“And we’ll have fun, fun, fun now that daddy took the t-bird away” – The Beach Boys
It really doesn’t get more fun than Washington Capitals hockey these days, and to quote one John Winger (Bill Murray) from Stripes, “That’s the Fact, Jack!”
Alex Ovechkin had a hat trick, All Star Nicklas Backstrom had four assists, Norris Trophy candidate John Carlson had two assists, and Braden “The Save” Holtby made 35 stops on 37 shots to lead the Caps to a 6-2 blowout over the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night. The Defending Stanley Cup Champions are now 18-9-3 (39 points) and lead the Metropolitan Division by five points over second place Columbus. The Caps have now won three in a row and 10 of their last 12 hockey games. That’s impressive, especially considering all of the injuries they’ve had to key players over the last month.
On the injury front, Washington received a lot of good news on Tuesday with T.J. Oshie returning to the lineup and Top Line Tom Wilson participating during the morning skate, although Willy wore a non contact jersey and still won’t play until at least Friday night in Carolina. Getting the Osh Babe was ultra important because that guy dogs pucks better than just about anyone I’ve ever seen and he has a great shot to boot. The Caps power play had been in a funk lately, but with the return of the 2014 Team USA Olympic hero it went a perfect two for two with T.J. notching his 10th goal of the season to make it 5-0 after a perfect pass from Backstrom just past the game’s midpoint. The first power play tally came from Brett Connolly, who beautifully deflected home a rocket from the point by Carlson. That goal came just 3:39 into the contest to give the home team a 1-0 lead. The Capitals received that power play when Frans Neilsen tripped Lars Eller in Washington’s end.
Washington’s recently formed fourth line of Dmitrij Jaskin, Nic Dowd, and Travis Boyd played a big role in the 4-0 whitewash of Columbus on Saturday night and Coach Todd Reirden told the assembled media after Tuesday’s triumph over Detroit that the coaching staff collectively agreed that even with Oshie coming back, the fourth line could not be split up. That decision paid off at 10:50 of the opening frame when Jaskin outraced a Wings blue liner to negate an icing. Jaskin gathered the puck, made a nice move below the goal line and then fed Dowd to the left of the cage. Nic found Boyd wide open at the far post and Travis put the biscuit in the basket for his second goal and ninth point in 14 games played in 2018-19. Reirden complimented that line in the post game stating that the unit continues to seize momentum for the Capitals and now they have become even more of a weapon because they are scoring. Boyd came close to tallying again, but Jonathan Bernier (10 saves) made a spectacular stop to deny #72 on the doorstep.
After Boyd made it 2-0, the Gr8, at 12:59 of the opening frame, pinballed one into the net off of a Red Wings stick in the high slot and then the body of a defender in the low slot to increase the lead to three pucks. Washington knew they were getting a tired Red Wings team that had won in Motown against Los Angeles on Monday, then had to fly to DC in the wee hours of Tuesday morning and Coach Reirden’s team didn’t show them any mercy by jumping all over them.
Detroit did get some chances to climb back in the game, including a breakaway for Martin Frk and then a point blast from Niklas Kronwall when it was 2-0, but the Holtbeast stopped them both. Braden also denied Dylan Larkin on a semi-breakaway in period two when it was 4-0, but Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) made a strong back check to take away some time and room for #71. Afterwards I asked Coach Reirden about the seemingly improved confidence and ability of his #1 goaltender on breakaways and he stated that I was spot on; the bench boss noted that goalie coach Scott Murray and Braden have been working extensively on breakaway situations and that Holts is forcing the shooters to do what he wants instead of sitting back and not dictating the situation.
Ovechkin’s second goal, to make it 4-0, was the straw that broke the camel’s back and really put this one out of reach. The Holtbeast did a nice job behind his own net of avoiding two charging Red Wings on the forecheck and moved the puck to Backstrom below the goal line. Nicky skated it towards the boards and out of harm’s way, then spotted Carlson in the low slot where he fed JC74 the disc. Carly, who has to be in the top three candidates for the Norris Trophy, at this point, made a super outlet pass to Ovechkin on the left wing, who went in along with Oshie on a two on one on Bernier. The Gr8 skated in and snapped one over the Detroit goalie for his 24th tally of the season. After the Wings scored in period three by crashing into Holtby to make it 5-1, the Gr8 notched his hat trick with 10:27 to go by firing a laser from a bad angle on the left wing boards through Jimmy Howard, who came in once it was 5-0. After the puck trickled across the goal line, the hats came raining down on the ice, including one from super Caps fan and MLB star pitcher, Max Scherzer.
Overall, this was a very solid triumph by the Caps. They didn’t give Detroit much of an opportunity to make it a game. The Wings are fast and gamble a lot. They do get some breakaways, but they give up far more opportunities, and the high end skill and elite goaltending of the Capitals took over in this affair.
Backstrom stated afterwards that the team is starting to really ramp their game up, especially defensively and as a result they are playing well. He also agreed that winning the Cup has taken a lot of pressure off of the club allowing them to have a lot of fun on the ice. You can certainly see that and with the Capitals playing relaxed, they are performing at a higher level.
To sum things up on the state of the Washington Capitals after 30 games of the 2018-19 season. I’ll quote the great Sheryl Crow.
“All I wanna do is have some fun, I got a feelin’ I’m not the only one…”
Notes: the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 35-32, but Dowd went 8-1. That 4th line has been outstanding…shot attempts were 61-53 for Detroit, but Corsi doesn’t matter much, it’s all about generating and preventing quality scoring chances and using your high end talent, which the Capitals have plenty of…Backstrom and Ovi were both +3. Coach Reirden said that this is the best two way game he’s ever seen from the Gr8 and he also noted that Ovechkin, in the leadership department, is also the best he’s ever been in the regular season…the Capitals only took one penalty (Dmitry Orlov for hooking) on Tuesday evening…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 22:25….Andre Burakovsky and Jonas Siegenthaler were the forward and defensive scratches, respectively…next up are the Carolina Hurricanes from Raleigh on Friday night at 7:30 pm.