In a game reminiscent of 1995 NHL hockey, the Washington Capitals received a power play goal from Jakub Vrana 7:21 into the third period and Braden Holtby made 15 saves as the Caps defeated the New Jersey Devils, 1-0 at the Verizon Center on Thursday night. The victory was a franchise record 14th win in a row at home for Washington.
The Devils are a rebuilding team that doesn’t have a whole lot of talent to work with, so under Coach John Hynes they play a very structured game. They constantly keep players back and clog the neutral zone making zone entries very difficult. What results is some pretty boring hockey.
Boring was the case on Thursday night as New Jersey tried to play a style that gave them pretty much their only chance of winning. It still really didn’t come close to working. The Devils were outshot by the superior Capitals by 7-4, 7-5, and 10-6 in each period and there weren’t many quality scoring chances for either club, especially New Jersey. When the Devils did get an opportunity, the Holtbeast was there to shut the door for the Caps.
Shot attempts were 59-50 for Washington in this one and the ultimate difference was that the Caps found a way to get to the front of the Devils cage in the third period to first draw a penalty and then bury the biscuit for the game winner. Jay Beagle drew a tripping infraction on Damon Severson directly in front of Devils goalie Cory Schneider (23 saves) with the Caps buzzing the tower in the final frame. After the Caps played predominantly on the perimeter for most of this one, #83 did some dirty work and parked himself in the prime scoring opportunity and when he went to gather in the rebound of a shot, the Devil hauled him down.
Washington’s power play, which went 1 for 5 in this affair, worked the puck around well, but they didn’t light the lamp until Vrana gathered in a loose puck from Evgeny Kuznetsov in front of Schneider after Brett Connolly was battling for it in the slot with a Jersey defender. #13 wasted no time in putting it past Schneider to give the Caps the only goal they would ultimately need with just under 13 minutes remaining.
After the Capitals had another power play, but failed to build on the advantage, Connolly was whistled for slashing with 13:27 remaining after his stick was held in the corner. #10 then gave Kelly Sutherland the business on a call that he didn’t like, he felt the slash was the result of pulling his stick away from another Jersey clutch, grab, and hold specialist. Sutherland didn’t like the lip and tacked on an additional two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct, so with 6:33 remaining the Capitals would have to kill off a four minute power play. The first penalty I could see Connolly being upset about, but arguing long and hard was the wrong move, Brett should’ve held his temper, taken the two minutes there and felt shame, and then told the zebra why he thought it was a bad call at a stoppage in play when cooler heads would’ve prevailed. That’s a good lesson to learn before the post season.
The good news for the home squad was that Daniel Winnik and company killed off the two minors while only allowing one shot on net. For the night, the Caps PK unit went a stellar four for four.
New Jersey then pulled their keeper, but Miles Wood took a foolish cross checking penalty on Brooks Oprik and the Caps ran out the clock to give the Holtbeast his 8th shutout of the season.
This victory was not an aesthetically pleasing one, but it was another two points to push the Capitals record to 43-13-7 (93 points) with 19 games remaining. They lead the Metro Division by seven points over Columbus, who has a game in hand. Third place still belongs to the Penguins with 84 points, but the Rangers are also at 84 points after a 2-1 victory over Boston on Thursday. Pittsburgh still has 20 games remaining while the Rags just have 18. In the Presidents’ Trophy race, the Caps are five points up on Minnesota, who lost 1-0 to Columbus on Thursday, but the Wild have a game in hand.
Heading into last season’s playoffs, the Penguins had the best record in the NHL after January 1st. That title belongs to the Caps right now and since December 5th, they are a staggering 30-6-4!
Guess what? This team can only get better as Kevin Shattenkirk feels more comfortable in the Caps system and T.J. Oshie returns to the lineup (as well as Andre Burakovsky in a couple of weeks). Washington won Thursday’s tilt, but they didn’t exactly go totally through the Devils, like their bench boss, Coach Barry Trotz, wanted until the final frame. However, the Caps play in their own zone was fairly stellar and New Jersey never came close to going through the Capitals.
A win is a win and the Caps thankfully are done playing the Devils this season as those type of games are hard to stay awake for, at times.
They will take the “W” and move on to face the despised Flyers at the phone booth on Saturday night.
Notes: Shattenkirk and John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 21:24, but Matt Niskanen logged 21:07. That is some serious balance right there…the Capitals lost the face off battle, 28-26, but Beagle was 9-5…Alex Ovechkin logged 20:33 and had eight shot attempts and four hits…Oprik returned to the lineup and played 17:15 and had a team leading five hits.