The Washington Capitals rallied with two third period tallies to knock off the Detroit Red Wings, 3-2, on Sunday evening at Little Caesar’s Arena to improve their overall record to 25-12-4 (54 points). The Caps lead the Penguins, who had their seven game winning streak snapped by the Blackhawks in the Steel City on Sunday night, in the Metropolitan Division by two points after 41 games. Washington also has a game in hand.
What follows are nine thoughts and analysis of the Caps as they get ready to head into the second half of the season, where the games get more intense and goal scoring is much more difficult.
Alex Ovechkin played a prominent role in all three Washington tallies on Sunday, but he only notched a single point. Ovi went to the net on the first goal causing all kinds of chaos that allowed Evgeny Kuznetsov (two assists) to slide a sweet pass to Tom Wilson, who buried it for his 12th goal of the season. That gave Washington a 1-0 lead. After the Caps gave up two goals in the first 40 minutes, Alexander the Great made a gorgeous pass to Travis Boyd that #72 finished off for his 4th goal of the season 6:19 into the final frame. Then with 3:52 remaining, Ovi and Wilson provided a serious screen on Wings goalie, Jimmy Howard (31 saves), which allowed Michal Kempny’s point blast to sneak through for his fifth goal of the season. On some replays, it certainly looks like Alex tipped the puck, but the Gr8 doesn’t care about individual stats, it’s all about the team.
The Caps three game road trip finished up 1-1-1 and that’s about right for how they played. They were good in St. Louis for the first 28 minutes or so, but once Jack Allen stopped Wilson on two shorthanded chances, it was all Blues as the Capitals just didn’t skate well the last half of the game in a 5-2 defeat on Thursday. On Friday night in Dallas, they started horribly in period one, but then dominated the last two periods before falling in overtime, 3-2. On Sunday in Motown, it was an ugly game, but Washington found their legs over the last 20 minutes outshooting Detroit, 15-6, en route to a come from behind victory. It was three games in four nights and the Capitals managed to pull three points.
Kempny continues to shine on the blue line with John Carlson and he just keeps improving. His game winning blast gave him a plus one rating on the day and he’s now +24 on the season. It’s amazing how much of a difference he has made to the Capitals defense since he was acquired last February. He earned the four year contract he received in the offseason and now he’s living up to it in year one.
Washington’s power play is in a major funk tallying just one time over the last six games. On Friday night, they had a chance to win the contest late with the man advantage and couldn’t convert before losing on a Tyler Seguin backdoor goal in OT. Things looked better on the Caps last two power plays on Sunday (they had four total in Detroit), but they still didn’t light the lamp. I did like the rotation that occurs occasionally between Carlson and Ovechkin and it appears that Nicklas Backstrom and Kuznetsov are looking to shoot more. T.J. Oshie also had a great look, but missed the net.
The Holtbeast stopped 23 of 25 shots in the Motor City on Sunday after having his undefeated streak against the Blues stopped on Thursday night. Braden continues to make the key save, when needed, and that allowed the Capitals to find their legs in period three and come out on top. Holts is now 16-10-2 for the year with a .910 save percentage.
Speaking of goalies, Pheonix Copley turned in another strong outing in Texas on Friday night and he deserved a win instead of an overtime loss. The Alaskan native is now 9-2-2 with a .915 save percentage this season. Coming into this campaign, the backup goaltender was a big question mark for the Caps with the departure of Philipp Grubauer to Colorado, but that is no longer the case!
Wilson is now up to 12 goals and 20 points in just 22 games. He’s not making the big hits right now for fear of suspension, but he’s a huge presence on the ice and he, along with Ovi, are getting to the front of the net for tips and screens. Good things happen when you get pucks and bodies to the net. Washington played a “Coyote Ugly” game until the third period, but then they simplified things and moved their feet to dominate the final frame of the trip.
The Capitals haven’t played their best hockey over the last week, they’ve been in a bit of a funk, but because they are performing so well at even strength, they continue to pick up points. Several years ago the Caps were considered special teams enabled, but with the power play currently in despair and their PK so up and down, they’ve really needed to be good in five on five situations, and they have. The ability to roll three really strong forward lines and then a variable fourth line night in and night out makes Washington a serious threat again this post season.
With the Caps leading in points percentage on Saturday night, Coach Todd Reirden was named to lead the Metropolitan Division team, which features Carlson and Holtby, in San Jose at the NHL All Star Game. Ovechkin was voted by the fans as Captain for the Metro team, but he is going to skip the festivities to rest up for the stretch run. As a result, he incurs a one game suspension in the process.
Notes: Next up for the Caps are the Flyers at Capital One Arena on Tuesday Night at 7:30 pm. You all know how I feel about the orange and black, it’s always a big game going back to 1974…Carlson led the Caps in ice time in Detroit with 25:50…the Caps were 3 for 3 on the penalty kill…Washington continues to struggle at the dot, losing 36 of 61 draws. Backstrom went 10-9.