Staying home on the day before a game might become a trend.
Nicklas Backstrom was ordered to stay home on Monday with an undisclosed ailment. Whatever home-remedy he took did the trick as Backstrom recorded a goal and an assist as the Washington Capitals took down the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-0, last night.
The goal was not a pretty one. It was another power play goal made possible by deft passing more than nifty shooting. Alex Ovechkin found Mike Ribeiro on a wall-to-wall cross ice pass, then Ribeiro centered the puck to Backstrom at the top of the Carolina crease. Backstrom out-muscled Joe Corvo to get his stick on the puck, deflecting it past goalie Cam Ward’s right pad for the game’s first goal
If Backstrom’s goal was not pretty, his pass on the Caps’ second goal was. He started the play when he slid down the right wing wall as he entered the Carolina zone with possession. He chose not to feed John Carlson, who was heading down the middle with stick cocked for a one-timer. Backstrom chose, instead, to lay the puck off to the late-comer, John Erskine, who blasted a slap shot past Ward’s blocker to give the Caps a 2-0 lead just 31 secons into the second period.
Carlson did get his opportunity to get on the score sheet later when Ward could not handle a quick snap shot from Mathieu Perreault firing from the edge of the left wing circle. The rebound shot out to the right wing circle where Carlson was waiting undefended. Carlson wasted no time pounding the loose puck into the back of the net before Ward had a chance to scramble across, and the Caps had a three-goal margin with less than nine minutes left in regulation.
From there the only suspense was whether Braden Holtby would record his second shutout of the season. He stopped the last five he saw after the Carlson goal, giving him 33 saves for the game, and the Caps had their win, only the second time they recorded consecutive wins this season.
-- The only other time so far that the Caps recorded consecutive wins was a three-game winning streak, February 9-14, when they defeated Florida twice and Tampa Bay.
-- We thought Jason Chimera would break out in this game and get his first goal of the season. He did not, but not for lack of effort. His seven shots on goal (in less than 15 minutes of work) led both teams.
-- Speaking of shots, the 40 that the Caps recorded is a season high. They had 39 in a 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on February 14th.
-- Over on the other side, Alexander Semin led the Hurricanes in shots (four), shot attempts (nine), and blocked a pair of shots. Nice game…no points…good deal.
-- Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin finished the game with no shots on goal. That is the first time that happened in a regular season game since he had none in a 3-0 win (imagine that) over the New Jersey Devils on March 18, 2011.
-- Adam Oates was really parceling out the ice time evenly. Among the forwards no one played more than 14:26 at even strength (Jason Chimera), and no one had fewer than 11:17 (Matt Hendricks).
-- The Brothers Staal – Eric and Jordan – took 45 of the 60 faceoffs for Carolina, winning 23. That just struck us as an interesting number.
-- A more interesting number regarding faceoffs might be this one – 26. That is how many (of the 60 total) were taken in the Capitals’ end. Keep in mind that despite the Caps’ 40-33 shot advantage, the shot attempts were even in this game at 68 apiece.
-- By scoring on his only shot of the game, John Erskine is now tied for tenth among NHL defensemen in shooting percentage (10.5 percent). Unleash the Oisk!
-- Braden Holtby, with this shutout, is now 5-2-0, 2.01, .937 in his last seven appearances.
-- Another game, another power play goal. The Caps have power play goals in three straight games, nine of their last ten games, and 14 of 18 for the season. They are 13-for-28 going back to the third period of their game against Pittsburgh on February 3rd (46.4 percent).
In the end, the Caps are only four points out of first place in the Southeast Division, as close as they have been to the top spot since January 24th, when the Caps were 0-3-0 and the Tampa Bay Lighthing were occupying first place with a 2-1-0 record. Things do get harder, quickly, though. There is a trip to Philadelphia tonight followed by a trip to Winnipeg on Saturday. Then the Caps return home to face the Boston Bruins, who have only two losses in regulation this season.
The Caps appear ready to meet that challenge, though. They have looked quite crisp in their last two games, outscoring New Jersey and Carolina (both top-eight teams, it should be noted) by a combined 8-1 margin. Special teams are on top of things, the power play going 3-for-7 in the wins, while the penalty killers were a perfect 5-for-5.
Bring ‘em on.