The St. Louis Blues had everything to play for on Monday night at the Scottrade Center and the Washington Capitals had pretty much nothing to play for except trying to stay healthy and honing their game for the Stanley Cup Playoffs that start next week. The Caps also played in Pittsburgh on Sunday night while Coach Mike Yeo’s crew was idle. That sure sets up for a big victory for the home team, right?
Braden Holtby turned in a gem of a performance in net stopping 34 of 36 shots to earn his 33rd victory of the season and Washington won, 4-2, on the banks of the Mighty Mississipp. Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Chiasson, Andre Burakovsky, and Alex Ovechkin scored for Washington while Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Berglund tallied for the Blues.
The Caps, who already clinched the Metropolitan Division on Sunday night in Pittsburgh, now sit at 48-25-7 (103 points) and they have two relatively meaningless games left at Capital One Arena against Nashville and New Jersey on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.
Let’s get right into the analysis of this one.
Medic! – The number one priority in Monday’s tilt was for Washington to come out of the game healthy. T.J. Oshie, who left Friday’s contest against the Hurricanes with 10 minutes to go in period three, but played a full 60 against the Pens on Sunday, was wisely scratched along with the injured Jay Beagle (upper body). That put Shane Gersich and Chiasson back in the lineup at forward. Things got very scary on the banged up list in period one. Devante Smith-Pelly went into the boards hard, but seemed to be okay. The entire Capitals Nation then nearly had a heart attack as the Gr8 lost an edge and appeared to jam his skate into the rear boards behind the Blues net. Alex stayed down for several seconds, but then skated to the bench. Ovi would not miss a shift; however, he had to keep trying out his leg during timeouts the rest of the opening frame. Tom Wilson was shaken up later in period one, too. Fortunately all of those guys would return on their next shift and finish the game. Willy even took a shot off of his leg as the horn sounded on this huge win. Thankfully, it appears that the Caps survived this contest without any major injuries, but they do take back some bumps and bruises that need to heal up in DC.
Quick Strike– The Blues took the lead on a Washington defensive breakdown in period one and carried that edge to the locker room after 20 minutes. The Caps, however, stormed the castle in the first eight minutes of period two putting up a three spot on Jake Allen (30 saves). Backstrom scored in front of the net after a nice feed from Brett Connolly, then just under two minutes later Jakub Jerabek sprung Chiasson on a breakaway at the offensive blue line with a beautiful long feed that split the St. Louis D. Alex skated in and roofed one on Allen. At 7:54, the lead was 3-1, Caps. Andre Burakovsky scored a gorgeous goal on the rush that was similar to Dmitry Orlov’s puck through his skates tally that he notched in Dallas back in December. Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) had the primary assist and Brooks Orpik picked up the second helper on the third tally. The trio of red lights stunned the Blues, who were suddenly in deep trouble.
He Own Da Blues – Holtby, after a rough February, has been working his game back into form and he was the vintage Holtbeast in this one. There were several strong saves with traffic in front of him and he flashed his sassy glove to snag pucks at the Blues on a few other occasions. #70 was dialed in and looked very confident in the cage. The win runs Braden’s record against St. Louis to a perfect seven and zero, lifetime! The Caps now have both of their goalies playing well and it could not come at a better time. When it comes to the Blues, the Holtbeast OWWWWNNNNSSS them!
Spinning Wheel Must Come Down – Last month I praised the work of Trevor Hanson when he officiated back to back Cap games in California. Paired with the horribly inconsistent Gord Dwyer, Hanson sunk to his partner’s level in this affair. All night the players had no idea what was or wasn’t a penalty. Evgeny Kuznetsov was held on the opening shift on a potential breakaway with no call and from there things just deteriorated. On the night the Blues had four power plays to just two for Washington, although the Capitals received a man advantage with 2:07 left that put St. Louis way behind the eight ball. Ovi finished the deal with 1:31 left with an empty net power play marker, which is his 46th goal of the season with two games remaining. I’ll give Hanson a pass on this one, but once the playoffs start next week the teams need to have some consistency from the zebras!
Getting to the Cage – Shots on goal for the game were 36-34 for St. Louis, but by Comcast’s tracking the quality chances were pretty close (they had it 14-13, Capitals, late in period three). What I liked about Washington’s opportunities was they were coming from in front of the net on Allen. If the Caps continue to put bodies and pucks to the blue paint area their probability of winning post season hockey games goes up dramatically. There were still some occasions where they over passed, a play by Kuzy between the circles late in period three when it was 3-2 sticks out, but the team is starting to play the right way with more shots and more pucks being put behind the opposing D. That’s a recipe the Penguins used to win back to back Stanley Cups.
Crucial Giveaways –Jerabek had the great outlet pass to Chiasson for his goal, but he made another terrible defensive zone pass that nearly led to a goal for the second straight night. In Pittsburgh, he turned the puck over up the middle in period three instead of feeding the biscuit up the boards to two wide open Caps. Sidney Crosby should’ve buried that one, but he didn’t get full power on it and Philipp Grubauer robbed him. #28, in period two with a one goal lead, somehow thought that a cross ice pass from Holtby’s right across the front of the net to the left wing boards was a good idea for a breakout attempt. It wasn’t and even my two mites know you don’t do that, never, never! Berglund picked the puck off, but fortunately Holtby made another big save. I like Jakub, but he’s got to manage the disc better in the defensive zone. Throw it up the boards or eat it below the goal line if you don’t have a sure fire breakout pass from deep in your own end.
Special PK – Orpik had another super night on the penalty kill logging 4:16 of the 7:57 that Washington was shorthanded. John Carlson was right behind him in that department with 3:39 of time. The Caps, after holding Pittsburgh to a zero for five night on Sunday on the power play, blanked the Blues in four tries and St. Louis only had four shots on goal in those instances. It was nice to see defensemen Michal Kempny contribute on those units, too, logging 3:06 of PK time. If #6 can effectively kill penalties, then that frees up the very offensively dangerous Orlov to play more at even strength.
Roadies – As Caps excellent beat writer, Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) pointed out, the Capitals, with Sunday’s victory in Pittsburgh, won their 20th game away from home for the fourth straight season. On Monday night, they improved to 21-15-5 to close out their road slate for the campaign. The only other Metropolitan Division team to win over half of their road games in 2017-18 is the New Jersey Devils.
Notes: the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 37-29. Chandler Stephenson went 4-2…Ovi had nine shot attempts (5 on net) and was -2 in only 16:56 of ice time. He had some quality chances that he didn’t finish, but he did close this one out with the empty netter…Backstrom was the best skater on the ice for either team. He had three shots on goal and two points in 18:10 of action. His tally got Washington going in period two…Orlov led the Caps in ice time with 22:58. Coach Barry Trotz did a good job of spreading the minutes around in a meaningless game. Nobody on the team played less than 10 minutes and not a single player went over 23 minutes.