Matt Niskanen scored 2:18 into overtime to give the Washington Capitals a 4-3 victory over the young and determined New York Rangers on Wednesday night at Capital One Arena. The triumph snapped a two game losing streak for the Caps and improved their record on this young 2018-19 season to 3-2-1.
What follows are 11 thoughts on the Caps after their win over the Blueshirts.
This was not a pretty performance, at all, but the Capitals star players stepped up to get two points, once again. Evgeny Kuznetsov drew three defenders to himself to set up the game winning goal, Alex Ovechkin notched two power play goals, John Carlson had a goal and two helpers, All Star Nicklas Backstrom had two assists, and Braden Holtby made 29 saves. The Caps are top heavy, but these stars very often deliver the goods.
The Rangers skated hard on Wednesday after playing on Tuesday night at home against Colorado. Washington didn’t jump on rookie Coach David Quinn’s squad early and that allowed New York to hang around and nearly steal a win. The Capitals simply had more talent than the young Rangers and that was the difference.
Coach Todd Reirden noted in his post game presser that the Capitals had been working on their neutral zone play and face-offs since the loss to the Leafs on Saturday night. The Caps were 35-31 on draws and tallied twice off of wins at the dot. They did, however, give up a goal on a lost face-off. Winning draws is important, especially for a team that has high end skill with the puck.
One thing I really didn’t like was the defensive zone coverage by Washington. It was too loose and that forced the Holtbeast to make a lot of big saves on rebounds. It’s only October, so pond hockey and a lack of defense is obvious in many NHL games, but the Capitals proved last spring they know how to play in their own end when it matters. There’s no way the Caps are able to play with that type of intensity on the back end for 82 games and then the post season, but you’d like to see better efforts in coverage around the Washington net. Too many opponents have had room to roam free in the first six games.
Washington did clamp down once this game was tied with 9:35 remaining. After that power play goal, the Rangers did not register another shot on net over the last 11:53 of this affair. Meanwhile, the Capitals generated seven shots on goal, including Niskanen’s rebound winner.
The Caps fourth line trio each played about seven minutes in this contest. That line took two of the four Capitals penalties, including Nathan Walker’s offensive zone holding infraction that led to the Rangers game tying tally. Walker is fast and pesky, but he has to be smarter in that situation and not take a penalty with a one goal lead in period three. Bad plays like that will put you out of the lineup quickly. All Walker had to do in that instance was to keep moving his feet and then he would not have had to hold Neal Pionk.
Don’t look now, but Ovi has six goals in six games already. The Gr8 is just a special player and his shot is so hard to stop. Even King Henrik Lundqvist was surprised at how quickly Ovechkin got off his shots against him.
The third line has had a lot of trouble this season, so it was good to see Brett Connolly, Lars Eller, and Andre Burakovsky have some good shifts, especially in the first 30 minutes. They were not as noticeable in the second half of the game, so that needs to be addressed. Burakovsky has looked a little slow and tentative in his six outings, although this was his best one yet, but that’s not saying much and #65 needs to start producing.
After the loss to the Leafs, there were many in the Canadian and National media talking about Toronto being a serious Cup contender. Yes, they are good with a top three center lineup of Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Nazem Kadri, but none of them have won a playoff series yet, so let’s stop focusing on the parade on Yonge Street. They are a talented team, but as we’ve seen with the Caps, it takes a major defensive commitment to get to the Promised Land. It remains to be seen if the Leafs have that in them. There is a big difference between October pond hockey and the playoff grind. Eller was right to point out to the media that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are the gold standard and then things go from there for the Caps in ranking their opponents. The Penguins have won three Stanley Cups in the Crosby/Malkin era. Kadri has shown that he’s good at making some iffy hits and running his mouth.
Both teams went two for four on the power play. The two goals allowed by the Capitals came on deflections or crazy bounces with traffic in front. Again, the Caps must move their feet on defense better to prevent those type of goals.
Kuznetsov is great. He continues to play like he has the puck on a string and he is proving that he’s one of the best players in the NHL. His on ice awareness reminds me a lot of Wayne Gretzky.