For the first time in three games, the Washington Capitals entered period three without a lead. The Caps and the Arizona Coyotes were knotted at two with 20 minutes left, but Andre Burakovsky buried a snap shot past Adin Hill with 4:42 remaining and then Alexander Ovechkin hit the empty net for his 21st goal to give Washington a 4-2 triumph in the desert to halt a two game slide.
This was an important victory for the Caps coming off of the blown four goal lead against the Dirty Ducks on Sunday and then the penalty ridden loss to the Golden Knights on Tuesday night where Tom Wilson was cheap shotted by Ryan Reaves, leading to a concussion for Willy when his helmetless head hit the ice. That left the Capitals without their top two right wings in Glendale (no Willy plus T.J. Oshie is still out with a concussion).
Burakovsky was promoted to the first line for this affair with Ovechkin and All Star Nicklas Backstrom, a place Andre has had success in the past, and despite an early turnover that led to the Coyotes first tally, #65 played well. He moved his feet and worked hard. He will never be his big brother Top Line Tommy, but Andre has some serious ability and as in game 7 against Tampa in the post season, he scored a huge goal when his club really needed one. Kudos Burky!
This was Matt Niskanen’s 32nd birthday and he had a whale of a night with defensive partner Dmitry Orlov. Nisky scored the goal that tied this one at two late in period two after a nice feed from Travis Boyd, who received a sweater with all of the injuries up front. Matt’s point blast at the net hit the skate of Jakob Chychrun, who was tied up with Dmitrij Jaskin in front, and it went past Hill for a huge tally after the Yotes had dominated the majority of the first 36 minutes. Good things happen when you put pucks and bodies to the net. Arizona took the lead at 2-1 on one of those plays, a rebound goal by Lawson Crouse, and Washington paid them back with a good ole hard working tally. When some of your key players are out, those are the kind of goals you need to grind out a W.
For the evening, Niskanen and Orlov were both +3 logging 22:35 and 23:19 of ice time, respectively. It was really good to see that duo have a strong game given their recent struggles.
Jakub Vrana had the best night of any Washington skater scoring his ninth goal from the slot to tie this affair up at one in the opening frame and then he earned a penalty shot just 16 seconds into period three. Vrana toe picked on his attempt, but he was flying all game and opened up space with his speed. He had Arizona on their heels on each of his shifts. That’s three goals in two games on this road trip for the Czech forward and he has really blossomed into a weapon on the ice for Coach Todd Reirden.
In net, Pheonix Copley really stood tall and kept the Caps in this one for the first 40 minutes. He faced a penalty shot of his own after Brett Connolly shoved a dropped stick into an opponent possessing the puck in the defensive zone. Referees Dan O’Rourke and Kendrick Nicholson correctly called a penalty shot there, but Richard Panik shot high trying to pick the corner on the large Capitals net minder. For the night, Pheonix made 27 saves and ran his record to 6-2-1 this season. He’s really taken away any worries anyone had about the backup goaltending situation coming into this season. Losing Philipp Grubauer was not something to be taken lightly entering 2018-19, but Copley has really stepped up between the pipes.
As for Ovi, he was on the ice from the 1:57 mark until he hit the empty cage from the defensive zone with three seconds left. This was due to several icings against the Caps, but he, Backstrom, and Kuzentsov all gutted things out to seal the deal. Niskanen and Orlov were out there for the last 42 seconds of that 1:44 shift and were stellar, as well.
The win puts the Capitals back in first place in the Metropolitan Division at 16-9-3 (35 points). They will face second place Columbus on Saturday night in Cannonville without their top two right wings, once again. Oshie is skating at the practice rink in Arlington, while Wilson is still with the team, but I’d imagine the Caps want to take no chances with #43’s upper body injury. This will be the first time the Caps have faced the Blue Jackets since they eliminated them in the first round back in April, so you can bet John Tortorella’s team will be fired up for this one.
Every team that the Capitals play this season, however, will be fired up because Washington is the defending Stanley Cup Champions. It comes with the territory and the Caps will need to be ready to go from puck drop, once again. They had a rough start in Arizona, but found a way to avenge the ugly loss they had at home versus the Yotes on Veterans Day. Copley was strong in net and Washington had some luck to hang around. In the final frame, the Caps found their legs and carried the play, and that’s why they came out on top.
Notes: John Carlson led the Capitals in ice time with 24:27. He was +1 and had seven shots on goal…shots on goal were 29 each. Shot attempts were 63-60, for Arizona…the Yotes were 0 for 2 on the power play while the Caps were 0 for 1. Both teams missed a penalty shot. The zebras actually did a very good job on Thursday, it was the best officiated Capitals game in over a month…Clayton Keller, who has owned the Caps in his young career, was -2 in 20:51 of ice time. He was shut down on this night…the Capitals were creamed on faceoffs, 31-20. Backstrom was 3-13, but did win a key late draw. Derek Stepan went 16-4 for Arizona.