was +2 and led the Caps in ice time with 22:40…Washington was 2-2 on the PK and scored shorthanded. They were 1 for 3 on the power play…the Caps are off until Saturday, February 18th when the take on the Detroit Red Wings in Hockeytown at 2 pm.