With his wife in the building along with budding young super star, Patrick Laine, who had tied him for the NHL lead with 40 tallies coming into Monday’s night contest, Alexander Ovechkin took his game to another level notching his 599th and 600th career goals before Evgeny Kuznetsov scored on a breakaway in overtime to give Washington a 3-2 triumph over the very good and very fast Winnipeg Jets.
Philipp Grubauer made 26 saves for his 10th win of the season thanks in part to Chandler Stevenson’s diving break up of a two on one Winnipeg rush to set up Kuzy’s winning marker with 49 seconds left in overtime.
Wow! What a hockey game!
Below are my thoughts and analysis on this thrilling affair at Capital One Arena:
Back in 1st Place, Baby! – Washington’s win improves their record to 39-23-7 (85 points) and they leapfrog the Penguins back into the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. The Caps have a game in hand on the Pens with 13 contests remaining in the regular season. More importantly, the Capitals opened up a four point lead on the Flyers, who lost to Vegas on Monday night and have also played one more game than Coach Barry Trotz’ squad.
Nobody Does It Better – He isn’t a Russian spy, no, he’s a Russian goal scoring machine. Granted I never saw Rocket Richard or Bobby Hull play back in the day, but I’ve been watching hockey since the early 70’s and given the way the game is played now and the quality of goaltending, Ovechkin is, for my money, the greatest goal scorer I’ve ever seen. He has a sensational shot that he can get off in so many different ways. His first of the night was a low snapper from the point that found its way through Tyler Myers, T.J. Oshie and then Connor Hellebuyck (40 saves) and into the net for a five on three power play marker to give the Capitals an early 1-0 lead. Then, after Nikolaj Ehlers tied the game just 58 seconds later by stealing a poor back pass by Lars Eller, the Gr8 became the 4th fastest player in NHL history to score 600 goals when he tallied 3:53 into period two (only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Brett Hull have reached the 600 mark faster). Matt Niskanen made a great keep in on the left wing boards and he fed Kuznetsov in front just outside the right post. Kuzy shot, but the puck bounced to Tom Wilson in the slot. Willy fired the puck on net and Hellebuyck stopped it, but he couldn’t control the rebound. Ovi came in strong on the left post side and then whacked at it twice over a falling Dustin Byfuglien and finally, on his third try, he lifted the biscuit into the basket over a sprawling Hellebuyck to spark bedlam in the arena. It was clear from the outset of this game that Alex was on a mission to get 600 and help his team earn two critical standings points. His stat line for the night is monstrous: two goals, 15 shot attempts, eight shots on goal, five hits and 0 turnovers in 23:07 of ice time. With that, it’s time to cue the Carly Simon.
”Nobody does it better, makes me feel sad for the rest, nobody does it half as good as you, baby, you’re the best…”
Pivot Patrol – Once again, the Capitals received super play from their top two centers in Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) and Kuznetsov (1 goal, 1 assist). Backstrom had six shots on goal, a takeaway, and was 10-8 in faceoffs in 20:58 of ice time while Kuzy had four shots on net, two takeaways in 23:13 of time. It was #92 who once again centered Ovi and Willy while Backy was the pivot man for Andre Burakovsky and Brett Connolly. Eller had a rough first period with his poor back pass in a four on four situation that led to Ehlers goal, but Coach Trotz received a strong game from Jay Beagle, who was 13-4 on draws logging 10:02. After losing to the Jets in OT on February 13th, the Washington bench boss made a smart adjustment by having #83 take the opening draw in the extra session and he won it cleanly back to John Carlson. From there Kuzy took the puck up the middle of the ice and drew a slash from Bryan Little that put the Caps on a 4 on 3 power play just 19 seconds into overtime. Washington would not convert despite some great looks, especially Oshie’s rebound attempt in front that somehow Hellebuyck got his glove on. When #19 and #92 are engaged, the Capitals are very hard to beat.
