How do you spell Norris?
On Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden following a tremendous three assist, +4 performance in a team leading 24:40 of ice time, and the game’s first star in a Capitals, 5-3, triumph, it is really simple:
John Carlson turned in a gem of an outing in the second half of a back to back situation for Washington and it came on game one of the mentors’ trip in New York. Carlson had the primary assist on three Caps tallies, the first as a result of a beautiful deflection of his point shot by Nic Dowd just 31 seconds after the Rangers took a 2-0 lead, the second on a sweet pass to Alexander Ovechkin on the door step for the Gr8’s 17th goal of the season that gave Washington a 3-2 late second period edge, and then a whale of a cross ice feed that Brett Connolly sweetly one-timed home for the game winning goal at 13:36 of the final frame. They were all stellar plays made by an elite NHL defenseman. Carlson would not be on the ice for any of the three New York tallies and he received his final plus for the day when Tom Wilson made a great defensive zone hit, grabbed the biscuit, and then rifled it the length of the ice into an empty cage from the left wing circle with 1:08 to go.
Washington started slowly in this affair despite two early power plays and it was at the end of the second one that the Blueshirts took the lead. The Caps had four guys pressing down low as Jimmy Vesey’s penalty for high sticking was expiring and Kevin Hayes took a great bank pass by Brady Skjei off of the defensive zone boards and went the other way, two on one on the Capitals. A back checking Jakub Vrana tried to catch Hayes, but went to the wrong side of him and Hayes alertly fed Jesper Fast trailing the play in the high slot. Fast had a chance to shoot from the primary scoring area, which froze Pheonix Copley (27 saves) and defenseman Matt Niskanen, then Jesper slid the puck to Vesey on his right, and Jimmy shot it into the yawning cage.
The Capitals were very careless with the biscuit in the first period and as a result they were outshot, 12-6, by the young and recently red hot Rangers. Washington was looking better in the second period, but then a Skjei rocket on the rebound of a Brendan Smith shot off of the backboards gave the home team a two puck lead. The local crowd was rocking to a goal song that certainly grates on the visitors and was feeling very good about their hockey team, at that point.
Everything then changed on the next shift as the line of Dowd, Connolly, and Vrana outworked New York in the offensive zone to get the puck back to #74, who fired on net setting the stage for Dowd’s second tally of the season. The Caps then evened this one up on the speed, determination, and amazing hands of Vrana, who blew by Brett Howden like he was an orange road cone with 3:33 left in period two and put a dazzling backhander past Alexander Georgiev (23 saves), top shelf, to the far post. Wow, what a goal that was!
After Ovechkin gave the Caps the lead with 30 seconds left in the middle stanza, the Capitals had some chances to make it a two puck game again early in period three, including Dmitri Jaskin, who had his best outing in weeks (11:25 of ice time, four shots on goal and two missed shots), hitting the post on a great chance in the slot. The Rangers would make those misses hurt when they outworked Washington’s top line and the duo of Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov on the wall to set up Ryan Strome’s second goal of the season on a sweet wraparound tally after Copley was caught cheating to his left, just 5:30 into period three.
It was anyone’s game in the final 15 minutes until Vrana made a super diving pass to Carlson in the neutral zone setting up Carly’s rush and beautiful cross ice feed to Connolly for the game winner with 6:24 to go. It was Brett’s 4th goal of the season and Conno is playing some quality hockey this season (13 points in 23 games).
For the Caps, this was their fifth win in a row and also the first time this season they’ve won both ends of a back to back game situation. It also moves them into first place in the Metropolitan Division at 13-7-3 (29 points) pending the result of the Blue Jackets-Penguins game in The Burgh on Saturday night. Columbus is 13-7-2 (28 points).
Ovechkin could’ve had his 18th goal of the season into another empty net late in the game, but he tried a toe drag move on the right wing offensive zone boards when a quick flick of the puck towards the cage probably would’ve sealed the deal. However, the outcome was decided at that juncture and the Gr8 had himself SEVEN HITS in 21:10 of ice time, including one on Vladislav Nemestnikov in the offensive zone corner that started the whole sequence for Alexander the Great’s net crashing tally. On that goal, the key was that Alex kept his stick on the ice as he went to the paint.
As for Wilson, well the team is now 6-1 since he returned from his suspension, with the last five triumphs coming without Evgeny Kuznetsov or T.J. Oshie in the lineup. Willy logged 20:24 of ice time and was +2 with four hits.
The Capitals definitely need both Kuzy and the Osh Babe back, they aren’t going to keep winning long term without them, and their five on four power play went 0 for 2 on Saturday and is really struggling, especially the top unit. Caps Coach Todd Reirden told the assembled media before the tilt at MSG that Kuznetsov is on the two game road trip and the closest to returning, while T.J. is still in DC recovering (you just wait until March 10th, Josh Morrisey!). Washington will now move on to Long Island to face their former bench boss, Stanley Cup Champion Barry Trotz, and the New York Islanders on Monday night at 7:00 pm. The Isles are 11-8-2 (24 points) heading into Saturday night’s contest against Carolina.
Washington will spend Sunday afternoon with their dads and other mentors in the Big Apple and then try to extend their winning streak to six in Brooklyn at a barn made for basketball.
Notes: Vrana’s goal and helper upped his point total to 14 in 23 games and he’s an impressive +9. When he moves his feet he is deadly on the ice…shots on goal were 30-28 for the Rags, but the Capitals had more shot attempts, 54-47…the Caps were creamed at the dot, 27-15…the Capitals were two for two on the penalty kill… Jonas Seigenthaler was inserted for Madison Bowey on the third defensive pairing and looked solid in 14:49 of ice time. Everyone plays at least one game on the Dad’s trip and Jonas made the most of his opportunity…Coach Reirden did a SUPER job of distributing ice time after the team played on early Friday evening. Only Andre Burakovsky (-2) played under 10 minutes (9:51)…I’d like to personally extend my condolences, as well as thoughts and prayers, to the McGeough family, who lost former NHL referee, Mick, this week after a fatal stroke at age 62. Just last spring I had a great conversation with Mick when he was in town as a supervisor of officials for the playoffs. He was a very nice and honest man. RIP, Mick.