The Washington Capitals are making a habit of playing games lately that are of the nail-biter variety. For the eighth time in their last ten games, the Caps fought to a one-goal decision, beating the Colorado Avalanche, 3-2, at Pepsi Center in Denver last night.
The Caps and Avalanche battled to a scoreless first period, but zeroes did not last long into the second frame. Washington opened the scoring when Coloardo’s Erik Johnson tried to move the puck up the right wing wall from just inside the center red line, but had the attempt intercepted by Alex Ovechkin. Heading the other way, Ovechkin skated the puck down the wall to the hash marks at the edge of the faceoff circle in the Avalanche zone. There he stopped and threaded a pass across the offensive zone to Nicklas Backstrom who wristed the puck past goalie Reto Berra’s glove to make it 1-0.
Less than two minutes later the game was tied when Daniel Briere put in a rebound of a Nathan MacKinnon shot. That was how it remained until the 13th minute. The Caps moved the puck smartly out of their own end, Jay Beagle to Joel Ward in the neutral zone, then to Jason Chimera at the Colorado line. Chimera took a couple of strides into the zone and placed a wrist shot over Berra’s glove on the far side, just inside the post to give the Caps a 2-1 lead going into the second intermission.
Tyson Barrie tied the game for the Avs 6:44 into the third period on a play that started when Nathan MacKinnon skated into the Caps’ zone and dangled the puck just out of reach of Jay Beagle. MacKinnon threw the puck into the middle where Gabriel Landeskog was cutting in. Landeskog skated the puck into the left wing faceoff circle, then sent it across to Barrie, who beat Mike Green into position to the left of goalie Braden Holtby. Barrie had only to redirect the puck into the open side of the net, and it was 2-2 and looking as if the game would go to overtime.
Alex Ovechkin put an end to that thinking with teams going 4-on-4 late in the third period. It started with Brooks Orpik backhanding a pass to an open Ovechkin on the right wing exiting the defensive zone. Ovechkin carried the puck up the right side of the ice and into the Colorado zone where defenseman Jan Hejda was waiting. Ovechkin tried to curl and drag the puck through Hejda’s legs and did manage to thread it through to his backhand. His shot went wide and off the end boards, but the rebound came right back to him. He slid the puck through on a bad angle past Berra, and the Caps had their game winning goal, sending the Caps home with a 2-1-0 road trip.
-- Jason Chimera’s goal – his second of the season – broke a 13-game streak without one.
-- This was the Caps’ 12th one-goal decision of the season (5-4-3). Only Anaheim, Chicago, and Colorado have played more, all with 13.
-- Alex Tanguay had one blocked shot for the game for the Avs, and it came at a price. He was struck in the face by an Ovechkin shot 7:29 into the second period and did not return to the contest.
-- For Nicklas Backstom, his goal and assist combined for his sixth multi-point game of the season. Ditto for Alex Ovechkin, whose goal and assist made it six times in the multi-point column this season.
-- Don’t look now, but Jay Beagle has points in four of his last six games. It is the most points be has accumulated over any six-game stretch of his career (regular season) spanning 206 games.
-- Is Andre Burakovsky hitting a wall? He did not register a point last night, the fourth straight game he has been held off the score sheet.
-- At the other end of the prospect chart, Evgeny Kuznetsov spent his second consecutive game with less than eight minutes of ice time (7:34). It was also his second consecutive game without a shot on goal; he has two shots on goal over his last six games, four of which he skated fewer than ten minutes.
-- The Caps were charged with just one giveaway for the game (Colorado was charged with 13). John Carlson was in the giving mood, if you are keeping score. Not that it mattered a lot. Carlson finished plus-2 for the evening.
-- Until Ovechkin scored with 5:56 left, he had gone seven straight games against Colorado without a goal. He had not scored a goal against the Avalanche since potting one in a 5-3 win in Colorado on October 25, 2006.
-- The Caps managed to draw just one non-coincidental penalty for the game’s only power play. Joel Ward managed the only power play shot of the game. It did lift them out of the basement in the league rankings for total road power plays (18, one more than the New York Rangers), although their average of 2.0 per game still ranks last. Colorado had no power plays.
In the end…
All things considered, not a bad road trip. The Caps lost to a team that was very hot in the St. Louis Blues, then they ground out two one-goal wins in unfriendly confines, allowing only three goals in the process. Braden Holtby was solid and might be turning a corner. His 27 saves on 29 shots faced is the fifth straight game in which he allowed two or fewer goals (4-1-0, 1.59, .947). He has climbed to 14th in the goals against average rankings (2.28), although he remains 28th in save percentage (.913, still two spots better the Henrik Lundqvist, so there is that).
The Caps now get the woeful Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, and that assumes the Sabres can even get out of snow-bound Buffalo for the game at Verizon Center. The Caps have the look of perhaps finally going on a roll that rewards their tighter sense of play over their first 19 games.