Sunday, November 17, 2013

Washington Capitals: A TWO point night -- Game 21: Capitals 4 - Blues 1

The Washington Capitals began play on Sunday in second place in the Metropolitan Division.  By evening’s end, they held the top spot all by themselves for the first time this season after beating the St. Louis Blues, 4-1, at Verizon Center.

What promised to be a hard slog for the Caps ended up being settled in the first 20 minutes of this contest.  It started, oddly enough, on a play on which Alex Ovechkin might have scored, but did not.  Ovechkin fired wide off a faceoff in the Blue’s end as the clock ticked past the seven-minute mark of the first period.  St. Louis managed to clear the errant puck out of the zone, but a backhand pass by Chris Stewart through the middle was too long for Brenden Morrow.  The puck was corralled by Steve Oleksy, who sent it up to Nicklas Backstrom.  From the red line, Backstrom bump-passed the puck to Ovechkin flying past him.  Ovechkin sailed in and launched a slap shot that handcuffed goalie Jaroslav Halak, sneaking under his right arm to put the Caps ahead, 1-0.

Five minutes later it was Ovechkin again.  Marcus Johansson started the play by sliding to the right wing boards to keep in an attempted clear by T.J. Oshie. Johansson sent the puck up the wall to Nicklas Backstrom, who wired the puck across to Karl Alzner at the left point.  Alzner fired the puck on net, and the puck once more appeared to handcuff Halak.  The puck popped up and plopped to the ice, and Ovechkin beat defenseman Ian Cole to it, flipping a backhand past Halak to put the Caps ahead, 2-0, at 15:41.

Barely three minutes later it was the Caps being rewarded for gaining the offensive zone with speed.  It started with a defensive zone faceoff win by Jason Chimera to John Carlson.  From behind the Capitals’ net, Carlson moved the puck up to Joel Ward, who relayed it ahead to Mikhail Grabovski steaming through the neutral zone.  Grabovski bumped the puck ahead to Jason Chimera at the St. Louis blue line, who wristed a shot at Halak.  With Halak leaving another rebound, it was Grabovski darting down the slot to flip the loose puck behind Halak to give the Caps a 3-0 lead with 4:19 left in the period and end Halak’s evening.

St. Louis got one back early in the second period on a power play when Vladimir Sobotka took advantage of the puck sliding off the end of Alexander Urbom’s stick, wristing it past goalie Braden Holtby at 5:29 of the second period.  The three-goal lead was restored just less than four minutes later on a power play for the Caps.  Nicklas Backstrom set it up from the right wing wall, sliding the puck to John Carlson at the top of the offensive zone.  Carlson one timed the puck through several Blues players and over the left pad of relief goalie Brian Elliott to make it 4-1 and end the scoring portion of the evening.

Other stuff…

-- The power play goal by John Carlson was the first allowed by the Blues on the road this season after 15 successful road kills.

-- Alex Ovechkin ended the evening tied with the Blues’ Alexander Steen in goals with 17 after his two-goal effort. 

-- This was only the second time this season Steen was held without a point.  In both instances the Blues lost.

-- Nicklas Backstrom recorded three assists for the third time this season.  He leads the league in games with three or more assists.  He is the only player with four three-point games this season so far.

-- Alex Ovechkin’s two goal effort was his fourth multi-goal game of the season, the most multi-goal games in the league so far.  In his last 82 games Ovechkin has 60 goals.

--  The three-goal win was the widest margin of victory over the Blues since the Caps beat them, 4-1, on October 7, 1995.

-- The 47 shots faced by Braden Holtby tied a career high for a regular season game set earlier this year against Winnipeg.  It is a career high in shots faced in regulation.  His 46 saves is a career high for a regular season game.

-- Boy, something just is not right with the second line.  Martin Erat, Troy Brouwer, and Brooks Laich had no points and only two shots on goal for the evening.  They are more like a third line at this point.  In fact, the even strength ice time for the players on the second (35:43) and third line (35:57) were very close.

-- The Caps were very good on faceoffs in the ends.  In the offensive zone they were 10-for-14 (71.4 percent), and in the defensive zone they were 15-for-28 (53.6 percent).

-- The 15:41 in ice time for Jaroslav Halak was his quickest hook since he gave up three goal on 10 shots in just 7:41 in a 5-3 loss to San Jose on March 19, 2011.

In the end…

It is not often the Caps get something of a laugher against a quality opponent.  This one qualifies as their best effort of the season.  Not as satisfying, perhaps, as the 7-0 pasting of Philadelphia to open the month, but this was a better hockey effort.  It made the final top end numbers somewhat misleasding.  For example, there is the anatomy of score effects. 

From the drop of the puck until the Caps scored the first goal of the game…
  • Shots on goal: St. Louis – 0, Washington 2 (including the first Ovechkin goal)
  • Shots blocked: St. Louis – 2, Washington – 4
  • Shots missed: St. Louis – 4, Washington – 2
  • Total shot attempts: St. Louis— 6, Washington - 8

From the first goal to the Caps’ second goal, it looked like this…
  • Shots on goal: St. Louis – 8, Washington – 2 (including the second Ovechkin goal). 
  • Shots blocked: St. Louis – 1, Washington – 0. 
  • Shots missed: St. Louis – 1, Washington – 0. 
  • Total shot attempts: St. Louis – 10, Washington – 2

From the second Caps goal to their third it looked like this…
  • Shots on goal: St. Louis – 2, Washington – 2 (including the Grabovski goal)
  • Shots blocked: St. Louis – 2, Washington – 1
  • Shots missed: St. Louis – 2, Washington – 1
  • Total shot attempts: St. Louis 6, Washington – 4

From 3-0 to game’s end…
  • Shots on goal: St. Louis – 37, Washington - 14
  • Shots blocked: St. Louis – 17, Washington - 7
  • Shots missed: St. Louis – 9, Washington - 14
  • Total shot attempts: St. Louis – 63, Washington 35

It was hockey’s equivalent of rope-a-dope.  In the larger context of the Caps tendency to allow a lot of shot attempts, it was one more instance.  But under the circumstances, it was not altogether surprising.  And given the way Braden Holtby has played (10-3-0, 2.25, .937, and one shutout in his last 13 appearances), the outcome was not entirely surprising, either.

The win leaves the Capitals on top of the Metropolitan Division for the first time in the short history of the new divisional alignment.  That might not last past tomorrow night, when second-place Pittsburgh hosts Anaheim, but they will be playing for the division lead when they face the Penguins on Wednesday.  It was a good start to a week that might yet get better.

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