In a sleepy game with not a lot of shot attempts, the Washington Capitals did what they had to on Tuesday night in New Jersey, they won by a large margin and were able to roll their lines in the third period as they prepare for Wednesday night’s rematch with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Andre Burakovsky continued to light the lamp to notch his 12th goal of the season just 2:52 into the contest, but then the Caps went into lethargic mode for the rest of the period. Washington only registered four shots on goal in that opening frame, but still would’ve had a 1-0 lead except for a major lack of focus moment at the end of the period.
Lars Eller had the puck in his own zone with about 12 seconds left and instead of skating it to the red line and dumping the biscuit deep, he passed it to the left wing boards in the neutral zone and then crazily went for a line change. Tiger’s play made zero sense and the Devils pounced on the disc. They would cycle it around in the Caps end and then beat Pheonix Copley (20 saves) with one tick remaining. It was a major blunder and another mental error, something that this Capitals team needs to clean up before the post season.
It was clear that Washington wasn’t into this tilt in the first 20 minutes, but in the middle stanza, they came out and played. Christian Djoos, who had been scratched while trying to build back the strength he lost due to his major surgery in December, made a super play at the left point to find Brett Connolly on the door step for Conno’s 20th goal of the season. Carl Hagelin earned the second assist on a play that further reinforces the statement, “Good things happen when you get pucks and bodies to the net.”
For Connolly, it was his career high 20th tally and with the assist on Burky’s first period snipe, he now has a career high in points at 42. Washington was still sputtering in some ways, but a line combination change by Coach Todd Reirden seemed to jump start the offense. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom switched lines and that move paid off quickly. Jakub Vrana made a super backhanded pass up to Kuzy after Dmitry Orlov’s initial clear following a faceoff win hit a New Jersey skate in the defensive zone. Evgeny went in two on one with T.J. Oshie and with the Devils defensemen cutting off the pass, #92 fired five hole on Mackenzie Blackwood to make it 3-1 with just under eight minutes to go in period two. Orlov should get an assist added on the goal, by the way.
The Caps then put the dagger in the Devils when their top line buried the biscuit on a three on two rush. After a clear by John Carlson, Backstrom came across the offensive blue line and dropped the puck to Alex Ovechkin, who was barreling down the slot. Nearly everyone in the building thought Ovi would shoot, but instead he zipped it to Tom Wilson in the left wing circle and top line Tommy fired it towards the cage where it hit Blackwood’s left pad then went into the net via the five hole. It was Willy’s 21st goal of the season and the 50th assist of the campaign for “All Star” Backy.
That would do it for the scoring. Coach Reirden was able to spread his ice time in anticipation for Wednesday’s big tilt against the Presidents’ Trophy winners. Washington lost to Tampa, 6-3, on Saturday after they dug themselves a 3-1 first period hole with some terrible play. The Caps, however, would storm back with a super second period and if Vrana buries the great feed from Ovechkin in the last five minutes, it’s 4-4 and anyone’s game. Instead the Bolts held on for a 6-3 triumph with two empty net tallies. Anyone who watched it saw a spectacular effort from the Gr8, who almost single handedly carried the Caps to a point and possibly two if Vrana finishes that late play off.
This victory on Tuesday night at The Rock ended a four game road trip where Washington played some really good hockey in stretches, but only finished with two wins and two losses. They need to eliminate the bad plays they are making at the wrong times that are putting pucks in the back of their own net. The talent is there on this team, but they need to be mentally prepared at all times and bring a strong effort.
They’ll definitely need that on Wednesday if they want to remain in first place in the Metropolitan Division and send a message to the Lightning that the Caps are still a team they’ll have to potentially deal with later on.
Braden Holtby will get the start in net at Capital One Arena at 7:30 pm. This should be an entertaining contest and while the Bolts are more rested, Coach Reirden will have last change and can try for better matchups than he ended up with on the road in Tampa. The Bolts were able to counteract Ovechkin’s strong game by scoring against each of the Capitals lines.
The 4-1 win improves the Caps to 43-23-7 (93 points) and they lead the Islanders by two points and the Penguins by four with nine games remaining (Pittsburgh only plays eight). Carolina, by virtue of their come from behind shootout triumph over the Pens on Tuesday, is in fourth with 87 points. The Caps still play the red hot Hurricanes twice in their last nine games. Six of the Capitals games are at home with only three on the road (@Carolina, @Tampa, and @Florida).
Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with a low total of 21:18. Nic Dowd had the lowest total at a modest 12:03 of ice time…Kuznetsov’s goal was his 19th of the season. The Caps have five players with 20 or more goals – Ovi, Oshie, Vrana, Wilson, and Connolly. Backstrom is at 18 goals, so it’s likely that the Capitals will have seven players with 20 or more goals before the season ends…shot attempts were 38-37 for the Caps…Washington was 0 for 1 on the power play, but 2 for 2 on the penalty kill…the Caps will follow NHL tradition and visit the White House on Monday afternoon with the Stanley Cup.