The entire Washington Capitals team should take Braden Holtby out to dinner this week because he saved their rears on Sunday afternoon at Capital One Arena. The Holtbeast was outstanding stopping 35 shots, including 20 in the middle frame when the Philadelphia Flyers were dominating the Caps, to lead his club to a very important 3-1 triumph over a franchise that has been despised around these parts since 1974.
This was not a pretty game for the Caps and it was a bit surprising given that they didn’t really show up for Friday’s tilt against Minnesota, a 3-1 loss that hopefully doesn’t prove costly in the Metropolitan Division race. Philly was a desperate squad on Sunday, they’re on their last gasp in 2018-19, and really came at Washington taking a 60-25 shot attempt advantage through 40 minutes. Somehow, though, the Caps built a 2-0 lead on a sweet first period deflection goal by Tom Wilson, his 22nd of the year, and another tip in tally by Travis Boyd after Andre Burakovsky created offensive zone havoc on the Flyers with some outstanding forechecking.
That 2-0 lead, however, was short lived because this Capitals team has a tendency to lose focus at key junctures. They did so again with four minutes left in period two. Washington, instead of getting pucks deep, made a careless offensive zone turnover that led to a Flyers jailbreak. T.J. Oshie hustled back, but he took a holding penalty to prevent a two on one rush. The Caps had been good on the PK to that point going two for two, but Cap Killer Jakub Voracek would score on the power play with Holtby out of position due to an errant clear by his defensemen in front of the net.
The Flyers would nearly tie the game on numerous occasions after that, but in this one, if Holtby could see it, then he was stopping it. Finally in period three, the Capitals started carrying the play and at the 8:07 mark Jakub Vrana notched his 22nd goal of the season on a breakaway after Brett Connolly made two fantastic plays in his own zone to get the puck to #13. V went five hole on Brian Elliott and from there on out, Washington dominated possession and easily could’ve won by more except for some big stops from Elliott.
This victory was huge because the New York Islanders won again on Sunday evening to remain just one point behind the Capitals in the Metropolitan Division with just six games to go. The Penguins, who defeated the Stars on Saturday night and have a cake walk on Monday evening against the rebuilding Rangers, are just three points in the rear.
The Caps, who lost Michal Kempny indefinitely to what looks to be a serious knee injury against the Bolts in a 5-4 overtime loss on Wednesday night, did some experimenting with defensive pairs and forward lines in this contest. It probably had more to do with the Flyers carrying the play and the fact that there is word that several Capitals are battling illnesses. Whatever the case, Washington was disjointed for much of the first two periods.
Burakovksy was one of the guys who certainly didn’t appear to have anything wrong because he was all over the ice. Andre logged 10:50 and was +1. He probably should’ve played more, but with the Caps in penalty trouble in the middle frame, the forward rotation became messed up.
Vrana was strong, as well, and he nearly scored his 23rd of the campaign after deking Elliott badly, but struck iron on the backhand after a gorgeous move. Jakub only had 9:19 of ice time and again, should’ve played more, but likely didn’t due to penalty troubles.
Nick Jensen was Washington’s best defensemen on Sunday. He blocked five shots, logged 20:45, added an assist, and was +2. He made several quality plays, including a great rebound clear in period three when the game was still in doubt.
Wilson rebounded from his worst outing of the season on Friday to continue to live in the heads of the Flyers, who will head to the golf course this spring knowing that they were SWEPT in 2018-19 by the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Philadelphia played some super hockey after mid-Janaury, but they had no answer for Holtby and the Capitals, who owned them on the scoreboard for the first time in the regular season for as far as I can remember.
The Flyers though, deserve credit for their effort, especially since they played on Saturday in a loss to the Islanders, which pretty much meant they had to run the table to have any prayer of making the postseason. The Caps, on the play of their goaltender, ended any chance of that happening.
Coach Todd Reirden’s team found a way to win when they really didn’t have it for much of this contest. Of particular concern is a power play that went 0 for 2 on Sunday and was a big fat donut hole on Friday night, too. Washington’s man advantage unit has been too perimeter based and very predictable lately. It’s time for the coaches to add some new wrinkles, and more importantly, generate additional net presence and traffic. The goalies in this league are very good, so if they see the shot, they’ll normally stop it.
This victory over Philadelphia stopped some serious bleeding as the Caps were 2-3-1 in their previous six games and had lost the first two games of a four game home stand. Last season, Washington went on an 11-3 run heading into the post season. It’s time for the Capitals to clean up the loose ends in their game and develop some cohesion for the post season. There is much to work on to get to the level required for playoff success.
Despite the uneven performance, the Caps should be thankful that their goalie seems dialed in. Hopefully they can also build on a strong third period as they head into a home and home with those “Bunch of Jerks” from Carolina this week (Tuesday at Capital One Arena and Thursday in Raleigh).
They can also take pride in the fact that the season series with Filthadelphia ended up Capitals 4, Flyers ZERO!
Defeating the Flyers is always great and this Capitals team beat Philly like a rented mule all year to send the black and orange to the links for early tee times in the spring of 2019.
Notes: John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:07…Alex Ovechkin had an assist, six shots on goal and was a big factor on the first tally. He also unselfishly passed up a chance to score goal #49 into an empty net late in regulation…the Flyers destroyed the Capitals from the dot, 38-22…shot attempts were 22-14 for Washington in period three, including 12-5 in shots on goal…the Caps blocked 18 shots and had 22 hits…the Capitals, minus some players, will visit the White House on Monday to celebrate their Stanley Cup triumph. It is a private visit so there will be no media coverage, which is disappointing for the fans in this area who have had to endure 43 years of clips of other NHL teams being praised by the sitting President after they won Lord Stanley and took it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to show off. Unfortunately, there will be no celebration ceremony and it is truly a shame that politics has gotten in the way of the fun involved in what has been a long standing tradition.