All Star Nicklas Backstrom notched a hat trick and a helper, Alexander Ovechkin had a goal and two assists, and more importantly, Braden Holtby made 33 saves in front of some very shoddy defense over the last 40 minutes to lead the Washington Capitals to a 6-3 triumph over the New Jersey Devils at Capital One Arena on Friday night. The win was the Caps seventh straight and improves their record to 15-7-3 (33 points) as they moved back into 1st place in the Metropolitan Division.
The Capitals came out and played a solid first period, outside of taking two penalties, and they took the lead on a great rush by Ovi in which he blew by the Devils defensemen and passed from the side of the net into the slot to Backstrom on the doorstep. Nicky then outmaneuvered the New Jersey blue liner for a tap in tally just 3:51 into this affair. The Caps had other quality chances to extend the lead, most notably a Tom Wilson chance in the slot after another great feed from #19, but Keith Kinkaid made the stop.
Devante Smith-Pelly’s interference penalty carried into period two, but it worked to the Caps advantage. Lars Eller won the face off back to Matt Niskanen to start the stanza. Nisky rifled the puck into the Devils end and Kinkaid came out to play the puck, but gave it right to Wilson, who was coming down the right wing. Willy grabbed the disc and fired quickly from just above the goal line and beat Kinkaid for his seventh goal in nine games just eight ticks into the frame to make it 2-0. Madison Bowey would then take a careless high sticking penalty and the Capitals had to kill their third straight infraction of the night. They would do so and Washington then had a chance to really extend the lead when Bowey drew a trip on Taylor Hall.
The Caps top power play unit, which received Evgeny Kuznetsov back from a concussion, couldn’t convert and then the second unit compounded the problem with a neutral zone turnover that led to a New Jersey two on one rush. Blake Coleman had a great look and fired on Holtby, but Braden stopped the puck yet couldn’t find the rebound. Travis Zajac was hustling to the front of the net and the Washington forward couldn’t tie his stick up, allowing the Devils to get a shorthanded goal of their own at the 9:23 mark.
For the next several minutes New Jersey stormed the castle getting three breakaways, one by Marcus Johansson that was sandwiched around two Brett Seney solo attempts. The Holtbeast would come up large stopping all three of them, which came as the result of the Caps carelessness with the puck. Washington definitely seemed to go out to lunch after they received their first power play.
Shortly after Seney’s second breakaway came the play that will be heavily talked about over the next 24 hours. Seney had the puck in the left wing offensive circle and while skating backwards, he dumped the biscuit into the corner. Seney kept moving backwards without looking and Wilson came skating into the zone tracking the puck, which was now in the corner. Willy was moving good and Seney veered backwards into his path, forcing Top Line Tommy to bring his left skate up to try and move right to avoid contact, but with Michal Kempny to his right, he hit Seney’s shoulder and knocked him to the ground. Seney stayed down and normally good zebra, Trevor Hanson, overreated and gave Willy a match penalty for head contact and a five minute power play. On replay, you can see that Wilson is looking into the corner and not focused on making a hit on Seney, which is far different than the hits in which Tom was previously suspended for. Seney would leave the game, but return none worse for the wear while the Caps, who at most should’ve received a two minute interference penalty, had a major penalty to kill without one of their top PK forwards.
Fortunately for the Capitals, they killed the five minute major with relative ease. On the evening the penalty killing unit went five for five in 11:04 of shorthanded time and only allowed four shots on goal, which is very impressive. Washington was pretty loose on defense at even strength, but in man down situations they were stellar.
As for Wilson, the video evidence clearly shows it was shoulder to shoulder contact, so the match penalty for head contact should be rescinded by the league. Even Seney himself told the media after the game that the contact was not to his head, it was to his shoulder. Given that Seney has no injury and when you see all of the angles in slow motion there is no intent, Wilson’s eyes are focused on the puck in the corner, I doubt anything more will come from this play by the league, but again, who knows with the Department of Player Safety these days? As for Hanson, he probably wishes he could have video review on that play before making the call, because I doubt he would’ve called anything more than interference with the help of another look.
After the Caps killed off the five minute major, they received a huge goal from Andre Burakovsky at 5:45 of period three, who was bumped up to the top line when his big brother was mistakenly kicked out. Andre took a puck at the offensive blue line, burst through two Devils defenders, and then beat Kinkaid to the blocker side. It was a huge goal at a very important time and should give #65 a lot of confidence. At the 8:26 mark, Matt Wood was called for a four minute minor for butt ending and the Capitals power play went back to work. Sami Vatanen took a hooking penalty 110 seconds into it giving the Capitals a lengthy five on three opportunity. 40 seconds later it was 4-1 when Backstrom roofed one short side on Kinkaid with 9:03 remaining.
Nico Hischier cut the lead to two goals with 7:25 left when Hall made a move around Niskanen on the goal line and drove to the net. Nisky pushed Hall down and it knocked Holtby over with the puck bouncing right in front to the 2017 first NHL draft choice to deposit it into the yawning cage. Marcus Johansson then made it a one goal game when he beat Michal Kempny in front of the net to tap home Hall’s pass with 1:50 remaining.
Just 20 seconds later, Ovi took the puck inside his own blue line and lifted one over everyone and into the empty cage to finally put the outcome to bed. Backstrom then scored his hattie when Alexander the Great carried the puck into the offensive zone and instead of hitting an easy open cage, he unselfishly passed cross ice to his pal for the empty net tally with 23 ticks remaining.
This was a very sloppy game for Washington after the first period and they won on their high end skill, super penalty killing, and most importantly, outstanding goaltending by the Holtbeast. Backstrom, Ovechkin, and Burakovsky were the big heroes up front, but overall the team has many things to clean up. New Jersey used its speed to generate chances when the Caps puck management was off, so that is something Washington must address going forward.
Afterward Caps Coach Todd Reirden, who had a very demonstrative discussion with Hanson before the third period started, was pretty upset about the call on Wilson. Todd felt that Willy was not even trying to make a hit there and with Seney moving backwards into his lane, it was a tough situation for Tom to avoid contact, but he pointed out that Willy did his best to move right and make himself smaller in that instance. Coach Reirden made a strong case, hitting on many of the points Alan May noted about the play in the Capitals post game show. The Caps bench boss is also still upset that both Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie sustained head injuries in Winnipeg and there was no supplemental discipline to either assailant. In fact, the Josh Morrissey body slam that caused Oshie’s concussion wasn’t even penalized! The key now is to make sure Wilson gets the match penalty rescinded so he can get back to playing hockey again, because the Caps certainly need him on the ice. The team is 8-1 since he came back, but it was the Holtbeast who was the biggest reason Washington won on Friday.
Notes: John Carlson had an assist and was +4 in a team leading 25:12 of ice time…there were only 18 hits in the game, 12 for New Jersey and just six for the Capitals…Backstrom and Ovechkin each had over 21 minutes of ice time…Kuznetsov had an assist and was -1 in 17:37 of ice time. He naturally looked a little rusty but there was nothing wrong with his wheels…New Jersey won the face off battle, 30-27…Oshie is still not skating, although he’s been hanging around the team before practices start by shooting pucks at the net without skates on..next up for the Caps are the Anaheim Ducks at 3:00 pm on Sunday at Capital One Arena. Following that game the Capitals go to Vegas, Arizona, and Columbus before returning home to face the Red Wings on December 11th.