Heading into the Thursday night’s game in Sunrise against the Florida Panthers, the Washington Capitals, losers of three straight contests, badly needed a victory.
Coming off of their bye week, they went 0-1-2 against the Devils, Canadiens, and Flyers while displaying some shoddy hockey in the process. Passes were off, the compete level was down from many players, and they didn’t even score a goal at even strength in their last two contests.
With two days of practice under their belts, the Caps hoped to get a win in the Sunshine State in their only contest in nine days due to the upcoming All Star break. They also wanted to play better.
Led by Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal and 1 assist – the 500th assist of his career), Washington did just that en route to a 4-2 victory over the Cats. The win extends the Capitals lead in the Metropolitan Division to six points (29-15-5) and the teams in second place are now the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Columbus Blue Jackets (57 points). The Caps and Blue Jackets both have two games in hand on the Pens.
Things didn’t start well for Coach Barry Trotz’ crew in this affair. Washington took three minor penalties in the first 10 minutes, but they managed to kill each of them with some outstanding efforts. Unfortunately, the Caps didn’t turn the momentum they earned on the PK into a lead. Less than a minute after the third successful penalty kill, Nicklas Backstrom made a horrible decision to try a soft pass back to Christian Djoos in the defensive zone. The brain fart by #19 put the puck right on Jamie McGinn’s stick and he fed Denis Malgin for an easy tally.
From there, the Capitals started to wake up, and when MacKenzie Weegar was boxed for holding, the Washington power play connected. The Gr8 made a super diagonal pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) at the far post and then Kuzy slid a sweet feed to Backstrom, who had his stick properly on the ice, which allowed him to bury the biscuit back door. That goal with 2:35 left in the opening frame seemed to relieve the pressure that was on Washington.
In the middle stanza, the Caps started to carry the play, but another defensive zone turnover led to a Florida tally. Backstrom and Andre Burakovsky made some very weak plays in their own end and the result was a back post tap in marker for Malgin at 6:40.
From that point on, this game was pretty much all Capitals. Ovechkin notched his 30th goal of the season tipping home a Brooks Orpik shot just 71 seconds after the Cats had taken the lead. Washington would storm the castle in the second period firing 17 shots on net, but it wasn’t until late in the frame that they finally forged ahead.
Top line Tom Wilson and Ovechkin kept the puck alive on the wall deep in the Florida end and when the disc came around the right wing boards, Kuznetsov gathered it and made a dandy of a move and pass to Wilson in the right wing circle. With Ovi in front of the net, Willy found John Carlson all alone in the slot and #74 buried the puck, top shelf.
Kuznetsov, who was fabulous in this tilt until getting injured in the third period with what is likely a groin injury, drew a penalty at the second period horn. That put the Caps on the power play again to start period three. Washington pounded the rock on Florida rookie goalie, Harri Sateri (42 saves), but it wasn’t until Brett Connolly scored on the rush with eight seconds left in the man advantage that they finally grabbed a two goal cushion. Burakovksy made a great play to set that one up and #10 shot quickly into the vacant left side of the cage for his 13th tally of the season.
The Caps had a chance to blow this one wide open when they received a two man advantage for a full two minutes at the 4:33 mark, but despite a ton of shots, they couldn’t score. They hit at least one post and Sateri made several big saves. Down the stretch the Capitals carried most of the play, pouring a total of 19 shots on net in the final frame. For the night, the shots on net tally were 46-34, for Washington.
Overall, the Capitals finally played a solid contest, their first since the win over Vancouver on Tuesday, January 9th. Braden Holtby (32 saves) was very good in net to earn his 25th win of the season and Ovechkin was the best player on the ice for Washington with #92 a close second. I’ve been very tough on Kuznetsov on Twitter, but that’s because I know he can play a lot better and he’s a key to the Caps dominating. On Thursday night, Kuzy was dominant, but unfortunately, he was injured late and if he’s out for an extended period of time, there’s a big hole up the middle of the ice. The All Star Break could not come at a better time since the Caps don’t play again until Wednesday, January 31st against the Flyers at Capital One Arena.
Notes: John Carlson had 10 shots on net and Ovechkin had eight. It’s good to see the Capitals shooting the puck and not overpassing. They were more of a north-south team in this affair and that’s how they must play to be effective. I didn’t like the soft defensive zone plays by the Backstrom line that led to the two Florida goals. Those type of mental lapses and lack of effort need to be cleaned up…the Caps were 2 for 6 on the power play and a perfect four for four while shorthanded…the Caps were creamed, 37-27, at the dot. Backstrom went 8-6…Ovechkin led the Caps in ice time with 24:54, Carlson was just three seconds behind the Gr8…Devante Smith-Pelly was the healthy scratch at forward…the All Star Game is in Tampa this weekend and the Caps will be represented by Coach Trotz, Ovechkin, and Holtby. The always fun skills competition takes place on Saturday night and on Sunday is the very exciting three on three tournament. Music will be provided by Kid Rock between the 1st and 2nd periods (games) on Sunday.