Saturday, October 19, 2013

Washington Capitals: A TWO point night -- Game 8: Capitals 4 - Blue Jackets 1

It took eight games, but the Washington Capitals finally put together a complete performance, beating the Columbus Blue Jackets, 4-1, at Verizon Center.

Four different Capitals – Joel Ward, Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, and Alex Ovechkin – scored goals, nine different Capitals had points, Braden Holtby turned away 37 of the 38 shots he faced, and the club looked solid in all three zones for most of the game.

The first period suggested that this would be a game with pace, but with two teams struggling to score, it ended without a goal for either team despite 25 combined shots on goal.  That ended abruptly in the second minute of the second period.  With Brandon Dubinsky sent off on a tripping call 1:26 into the period, the Capitals worked the triangle play on the man advantage – Nicklas Backstrrom from the side wall to Marcus Johansson at the goal line extended to Joel Ward in the slot.  Ward one-timed the puck past goalie Sergei Bobrovsky at the 1:58 mark before the netminder could flinch.

Almost six minutes later it was Brooks Laich batting in a rebound from the doorstep to Bobrovsky’s right, but it was Steve Oleksy who made the play.  Oleksy collected the puck off the right wing wall and slid in, leaving Cam Atkinson flat-footed with a fine curl-and-drag, opening himself up for a shot that Bobrovsky stopped.  He could not control the rebound, though, and Laich was right there to finish the play.  That would be how the teams went to the second intermission, the Caps leading, 2-0.

Early in the third period Troy Brouwer extended the lead when he helped dig out a loose puck from behind the Columbus net to start the scoring sequence.  The puck squirted out to Columbus defenseman Nikita Nikitin, but Nikitin put the puck on the stick of Martin Erat as he was trying to move it up the wall.  Erat found Brouwer circling out from behind the net, and Brouwer had nothing but clear ice.  With Nikitin late getting to the front of the net and the other defenseman – Jack Johnson – not doing much of anything by way of defending, Brouwer had time and space to take two whacks at the puck  Bobrovsky stopped one, but he could not stop the other, Brouwer swatting the puck lying at the top of the crease into the open cage.

Two minutes later, with Dubinsky off on another penalty, the Caps made the Blue Jackets pay when Mike Green slid the puck from the top of the offensive zone to Alex Ovechkin in the left wing circle.  Ovechkin settled the puck and using defenseman David Savard as a screen, wristed the puck through Bobrovsky’s pads to end the Caps’ scoring for the night.  Artem Anisimov added a window dressing goal for the Blue Jackets with under five minutes left to end the scoring for the evening.

Other Stuff…

-- The reassemble second line of Martin Erat, Brooks Laich, and Troy Brouwer finished 2-2-4 (Erat added another assist on a power play), plus-6 combined, with seven shots on goal (Brouwer had six of them).

-- Speaking of Brouwer, he had 11 shot attempts and five hits, both numbers leading the Caps for the evening.

-- Adam Oates really mixed things up.  There were nine distinct changes among the skaters:
  • Erat from 4L to 2L
  • Laich from 2L to 2C
  • Grabovski from 2C to 3C
  • Fehr from 3C to 4C
  • Beagle from 4C to the bench
  • Volpatti from the bench to 4L
  • Schmidt from 3LD to 1LD
  • Alzner from 1LD to 2LD
  • Urbom from 2LD to 3LD
Only the top line was left unchanged.  If folks were anxious about head coach Adam Oates and a seeming timidity about shuffling the deck, well, he shuffled the deck.

-- Perhaps lost in all the changes and the distributed scoring was the effort by Joel Ward on the penalty kill.  Ward led all Caps forwards in shorthanded ice time and was extremely effective in pinning the Blue Jackets deep on the forecheck, denying them clean breakouts and even tying up the puck along the boards to kill critical seconds. 

-- Tom Wilson skated 8:44.  It might not seem like a lot, but it is a season high for him.  It might have been more but for skating only 1:41 in the second period while the teams were exchanging power play chances, the Caps with two and the Jackets with one.

-- That was Martin Erat’s first three-assist game since December 4, 2010, against Carolina.  It was the sixth time in his career he had three or more assists in a game.  And yes, he did earn a star for the game.

-- The 77 shots on goal for the two teams was the most combined shots in a regulation time game for the Caps since they and the San Jose Sharks combined for 77 shots in a 5-3 Sharks win on February 13, 2012.

-- Braden Holtby’s game save percentage progression over his last six games… .727 (in 16 minutes), .905, .917, .933, .944, .974.  Since being pulled after those 16 minutes against Calgary, Holtby is 2-3-0, 2.03, .938.

-- The Caps have had the problem, if it can be called that, of so much of the offense (at least so far as it is reflected in shots on goal) going through Alex Ovechkin.  Tonight, 13 of the 18 skaters recorded at least one even-strength shot on goal (34 total).  The odd part of it, though, is that it was all six defensemen who had at least one.

-- Coming into this game Marcus Johansson had three shots on goal for the season.  He matched that total in the first period and recorded his fourth of the game in the second period.  It was his first four-shot game since last St. Patrick’s Day in a 5-3 win over Buffalo.

-- Does Tom Wilson get credit for three hits for toppling three Blue Jackets on one play?  No, but he did have four hits, anyway.

-- The Caps struggled with faceoffs in the offensive zone, going only 7-for-21 (33 percent), and Laich had five of the wins.  Take him out of the mix and the Caps were 2-for-11.

In the end… It was the Caps’ best game of the year to date, and it came at a welcome time, just as they are about to embark on a five-game road trip.  Scoring was balanced, special teams were effective at both ends, Braden Holtby was sharp.  If there was one hiccup it was the 38 shots on goal the Caps gave up.  It was not entirely scoring effect as the Blue Jackets recorded 21 of those shots before the Caps gained a 2-0 lead in the second period.  What the Caps did not do was give up much in the way of second chances.

Now they go on the road to Winnipeg, followed by a swing through Alberta and British Columbia before hitting Philadelphia to open November.  The goaltending issues appear to be sorting themselves out, and the balanced scoring is something to build on.  Maybe when the Caps come home against Florida on November 2nd, the talk will be more optimistic than it has been the past week.

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