Jet! – It’s no surprise that Winnipeg is a Cup contender out west with the speed and talent they have in their lineup. Adding Paul Stastny at the trade deadline to go with a crew of amazing forwards that includes Laine, Ehlers, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, and the currently injured Mark Schiefele really puts them in the elite of the Western Conference with the Nashville Predators and the surprising Vegas Golden Knights. With Hellebuyck playing well in net, and he was the main reason the Caps didn’t win in regulation, they have a legitimate chance to make the Stanley Cup Finals. Speaking of the kid, Laine, the young man was outdone by the his boyhood hero, the Gr8, but he did get his 41st goal of the season in the third period after a terrible set of turnovers by Washington in their own zone following a sequence where Ovechkin decided to pass up a great shot opportunity that could’ve given him the hat trick and his team a two goal lead. Winnipeg is very talented and as I said in the opening salvo, a very fast squad. I seem to always get that great Paul McCartney tune in my head when I see the Jets fly up and down the milky ice these days.
All the Right Moves – The Caps had 43 shots on net and 73 shot attempts to 28 and 62, respectively, for the Jets. Washington built on the way they played in San Jose by getting more pucks and bodies to the net. It’s simple hockey and there were fewer occasions where I muttered to myself or tweeted “so and so should’ve shot the puck” in this affair. On defense, the Caps held one of the best offensive teams in the league to under 30 shots on goal and that’s now five straight games they have done so. As I wrote after Saturday’s win, Washington needs to play this style of hockey to do well in the post season. More shots directed towards the net and solid team defense. With the additions of Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek the blue line has been stabilized. Carlson seems to gel well with Kempny, who excels at breakout passes and Brooks Orpik turned in his second high quality performance in a row paired with Jerabek, who also is adept at getting the puck out of the Caps end quickly. Orpik logged 18:43, including a tied for the team high 3:54 on the PK (Niskanen). #44 was a big factor in Winnipeg going 0 for 3 with the man advantage. The team defense improvements are allowing Grubauer to see the shots and #31 is so dialed in right now that you can see Washington’s confidence in their own end building. GM Brian MacLellan’s low cost additions on the blue line have started to really work with time. Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey are going to be very good players in this league, but they are still rookies and realistically, the Caps aren’t going to go deep in the post season with two very green players on the blue line. While Kempny and Jerabek don’t have a lot of NHL experience, both have played at least eight seasons professionally, something Alan May astutely pointed out in the Caps pregame show.
Good Day at the Zoo – I’ll admit that Jean Hebert and Dean Morton aren’t my favorite zebras, but I have to tip my hat to them for a job well done in a very fast paced hockey game. All seven penalties called in this affair were spot on and it took guts for Hebert to blow the whistle on Little in overtime, but he clearly got Kuznetsov on the glove and deserved to go to the box and feel shame. The referee duo set the tone early that stick infractions and trips were not going to be allowed and they stuck to that mantra. Any stick put on an opponent in the glove area was correctly whistled in this one. They allowed physical contact to take place and they were consistent. You can’t ask for more than that and that’s three games in a row where I’ve felt that the guys in stripes were spot on, well done zebras!
Notes: The Caps will be in action on Thursday in Brooklyn before coming home to face the Islanders at Capital One Arena on Friday in a back to back set. I’d expect Grubauer to start in New York while Braden Holtby gets back in the cage on Friday at home…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:14…Byfuglien logged 30:56 for Winnipeg…Devante Smith-Pelly had six hits to lead Washington in that department…the Caps were 1 for 4 on the power play. They failed to score in OT and they also took themselves off of it right after Ovi scored his 1st goal when Oshie was called for slashing. Shortly thereafter Eller made his mistake in the 4 on 4 and the game was tied…Ovi has 600 goals and 509 assists in 1,109 games. He’s a sure fire 1st ballot Hall of Famer. Nobody does it better…