Sunday, December 21, 2014

A TWO-point night -- Game 32: Capitals 4 - Devils 0

Washington Capitals fans would be hard-pressed to think of a more complete win than the 4-0 defeat the Caps pinned on the New Jersey Devils last night at Prudential Arena in Newark.  The score itself was a bit misleading; it could have been much worse for the home team (and we will get to that). At the other end, the Caps held the Devils to 21 shots on goal, the fewest allowed to an opponent since the Caps allowed only 21 shots to the Calgary Flames in a 3-1 win in Game 7 of the season.

For the Caps the scoring started after a scoreless first period when the Caps worked the puck around the perimeter.  Nicklas Backstrom skated the puck up the left wing wall before sliding it to Jack Hillen at the top of the offensive zone.  Hillen moved the puck over to Mike Green, who stepped up and let fly with a slap shot that sailed over the right shoulder of a screened Cory Schneider in goal just over three minutes into the period. 

Backstrom got on the board late in the period on a play that started with a collision.  As John Carlson was backhanding a pass to Jay Beagle entering the Devils’ zone, Alex Ovechkin and Adam Henrique collided to Beagle’s right, thus keeping Henrique from trying to cut Beagle off.  Beagle continued toward the New Jersey net, dropping the puck for Backstrom in the left wing faceoff circle.  Backstrom wristed the puck off the pipe to Schneider’s left and into the net to give the Caps a 2-0 lead at the second intermission.

Alex Ovechkin put the game away in the eighth minute of the third period with one of the prettier plays of the season.  Picking up the puck at his own blue line, Ovechkin got up a head of steam through the neutral zone, backing off the Devil defense.  It was a 1-on-2 with Travis Zajac and Jon Merrill back for the Devils.  Ovechkin threaded the puck around Merrill and out of the reach of Zajac, breaking behind both defenders as he angled across the slot.  He snapped a backhand past the blocker of Schneider from the edge of the paint to give the Caps a 3-0 lead.

Backstrom completed the scoring, sending a backhand from the right wing wall into an empty net to give the Caps a 4-0 win.

Other stuff…

-- Like we said, it could have been worse for the Devils.  Conversely, it could have been a much bigger night for Alex Ovechkin.  Twice he hit the pipe on shot attempts, and he came up short on a penalty shot attempt after being hauled down by Marek Zidlicky on a breakaway.

-- It was the third three-point game for Nicklas Backstrom this season and his second in a week (he had three assists in the Caps’ 4-2 win over Tampa Bay on December 13th).

-- The teams split a total of 42 shots on goal and combined for only 73 shot attempts for the game.  By way of comparison, the Caps had 67 shot attempts on their own in their 5-4 overtime win over Columbus on Thursday.

-- Braden Holtby recorded his 13th shutout of his career.  Odd thing about his shutouts on the road, of which there have been seven.  This was his fourth shutout having faced 21 or fewer shots.  All of them have been on the road (twice in Montreal and in Winnipeg).  It was his second career shutout against New Jersey, the other coming in a 3-0 win over New Jersey last February 8th).

-- It just keeps rolling for John Carlson.  He skated 23:31 last night and was a plus-2, making him plus-14 over his last 11 games.

-- New Jersey pulled their goaltender with 3:11 left in regulation, which made for an odd line combination for the Capitals in response.  When the Caps came out for a faceoff at the 17:08 mark of the period, it was Backstrom centering Jay Beagle and Jason Chimera.  It was at the end of that shift that Backstrom scored his empty-net goal.

-- Ovechkin had ten of the Caps’ 37 total shot attempts (five shots on goal).  That might not seem as odd as Karl Alzner finishing with the second highest shots on goal total for the Caps (3).

-- At the other end… Eric Fehr, Brooks Laich, Joel Ward, Tom Wilson, Michael Latta, and Jay Beagle combined for one shot on goal (Beagle) and three shot attempts (Fehr had a missed shot, Wilson had one blocked).

-- The 21 shots on goal for the Caps tied a season low.  They recorded 21 shots on goal in Game 2 of the season, a 4-0 win over the Boston Bruins.

-- This was the fourth time in five games that the Caps had three or more power play opportunities.  They are just 2-for-18 (11.1 percent) in those games, including 0-for-3 in this one.

-- In four games the Caps have 14 goals on 113 shots against the Devils, and that includes a 30-save shutout by Schneider in the second of the four meetings.  Take that away, and it is 14 goals on 83 shots, a hefty 16.9 percent shooting percentage.

In the end…

The beat goes on for a club that might be playing not only its best hockey of the season (6-0-2 in their last eight games), but the best hockey in the Eastern Conference at the moment (yes, Columbus is 8-0-1 in December, but the Caps are the team that beat them).  Unfortunately, there is little time to take it all in.  The Caps have four more Eastern Conference opponents to close the calendar year, and the competition level will ramp up as the games go by.  Ottawa, the Caps’ next opponent, is only four points behind Washington, and then the Caps face the Rangers, Penguins, and Islanders before ringing in the new year against the Blackhawks in the Winter Classic.  If this is the way the schedule unfolds, the Caps are playing at a level that makes it just a bit less daunting.

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