The Washington Capitals started their 14-game walk through the toughest part of their schedule this month with a 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins this afternoon at TD Garden in Boston. The Caps, who will face these same Bruins twice more over their next 13 games, not to mention the Pittsburgh Penguins twice, the Philadelphia Flyers twice, and take a trip to the west coast to visit Los Angeles, San Jose, and Anaheim, scored early, scored late, and held off the Bruins to secure their fourth straight win.
This game, however, might have turned on the basis of play at the other end of the ice. In the game’s seventh minute Jay Beagle was about to be sent to the penalty box for committing a holding infraction on Milan Lucic. Before play was whistled dead, though, Tom Wilson high-sticked Torey Krug, and both Caps were sent to the penalty box, giving the Bruins a full two-minute 5-on-3 power play. In the power play Boston managed only four shot attempts. Two of them were blocked, one was a miss, and the fourth – a shot on goal by Krug – was turned away by goalie Braden Hotby. The Caps killed off the two-man disadvantage and kept themselves in the game.
The effort was not for naught, for in the final two minutes of the first period the Bruins’ Chris Kelly was sent off for interference on Jason Chimera. Less than half a minute later, John Carlson teed up Alex Ovechkin for a one-timer from the left wing circle, and Ovechkin beat goalie Tuukka Rask to the short side to give the Caps a 1-0 lead at the first intermission.
Washington built its lead to 3-0 in the second period with a pair of goals. The first came on Ovechkin’s second power play goal of the game. The play started with Braden Holtby sending the puck up the left wing wall to Joel Ward at the red line. Ward skated the puck into the Boston end and slid it to the middle where Marcus Johansson was filling in. Johansson backhanded a pass to Ovechkin in stride, and from the top of the left wing circle Ovechkin one-timed a shot over Rask’s left shoulder and under the crossbar to make it 2-0.
The second Caps goal of the period came on an uncharacteristic breakdown by the Bruins. After the Bruns won a center ice faceoff, Johnny Boychuk tried to move the puck across to his defensive partner Matt Bartkowski at the Boston blue line. Joel Ward stepped up and deadened the pass, picked up the puck, and split the two defenders to skate in alone on Rask. Ward faked Rask to the ice, then pulled the puck to his backhand, sliding the puck past Rask’s right skate to make it 3-0.
Patrice Bergeron got one back for the Bruins just 41 seconds after Ward’s goal. With Jason Chimera off for a tripping call, Bergeron one-timed a pass from Dougie Hamilton from the slot that beat Holtby, and it was 3-1. Boston made it 3-2 late in the second period when the Caps got caught almost doing the right thing. As Shawn Thornton was winding up for a shot from the edge of the left wing circle, Gregory Campbell was chugging down the middle toward the net. Mike Green tried to tie Campbell up, but in doing so he redirected Thornton’s shot past Holtby, and the Caps were down to a one-goal lead going into the third period.
In the third, Eric Fehr extended his curious mastery of Tuukka Rask. With the Bruins trying to establish control in the Caps’ zone, Fehr twice poked the puck out of the way of Bruin sticks, the second of which cleared the zone. When Torey Krug tried to regain control, he got tied up with Joel Ward’s stick and tumbled to the ice. It was the room Fehr needed to break free and alone for a chance against Rask. From the hash marks Fehr snapped a forehand past Rask’s left pad, and the Caps had the final two-goal margin they would not give up.
-- Sure, the pass from John Carlson to Alex Ovechkin was deftly applied for a one-timer for the Caps’ first goal, but that play is not possible without Nicklas Backstrom’s artful stick work and soft hands on the right wing wall to open up a passing lane to Carlson to get the play going.
-- Ovechkin’s second goal was his 800th NHL point. He is tied with Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk for 17th among active NHL players. No player since Ovechkin broke into the league in 2005 has more points. Joe Thornton has 755 points since 2005 for second place. Over that same period he has a whopping 103-goal lead, 412-309, over the second highest goal scorer, Ilya Kovalchuk.
-- Ovechkin was also a minus-1, making him minus-18 for the season. In 24 “minus” games this season he has goals of his own scored eight times (nine total goals).
-- Part of playing an effective road game is often frustrating an opponent. Here is an example of how the Caps did it this afternoon. No Boston forward recorded a shot on goal until Dan Paille did it with 5:51 left in the first period.
-- Ward’s goal, his 18th, is a career high, surpassing the 17 he had with Nashville in 2008-2009. It put him in the top-50 in the league in goal scoring (tied with 12 other players). His two points for the afternoon made it 35 for the season, tying his career high in 2008-2009.
-- Eric Fehr now has four career goals against Boston. All of them have been scored against Tuukka Rask.
-- Boston is not an especially adept penalty killing team, given their place in the standings. We noted that capitalizing on this would be a key to this game. The two power play goals scored by the Caps was the first time the Bruins allowed two power play goals in a game since January 14th against Toronto.
-- The power play loomed large in another respect. The Caps outshot the Bruins, 14-5, on their respective power plays. On the other hand, Boston won the even strength shot battle, 30-16. As a result, Boston kicked the Corsi out of the Caps, winning that contest at 5-on-5 with a 66.7 percent Corsi-for, and in 5-on-5 close score situations with a 54.2 percent mark.
-- The four-game winning streak is the Caps longest since a four-game streak to open the month of November. Since the Caps had an eight-game losing streak (0-6-2) in January, they are 7-2-1.
-- No Metropolitan Division team has more points earned against the Atlantic Division than the Caps. The win made the Caps 11-4-5 against the Atlantic this season, the 27 points earned being one more than the 26 earned by Pittsburgh (12-6-2).
-- Milan Lucic and Reilly Smith were tied for second in goals for the Bruins entering the game. They ended the game still tied for second because both were held without a shot on goal. Team leader Brad Marchand had only one shot on goal (and two minor penalties).
In the end…
It was a good win all around. Sure, the fancy-stat’ers will note that the Caps were beaten in the possession statistics, but that is when a goalie needs to step up, and Braden Holtby did with a fine game. The Caps made good on their power play opportunities, and they kept Boston’s most dangerous players from being too dangerous. It was a good step on the rough March road, but only the first step. It is a long road to go.