The win gave the Caps a 12-1-4 record since December 4th and allowed them to once more leap-frog the New York Rangers into third place in the Metropolitan Division (pending the Rangers’ late game against the San Jose Sharks). The win also allowed the Caps to inch within two points of the Red Wings for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
The Caps got on the board early, taking advantage of Detroit’s Tomas Tatar sending the puck off the rink in the first minute of play. On the ensuing power play, the Red Wings committed a rare error in their own end that the Caps converted. When Mike Green backhanded the puck in deep from the Red Wings’ blue line, both defenders back for Detroit – Riley Sheahan and Danny DeKeyser – went to opposite corners as goalie Jimmy Howard circled his net to leave the puck for one of them. Troy Brouwer jumped up to grab the puck, circled in front, and tucked the puck inside the post before Howard could scramble back.
On the play, Howard tried to extend backward with his left leg to cover the post and crumpled to the ice in serious distress. Unable to get back to his feet, he was taken from the ice on a stretcher, the late report being that he suffered a groin injury and would be evaluated for the seriousness of the injury.
Petr Mrazek took over in goal for the Wings following the Brouwer goal 1:53 into the game and played admirably. He did, however, allow another early period goal in the second when John Carlson stepped into a pass left for him as the third man into the Red Wing zone by Andre Burakovsky and blasted a shot past a sliding Mrazek’s glove to make it 2-0, Caps, just 1:35 into the second period.
Joel Ward made it 3-0 mid-way through the period. Eric Fehr skated into the Detroit zone and laid the puck out for Ward on the left side. The puck would not settle for Ward, and his first whack at it was a whiff. He got another whack at it, though, and this time the puck found its way past Mrazek’s blocker to give the Caps a 3-0 lead at the 11:39 mark.
Detroit tried to make a game of it when Jonathan Ericsson scored his first goal of the season with just 11.9 seconds left in the period. That would be as close as Detroit could get, however, as goalie Braden Holtby made the lead stand up by stopping all 15 shots he faced in the third period for the 3-1 win.
-- Odd game, to say the least. Looking at it from a possession standpoint, Detroit won the Corsi battle at even strength. Trailing by a goal they led in Corsi, 19-6. Trailing by two goals they led, 23-14. Trailing by three goals they led, 10-3 (all numbers from war-on-ice.com).
-- Alex Ovechkin had six shot attempts. Detroit’s Tomas Tatar had six of his attempts blocked. It was evidence of a night when the Caps went all “Hollywood Squares” on the Red Wings (“I’ll take Brooks Orpik to block, Peter”). The Caps had 24 blocked shots, 17 of them credited to the defense. Orpik had six blocks, and John Carlson had five to lead the club.
-- The Caps had only 17 shots on goal, a season low. It was their lowest shot total in a win since beating the New York Rangers on 17 shots, 4-1, in the last game of the 2011-2012 regular season. The last time the Caps won with fewer shots on goal was on January 18, 2012, a 3-0 win over Montreal on 16 shots.
-- The streak of games to start the season without a penalty ended for Marcus Johansson at 40. In this, his 41st game of the season, Johansson was sent off for delay of game at 2:09 of the second period. For his first penalty of the season. It was his first penalty since February 4th of last season when he took a high sticking penalty in the third period of a 1-0 loss to the New York Islanders. It broke a streak of 1,042:04 of ice time for Johansson without serving a penalty.
-- Ovechkin’s goals-scored streak ended at five games. Meanwhile, with an assist, Eric Fehr made it points in six of seven games (6-3-9).
-- Fehr is not going to want his performance in the faceoff circle to go in the scrapbook. He was just 2-for-15 on draws.
-- Nicklas Backstrom had an assist. By itself, that might not seem like much. However, it is just one more example of Backstrom being among the most consistent players of his era. In 536 career games he now has 535 career points. And, as for this season, you can see graphically just how he has settled into that point-per-game consistency in 41 games played over the course of the season…
-- The Caps allowed the Red Wings only two power plays and did not allow a shot on goal on either of them. That’s how to kill penalties. Don’t take too many, and shut teams down on the few you do take.
-- At evens, though… The Caps had only 12 shots on goal – three in the first period, four in the second, and five in the third.
-- Andre Burakovsky earned the primary assist on the John Carlson goal with a nice assist, finding the trailer as Nicklas Backstrom was charging to the net. It was Burakovsky’s first assist in almost two months. His last helper came on November 11th as part of a two-assist effort in a 4-2 win over Columbus. The assist broke a 16-game streak without one for the rookie.
In the end…
There is a difference between the commonplace and the expected. Winning is never the former, but the Caps are playing now as if winning is the latter each time they take the ice. Even on those nights when they are not sharp, and they were not especially sharp on Saturday night against a team forced to use its backup goaltender as an in-game replacement, they can grind out wins. The formula is becoming familiar. Get a lead (the Caps are now 21-1-3 when scoring first), and choke off teams late (they are now 19-1-2 when leading after two periods).
The Caps are also getting good efforts from a variety of players. Look at it this way. In the Caps last seven wins, the game winning goal was scored by seven different players, none of them Alex Ovechkin (Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, Eric Fehr, Troy Brouwer, Andre Burakovsky, Brooks Laich, and John Carlson). It is the kind of consistency and variety that can make for an extended run of success, as opponents of the Caps are finding out these days.