Alex Ovechkin scored twice on the power play on great feeds from John Carlson as the Caps raced out to a 3-0 lead after 40 minutes and then they hung on for a 3-2 win over the Kings on Monday night. It was the Caps first victory at the Staples Center since December 14, 2005.
Pheonix Copley made 26 saves in net for the Caps. Washington rebounded after a real dud in Anaheim on Sunday night. Defeating LA on the second night of a back to back situation was very important in a crowded Metropolitan Division and Washington is now two wins and two losses on their season long six game road trek that continues in Toronto and Buffalo, on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.
This triumph improves the Capitals to 33-20-7 (73 points) and they trail the first place Islanders by three points (New York has two games in hand) and they lead third place Columbus by four points (the Blue Jackets have two games in hand). These were two huge points because Carolina, who right now is the ninth place team in the Eastern Conference, is just five points in back of Washington.
This game didn’t start well for the Capitals as they struggled with their passing early on. An errant attempt up the right wing by John Carlson was picked off by Carl Hagelin at the Caps defensive blue line and #62 sent Ilya Kovalchuk in all alone on Pheonix Copley. Fortunately for Washington, Copley came up with a terrific save on the former NHL #1 pick (2001 by the Atlanta Thrashers). A few minutes later, Carlson was boxed for tripping Anze Kopitar and it took a clear in the crease by Matt Niskanen to once again prevent the Kings from scoring first on their subsequent power play.
The Capitals most consistent player in 2018-19 terms of effort, Jakub Vrana, then drew a trip on Derek Forbort. Washington went to the man advantage and 80 seconds into it, the Caps drew first blood. Carlson and Alex Ovechkin played pitch and catch a few times before the Gr8 rocketed one by Jack Campbell for his 41st goal of the campaign. It was also Carlson’s 300th NHL point. Just twenty seconds later the Capitals were up two pucks. Andre Burakovsky made a strong play on the right wing wall and with Lars Eller in front and Brett Connolly going to the high danger scoring area, #65 floated one towards the cage that Conno deflected in for his 14th goal of the season. Good things happen when you get pucks and bodies to the net. Those are the types of plays that lead to red lights in the post season and something we need to see more of from Washington. It’s just good ole fashioned hard work and smart hockey.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, who had one of his really down games in Anaheim on Sunday night, nearly made it 3-0 with a great net drive, but Campbell came up large.
In the middle frame, the Caps pushed to extend their lead, however, on a few occasions, they were guilty of forcing the puck to the middle of the ice or trying unnecessary drop passes. The Kings would snag those and go the other way, but Washington did a great job of back checking and the defensemen were very effective at getting their sticks in the lanes. As was the case in period one, Vrana drew another tripping penalty with his speed at 5:02, this time sending former Flyer Jeff Carter to the sin bin, and then the Capitals power play cashed in again just 25 seconds later. Carlson, after taking a pass from Nicklas Backstrom, made a gorgeous head and body fake at the top of the point that confused Campbell. That allowed the Norris Trophy candidate to slide the puck over to his left to Ovi for, you guessed it, another patented one timer. This one wasn’t as hard as the first rocket that found the twine, but because Campbell was duped by Carly, he never was set and the Gr8 beat him again for his 42nd marker of the season and a three goal Caps lead.
From there, Washington was much smarter with the biscuit and the attempted drop passes and forced discs to the center of the ice in the offensive zone were eliminated from their game for the rest of the middle stanza. The Caps did a great job of going up and down the ice in a tight five man unit and as a result, Los Angeles didn’t get many quality looks. When the Kings did get a shot off, a Capitals player was usually in the lane to block it and after 40 minutes, Coach Todd Reirden’s crew had blocked 14 of the 37 LA shot attempts. Brooks Orpik had a big one on Kopitar when Washington was shorthanded after another hooking infraction by Michal Kempny, although this one wasn’t a bad penalty, LA was about to get a quality scoring chance.
For the first eight minutes of period three, the Capitals put puck after puck deep into the Kings zone and put a lot of pressure on the Los Angeles defense. However, on the next shift the Caps second line wasn’t able to get the disc below the Kings goal line and that allowed Dustin Brown to carry the puck in deep into Washington’s end to feed Alex Iafallo on the back door for a tap in with 11:40 remaining. Washington settled down and kept the Kings at bay, but you could start to see fatigue set in with the Caps having played in Anaheim the night before. The zebras, Chris Lee and Steve Kozari, appeared to have put away their whistles based on some things being let go, but after Tom Wilson and Kyle Clifford were sent off for unsportsmanlike conduct, Lee called a really weak and late penalty on Ovi when the home crowd moaned for the whistle. Given what had been allowed in the frame to that point, it was a horrendous penalty from a consistency standpoint.
Los Angeles coach Willie Desjardins pulled the goalie with 5:17 left to give his team a five on three down just two pucks, but the Kings shot wide and Orpik, who was a beast on defense all night, cleared the biscuit down the ice. When Willy and Clifford came out of the box, Campbell went back in net. Washington was holding off LA nicely until, with Campbell pulled again late, Kovalchuk beat Copley with a bomb from just inside the blue line with 27 seconds remaining. The Capitals would ultimately hold on as a last second Drew Doughty shot went wide at the buzzer.
This was not a pretty win for the Caps, but it was a strong team effort. The Kings are near the bottom in the NHL standings and by default, in the race for the “Lose for Hughes” sweepstakes, but they played hard, never quitting even when three pucks down. Washington, outside of Thursday’s beautiful win in San Jose, has not made finishing games easy lately and that was the case, once again, but they did get the job done.
Copley was solid in net and Ovi stepped up to score two big goals, with the last one proving to be the margin of victory.
Notes: the Caps continue to get creamed on faceoffs losing 27 of the 40 draws on Monday night. They were 16-38 against the Ducks the night before…Niskanen had a strong outing and led the Caps in ice time with 23:47, but Carlson (2 assists) was just a tick behind at 23:46…T.J. Oshie was injured in Sunday’s tilt against the Ducks and left at the game’s midway point, but he returned for the full contest at the Staples Center logging 16:16. He didn’t have a shot on goal, but he won a bunch of puck battles…Connolly is one goal away from tying his career high…Nic Dowd and Travis Boyd were in the lineup with Devante Smith-Pelly and Dmitrij Jaskin getting scratched following Sunday night’s debacle against the Ducks…the Caps were 2 for 2 on the power play and 3 for 3 on the penalty kill. The special teams have had their struggles this season, but in this affair they were very good.