We are not quite there, yet, but the Washington Capitals played the role of “spoiler” last night. In beating the Winnipeg Jets, 4-0, in the first half of a back-to-back set in Manitoba, the Caps kept the Jets from securing a stronger hold on their Southeast Division lead.
Washington broke on top early on some relentless play by Troy Brouwer. It started at the Capitals blue line when Grant Clitsome could not keep the puck in the Capitals’ zone. As he backed off the blue line he was stripped of the puck by Brouwer, who batted it down into the Winnipeg end. Brouwer headed after it, Clitsome giving chase. At the end wall, with Clitsome closing, Brouwer dropped the puck for Brooks Laich. Brouwer did not give up on the play, circling out to the left wing circle to receive a pass from Laich. As Laich circled out himself to set a screen in front of goalie Ondrej Pavelec, Brouwer fired through that screen, Pavelec unable to track the puck as it went by, and the Caps had a 1-0 lead barely three minutes into the game.
Washington took a choke hold on the game late in the first. The play started innocuously enough, when Marcus Johnasson was bumped off the puck at the red line as he was dumping it deep into the Winnipeg zone. Dustin Byfuglien retrieved it for the Jets and hurried it around the boards to Evander Kane waiting along the half wall. Kane could not handle the pass, and the puck trickled over to Alex Ovechkin pinching down the boards. Ovechkin circled around Kane and spied Johansson across the ice at the edge of the left wing faceoff circle. Ovechkin snapped a hard pass through Byfuglien’s legs and onto the tape of Johansson’s stick, who had merely to redirect it behind Pavelec for a 2-0 lead with less than four minutes to the first intermission.
After a second period of no scoring the Caps put things away in tidy fashion in the third period. After Pavelec was docked for delay of game to put the Caps on the power play, Nicklas Backstrom held the puck in the right wing corner to tempt the Jets’ penalty killers to edge over to his side of the ice. When they did, Backstrom threaded a pass through defenseman Zach Bogosian’s legs and across to an uncovered, yes…an uncovered Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin fired a one timer sent to the far side of Pavelec, off the post, and in for his league-leading ninth power play goal of the season.
The roles were reversed on the fourth and final goal. Ovechkin circled out from the left wing corner and sent a no-look pass to Backstrom in the high slot. Backstrom’s one timer looked to be going wide, but the puck hit both skates of Derek Meech, coming out from behind the Winnipeg net, and off the post to the left of Pavelec, skittering behind the surprised goalie for the goal that provided the final margin.
-- The Caps played a solid road game from start to finish, tending to the “keys” we identified in the prognosto. For example, “no ‘Jet’ lag.” Washington avoided the problem they often faced this year, falling behind teams in the first period. They jumped on the Jets early with a goal, added a late first period goal, and held the Jets to eight shots on goal after 20 minutes.
-- On the second key, the object was to keep Evander Kane – the “cocktail of speed, power, and finish,” as described by the Winnipeg Free Press – from doing damage. Kane was held to no shot attempts in the first period and finished the game with no shots on goal, only a miss and a shot that was blocked on his line of the score sheet. The frustration was there when Kane cross-checked Mike Green in the last minute and got an extra ten for expressing added displeasure.
-- The third key was “knock ‘em out.” The Jets had done well in close games this season, with a combined 16-6-2 record in games decided by one or two goals. But they could be stomped. The Caps did just that when they got goals from the big guys in the third period.
-- The Caps did something they have struggled at doing all season. They shut down a team utterly and completely in the second period. The Caps held the Jets to four shots on goal in the period. Winnipeg did not record its first shot attempt until the 4:40 mark and did not have its first shot on goal until 5:23 had elapsed. But here is the big number here. Of the 16 shots attempted by the Jets in the second period, half of them – eight in all – were blocked.
-- The 20 shots on goal allowed is a season low for the Caps. It was the first time since February 23rd (a 5-1 win over New Jersey) in which the Caps allowed fewer than 30 shots on goal in a game. It broke a 12-game streak of allowing 30 or more.
-- With another game in Winnipeg less than 24 hours after this one, head coach Adam Oates was economical with the time of his big contributors in the third period. Ovechkin skated only 5:38 (total of 18:23). Mike Ribeiro skated only 5:32 (15:15). Backstrom only 5:53 (17:25).
-- The top line of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson – one that has struggled to produce when assembled – was 3-4-7, plus-6 for the evening, each of them getting a goal.
-- Eric Fehr is in a bit of a bad-luck rut at the moment. He might have had a goal last night on a fine chance in front of Pavelec that the goalie turned aside, but the fact is that Fehr is shooting the puck with frequency – 22 shots in his last eight games – but has no goals to show for it.
-- The shutout by Braden Holtby was his second of Winnipeg this season and fourth overall. In his last eight games against Southeast Division opponents this season Holtby is 7-1-0, 1.69, .950, with four shutouts. One guesses he is not a fan of realignment.
-- The faceoff numbers are a bit misleading. The overall totals will say the Caps were 23-for-49 (46.9 percent). However, they were 7-for-14 in the offensive end (50 percent) and 11-for-17 in the defensive end (64.7 percent).
-- Back to those 20 shots on goal for Winnipeg. Of that total, Dustin Byfuglien had five. The other 17 skaters split 15 shots, none having more than two.
In the end, Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press has perhaps the best take on this game…
“The Winnipeg Jets may be single-handedly dragging the Washington Capitals back into the playoff picture. The Jets have precisely zero goals against Washington in their last 120 minutes of hockey — on MTS Centre ice, no less”