13 of 18 Capitals skaters earned at least a point as the Caps buried the New Jersey Devils, 6-2, at The Rock on Saturday afternoon.
In his pregame presser Washington Coach Barry Trotz looked annoyed and rightly so given that his club had lost four of its last five games, although two were in the gimmick. The coach felt like his squad was playing on the perimeter too much and not making things difficult for their opponents and their goaltender.
On Saturday, the boys in white made their coach happy as they repeatedly went to the net and all six of their tallies were the type of gritty goals you need to win in the post season.
Gone was the predominantly soft play we saw from some of the Capitals players in Thursdays shootout loss to these same Devils, despite 44 shots on goal, and several of the previous games.
Washington was hard on the puck and they continually won the puck battles. Brett Connolly got things rolling for Washington just 2:36 into the game scoring while driving the net off of a beautiful feed from Andre Burakovsky. It was #10’s 4th tally of the season and he continues to play heavy and with a high hockey IQ when he’s on the ice.
After a clean Tom Wilson hit unfortunately injured John Moore, who hit his head on the glass, Devils Coach John Hynes lambasted officials Marc Joannette and Justin St. Pierre. Naturally the clowns from Quebec were intimidated and started a Caps parade to the penalty box, with the worst call being a phantom hit to the head on Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals PK was great though, and once back to even strength late in the first period, Daniel Winnik fed Brooks Orpik at the point and he fired the biscuit on net. Wilson and Jay Beagle were in Keith Kincaid’s line of sight and both swatted at the puck with #83 knocking it home for his 6th goal of the season.
Washington led 2-0 after 20 minutes, but the guys in stripes decided they were going to be the show and they called several more penalties, including five on the Caps that led to Devils power plays in the second period.
However, the Capitals PK was fantastic with Winnik sacrificing his body to block a shot and then displaying a yeoman-like effort to get a clear, in one instance.
With the teams at 3 on 3 because of the mad zebra show, Evgeny Kuznetsov turned a puck over to Kyle Palmieri, who beat Philipp Grubauer (21 saves) top shelf to make it 2-1.
But Washington showed character and grit by responding with two quick goals while the game was on a rare stretch of five on five. T.J. Oshie (1G, 1A) deposited the rebound of a Nicklas Backstrom shot and then the Gr8 (1G, 1A) buried the rebound of a Matt Niskanen (2A) blast that came off of the backboards to make it 4-1. It was a display of killer instinct that this club talked about developing following last springs post season defeat.
The zebras were undeterred though, and kept sending good guys to the box, but Grubauer and the Caps would not allow the Devils to light the lamp.
Justin Williams (1G, 1A) then overcame a hook and then a hold in the corner to position himself in front of Kincaid (20 saves) and the vet deftly deflected the biscuit fired by Niskanen into the cage to pretty much end this one with 23+ minutes still left in regulation.
The Devils would get their ninth power play of the afternoon in the final frame, but Washington’s PK unit was perfect again. Word has it that the Capitals penalty killing squad is being considered by the Pentagon for one of their special forces units.
After the Devils closed to 5-2 late, Marcus Johansson went to the cage and slammed home a great pass from Williams, who had received an excellent feed from Kuznetsov, to close out the scoring.
The win improves the Caps to 21-9-5 (47 points), but more importantly, the Capitals won with a style they need to employ more often. They were hard on pucks and the opposing defense. They only had 26 shots on goal, primarily due to 13:11 of shorthanded time, but they were of much better quality than the 44 mostly “one and done” variety that they had against the Devils on Thursday.
Simply put, this is the way the Caps need to play and the coaching staff should feel a lot better after this victory. I know I do and hopefully I can leave that four letter word that starts with “s” and ends in “t” which rhymes with “loft” out of my tweets and blogs for good when discussing Washington’s play and effort.
You don’t have to play “heavy” at all times, but you do have to work hard and smartly to get to the front of the opponents net and create havoc for the net minder. The Capitals did that on Saturday extremely well. When they do that regularly, they’re tough to beat.
Notes: the Caps went 0 for 3 in only 1:11 of power play time…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with a low total of 21:58, but Orpik, John Carlson, and Karl Alzner all played over 21 minutes as well due to the nine NJ power plays…Moore hit his head on the glass, was taken off on a stretcher, and taken to the hospital. He was deemed okay and likely would be released later on Saturday evening…the Caps face Ottawa at the phone booth at 7:30 pm on Sunday night.