“Ooh, and it’s alright and it’s coming along
We gotta get right back to where we started from”
After several shoddy defensive efforts, the Washington Capitals buckled down in the third period of Monday’s game against Edmonton and grinded out a 4-2 victory. The triumph snapped a two game losing streak to improve the Caps record to 6-4-3 (15 points) and puts them in a tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins for second place in the Metropolitan Division, three points behind the division leading Islanders, who have played one more game than the Capitals and Pens. Sidney Crosby and company, losers of four straight games (0-3-1) are in town on Wednesday night (7:30 pm on NBC Sports Channel).
Following the win, I’ve put together eight thoughts on the Capitals.
Perhaps the biggest question of the offseason for Washington was how would Pheonix Copley perform as Braden Holtby’s backup with Philipp Grubauer being moved to Colorado? Well, Copley turned in his best outing of the young campaign with 31 saves against an Edmonton squad that had won five straight on the road. Pheonix made several big stops early on that gave the Capitals momentum, including a right pad gem on an all alone Milan Lucic in front and shortly thereafter a great chest save on a Jujhar Khaira deflection on the doorstep. All night the Caps goaltender made the key stops and rarely left any rebound opportunities. The only markers to beat him were essentially two power play goals. Connor MacDavid’s man advantage blast through traffic that beat Pheonix short side and then a Leon Draisaitl sweet deflection at even strength that came just three seconds after Devante Smith-Pelly left the penalty box (delay of game).
Coach Todd Rierden, looking for a spark after some really blah games from his squad, went all Reg Dunlop and shuffled up the forward lines for this rematch against the Oilers (Edmonton smoked the Caps, 4-1, on October 25th in Alberta). Dmitri Jaskin was put on the top unit with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin while Chandler Stephenson was shifted to the wing with T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom on the second line. The biggest move, however, was dropping Jakub Vrana to the fourth line with Travis Boyd and Smith-Pelly. Boyd, who was making his season debut after suffering a leg injury in a preseason game in St. Louis, was a spark plug using his speed and tenacity to set up goals on the line’s first two shifts, from Vrana and Devo, respectively. All game long that unit was a thorn in the side of Edmonton. It was easily DSP’s best game of the season after #25 had looked very slow through the first 12 games.
MacDavid is probably the fastest player in the NHL and his talent is legendary, but the Capitals did a very good job of shutting him down at even strength. Backstrom’s line had that task and they were outstanding. Credit should also go to the defensemen; I thought Dmitry Orlov had one of his best performances of the season on the back end. In addition to Nicky’s strong defense against McJesus, his pass to Oshie for the third goal was an absolute beauty. The Osh Babe’s top shelf cheese that hit the twine to convert the amazing pass was also a highly skilled shot.
Speaking of the D, with Brooks Orpik still out for the third straight affair with a lower body injury, Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos were paired together. Bowey had played well against Dallas in a 4-3 OT loss on Saturday night, but Djoos had been struggling recently. Both were on their game on Monday night and they were rewarded with more ice time. Bowey logged 15:05 and Djoos played 13:59. That allowed Coach Reirden to keep the minutes of his top four lower than in recent games. Both Matt Niskanen and Orlov were right around 21 minutes while John Carlson played 24:45 and Michal Kempny, who was +2 along with #74, logged 20:35. It’s very important that Reirden uses his third pair throughout the season; otherwise the top four will be wiped out for the playoffs.
Team defense had been pretty much nonexistent since the Vancouver victory, but on Monday, the Caps returned to the basics and their third period was very solid despite being outshot, 11-2. Of the 11 shots, it’s hard to remember any that were quality attempts from the high danger scoring area. The Capitals really did a nice job of keeping the Oilers on the perimeter. The forwards were committed to helping on defense and Washington was more physical in their own end than they’d been in the first 12 games. Simply put, that is how you lock things down in your own end with a two goal lead.
While the Capitals officially only had two shots on net in the final frame, they did have some other quality chances where they failed to shoot the puck from prime scoring areas. Evgeny Kuznetsov passed up a golden opportunity in the slot and instead elected to try and feed Brett Connolly at the side of the cage, who didn’t have much of an angle. In addition, on a two on one rush, Andre Burakovsky pulled up and curled back towards the blue line instead of making the smart play, which was to fire on Cam Talbot (19 saves) and either beat him clean or generate a rebound. Andre needs to be smarter on the ice. Quick shots are how you score goals at this level.
Ovechkin is the king of the quick shot and he notched his 11th goal of the season on a rebound of a Carlson power play blast. Good things happen when you shoot and Ovi took advantage of an open net when John’s point blast hit traffic on the way to the cage and bounced right to him in the Ovi spot. Alex would’ve had his 12th of the year had he not missed an open net (he hit the post) late in the contest. After the miss, the Gr8 found DSP all alone in front of the empty net and Devo hit the post, as well. Alex had a much more consistent game on Monday and a big part of that was Jaskin, who brought a physical presence and a strong defensive work ethic, something that top line has missed with Tom Wilson now up to serving 13 of the 20 games he was suspended for to start the season.
Overall, this was a very good win for Washington after some really poor outings. The Capitals didn’t dominate the entire game, but they worked hard for 60 minutes, which hadn’t been the case since the Canucks game on October 22nd. They need to keep that energy and focus at that level if they want to be successful, especially with Pittsburgh, Columbus, and Arizona in town for the next three tilts.