Saturday, April 20, 2013

A TWO-point night -- Game 45: Capitals 5 - Canadiens 1

The trick at this time of year, as much as avoiding losses altogether when you cling to a small lead for a playoff spot, is avoiding making two out of one.  The Washington Capitals shook off their loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday and throttled the Montreal Canadiens in their own building, besting the Canadiens, 5-1, at Bell Centre.

There are nights, like last Thursday, when hockey just looks so hard.  And then there are nights when it looks easy.  Not to say it is so, just that when the skill guys are on their game, when the defenders are being smart without being passive, when the goaltending is sharp, it just looks, well…easy.  Tonight was one of those nights.

The Caps came into this game having won five straight games on Montreal ice and served notice on the Canadiens that Washington’s recent success at Bell Centre would not be coming to an end on this night.  The Caps scored two goals barely a minute apart early in the first period.   The first came when Montreal’s P.K. Subban tried to feed the puck up ice from behind the Canadiens’ net.  His pass hit Nicklas Backstrom and caromed onto the stick of Alex Ovechkin.  Cutting across the grain, he avoided Tomas Plekanec, then rifled a wrist shot through Carey Price on the Caps’ first shot of the contest at 4:49.

Just 68 seconds later, the Caps struck again, this time finishing a won faceoff.  Mike Ribeiro beat Lars Eller on the draw to the right of Price.  The puck skittered out to Karl Alzner, who settled it and fed it to Troy Brouwer circling out of the corner.  Brouwer took the pass in stride and sent an off-pace shot from the top of the left wing circle that Price could not solve.  The Caps had a two-goal lead just 5:57 into the game.

The Caps added a pair in the second period, and early was the theme again.  Brouwer recorded his second of the game just 3:49 into the period, finishing the job that Mike Ribeiro and Marcus Johansson started.  Ribeiro fought Francis Bouillon to a draw for a loose puck in the corner to Price’s left.  It allowed Johansson to step in, grab the puck, and find Brouwer in the high slot uncovered.  Brouwer slammed the puck past Price’s blocker, and it was 3-0. 

Four minutes later it was Nicklas Backstrom finishing a slick sequence on a power play.  Mike Riberiro started the around the horn play, feeding Mike Green at the top of the zone from the right wing wall.  Green fed the puck to Alex Ovechkin at the left wing wall, and Ovechkin, rather than taking the shot, feathered a pass through the box to Backstrom at the far post.  Backstrom redirected the puck up and off the post and into the top corner of the net behind Price to put the Caps up, 4-0.

Washington finished off their scoring in the 14th minute of the third period when, on a power play, Mike Green fed Ovechkin for a one-timer that blew past Price in the blink of an eye.  Montreal broke Braden Hotlby’s bid for his fifth shutout of the season when Max Pacioretty scored at 14:51.  That was all the Canadiens could manage, though, the last seconds ticking off in a deathly silent Bell Centre, the Caps’ home away from home.

Other stuff…

-- The win extends to eight the streak the Caps are on at Bell Centre without having lost in regulation time (7-0-1).  The last time the Caps lost to Montreal in regulation time at Bell Centre in the regular season was January 10, 2009, a 5-4 loss.  Caps fans might remember that loss as having cost then head coach Bruce Boudreau the chance to serve as an assistant coach in the 2009 NHL All Star Game.

-- The shot total for Montreal might look bad to Caps fans – 36 – but not in the context of the game.  Montreal managed only 21 shots in the first 40 minutes, getting 15 in the third period when the contest had been largely decided.

-- It’s Braden Holtby’s crease, and you trespass at your peril.  Travis Moen found that out when he carried the puck toward the Caps’ net. through the right wing faceoff circle  Moen had no apparent scoring chance on the play, since he was being defended by Jack Hillen on the inside of his route to the net, but it did not prevent him from making a charge to the cage, and Holtby flattened him with his blocker as he went by, sending both Moen and Hillen into the end boards.  He reached back past Olaf Kolzig to channel his inner Billy Smith on that one.

-- The Caps had five players with multi-point games, and one could argue they were the right ones – Alex Ovechkin (2-1-3), Mike Ribeiro (0-3-3), Nicklas Backstrom (1-1-2), Troy Brouwer (2-0-2), and Mike Green (0-2-2).

-- For Ribeiro, the three assists extended his scoring streak to five games.  He is 2-10-12 over his last eight games.

-- The two goals for Ovechkin make four multi-goal games in his last ten contests.  He has 20 goals over his last 18 games.  He also reached 30 goals for the eighth time in eight seasons.  Only four active players have more 30-goal seasons over their careers: Jaromir Jagr (15), Jarome Iginla (11), Teemu Selanne (10), and Ilya Kovalchuk (9).  His power play goal gave him 16 on the season, one of only 10 players in NHL history with five or more seasons with 16 or more power play goals.  He trails only Selanne (six seasons) among active players.

-- Green’s two assists makes him one of only two defensemen in the league in double digits in both goals and assists.  P.K. Subban is the other one.

-- Backstrom’s goal and assist gave him his seventh multi-point game in his last 18 contests.  He is 4-20-24 in those 18 games.

-- Montreal had five power plays on the night.  It was the first time the Caps faced that many shorthanded situations since they faced five against Winnipeg on March 22nd.

-- Speaking of penalty killing, the Caps were 5-for-5 tonight, making the penalty killers perfect over their last four games (13-for-13).

-- The Caps had three power plays on the night, four shots on goal, and two goals in only 2:46 of power play time.  Very efficient.  Washington has recorded two power play goals in three of their last four games and are 7-for-18 (38.9 percent) going back to the second period of their 3-1 win over Carolina on April 11th.

-- Troy Brouwer’s two goals give him 19 on the season, his second highest goal total for a season in his career, topped only by his 22 goals with Chicago in 2009-2010.  His 19.2 percent shooting percentage is a career best.

-- Every Montreal skater had at least one shot on goal, except one – Rene Bourque.

-- The Caps finished the road portion of their season on an 8-1-1 run.

In the end, the Caps are now on the brink of clinching a playoff spot.  They hold a three-point lead over the Winnipeg Jets, who lost to the New York Islanders in overtime earlier today.  Winnipeg will play in Buffalo on Monday night before visiting Washington on Tuesday evening.  Even if Winnipeg wins in Buffalo, the Caps can clinch the Southeast Division with a win in regulation on Tuesday.  And that is a place the Caps – 12-2-1 over their last 15 games – have worked hard to claim. 

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