The Washington Capitals are the Southeast Division leader.
Thanks to the Captain and the Kid, for the first time this season the Capitals sit atop their division and occupy a playoff spot, a product of their 2-1 trick shot win over the New York Islanders on Thursday night. Fittingly, it came down to the puck on the Captain’s stick in the bonus round. Alex Ovechkin skated in slowly, deked Islander goalie Evgeni Nabokov, and flipped a backhand over his right pad for the only tally of the freestyle competition. Before that, it was the Kid -- Caps goalie Braden Holtby -- making it possible for the freestyle competition, stopping 35 of 36 shots in the hockey portion of the game, then turning away all three Islander attempts in the Gimmick to seal the extra standings point for Washington.
The extra session was made necessary by a close-fought 65 minutes in the hockey portion of the evening. Mike Green got the only goal for the Caps on a broken play late in the first period. Nicklas Backstrom started the play by slipping free of Islander defenseman Travis Hamonic in the faceoff circle to the right of Nabokov. Backstrom tried to slip the puck to Marcus Johansson at the edge of the circle, but the pass was too much in Johansson’s skates for him to control it. The puck slipped through to Casey Cizikas for the visitors, but he couldn’t control the puck, either. The biscuit slid all the way out to Green jumping in from the blue line. The defenseman took a couple of strides in and wristed an off-pace shot that fooled Nabokov, and the Caps had a lead just 13 seconds before the first intermission.
The Caps almost made the lone goal stand up, but the Isles scored late in regulation on a defensive zone turnover. John Carlson could not handle a bouncing puck coming off the side boards and lost it to Josh Bailey at the Caps’ blue line. Bailey skated the puck around the Caps’ net with Carlson trailing him, and as he popped out from behind the net he found Frans Nielsen in the high slot. Nielsen redirected the pass to the left wing circle where Kyle Okposo was waiting, and Okposo one-timed the puck into the back of the Capitals’ net with just 4:59 left in regulation to tie the game. Still, the Kid did his part in goal to get the Caps that far – and further through the five-minute overtime – and it was up to the Captain to clinch it.
-- By night’s end the Caps were playoff-eligible for the first time this season. They are tied in points with the Winnipeg Jets for the Southeast Division lead but hold two games in hand on the Jets.
-- The win put the Caps over .500 at home (9-8-0) and left them 16-9-1 overall since their 2-8-1 start.
-- Mike Green’s goal makes goals in four straight games. He is 5-1-6 in that span. You might remember that Green holds the all-time record for goals in consecutive games by a defenseman (eight), set in February 2009.
-- Braden Holtby’s 35-save effort broke a four-game streak in which he allowed three of more goals. The 35 saves he made was topped only by a 38-save performance in 2-1 loss to the New York Rangers on February 17th.
-- The Caps have done a good job at avoiding shorthanded situations. They faced only two against New York, making it only 16 faced over the last six games. On the other hand, this was only the second time in those six games that the Caps did not allow a power play goal (11-for-16, 68.8 percent penalty killing).
-- Martin Erat passed his first test with the Caps quietly. He recorded no shot attempts in 14:43 of ice time, but he did have three hits and finished “even” in 17 shifts.
-- Another day, another Nicklas Backstrom helper. His assist on the Green goal makes 12 assists in his last 12 games. His 30 assists for the season is now tied for third in the league, and he has climbed into a tie for 16th in total scoring. He has the fewest goals (six) of the top 50 point getters in the league.
-- Eric Fehr returned to limited duty. Fehr skated only ten shifts – 7:22 in ice time, lowest on the team – and had only a missed shot on his score sheet.
-- Mike Ribeiro did not record a point, his fourth consecutive game in which he was held without one. It is his longest streak of games without a point this season. He is 2-5-7 over his last 15 games.
-- You would think that with Mathieu Perreault centering Joel Ward and Martin Erat, that the wingers would get opportunities to get shots on net. Not only did Erat not record a shot on goal, but neither did Ward. On the other hand, Perrault had four shots on goal in 17 minutes (tied for team lead in shots on goal), although by the end of the game Erat was skating on a line with Mike Ribeiro, Matt Hendricks replacing him on the Perrault line.
-- It might have been a bit of an accidental assist, but they all count, and the assist recorded by Marcus Johansson made it three games in a row with points. In his last 11 games Johansson is 4-9-13, plus-8.
-- Matt Hendricks is now (gasp!) 1-for-3 on trick shots. Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin seems dialed in. He is 3-for-3.
In the end, the Caps are now the Southeast Division leader and take on the role of the hunted instead of the hunter. And even though the schedule provides a bit of a break – four of the next five games are against Southeast Division teams that even by divisional standards are struggling (Florida, Carolina, and twice with Tampa Bay) – it is no time to be happy. Just determined, as their 16-9-1 record over their last 26 games reflects.
Still, it does look nice…