Rarely, it seems, does a player’s individual milestone achieved coincide with a fine performance, but it was the case for the Caps' Troy Brouwer. Playing in his 500th NHL game, Brouwer gave the Caps the lead late in the first period when he converted an Evgeny Kuznetsov backhand feed out of the left wing circle to snap the puck past goalie Jonathan Quick’s glove at the 17:11 mark.
It was Brouwer times two late in the second period. On a power play, Nicklas Backstrom slid the puck out to Mike Green at the top of the zone. Green’s one-timer off the pass looked as if it was going to go wide to Quick’s left, but Brouwer managed to get the blade of his stick on the puck and redirect it over Quick’s left pad to give the Caps a 2-0 lead 16:36 into the second period.
The Caps put it away in the third period with goals 59 seconds apart early in the frame. The first of them came on one of the fanciest passing sequences the Caps have executed this season, but it started with effective forechecking. The play started with Alex Ovechkin dumping the puck from the blue line into the far corner to Quick’s left. The puck rolled behind the Kings’ net where Quick settled it for Robyn Regehr. With Backstrom jumping up to challenge Regehr, the puck rolled off the defenseman’s stick and right onto that of Ovechkin. From the left wing circle Ovechkin slid the puck to Marcus Johansson, who relayed it to Backstrom circling out of the corner. With Quick hopelessly out of the play anticipating Johansson’s shot, Backstrom had nothing but an empty net to shoot at, and he buried it to make it 3-0, Caps.
Eric Fehr closed the scoring when Kings defenseman Mat Greene tried to skate up the wall but found Fehr and Joel Ward waiting for him at the blue line. Ward poked the puck off Greene’s stick, and Fehr grabbed it. Skating in alone on Quick, he pulled the puck onto his backhand to avoid the onrushing attempt of Marian Gaborik to poke the puck away, then backhanded it over Quick’s right shoulder to light the lamp one last time.
After that, the only suspense was whether the Caps and goalie Braden Holtby would preserve the shutout. They did, and Caps fans went home happy with their second 4-0 decision in their last four games.
-- Braden Holtby is working on a bit of an odd streak. He has not allowed a goal in 193:42 of regulation hockey dating back to the third period of the Caps’ 4-3 loss to Columbus on January 27th. The only goal he allowed over his last three games was in overtime to the Montreal Canadiens last Saturday in a 1-0 loss.
-- Another odd Holtby fact. Each of his last two games at Verizon Center was a 27-save, 4-0 shutout, the other authored against the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 28th.
-- And another Holtby fact. His shutout was his third in his last four games at Verizon Center and his sixth of the season overall, tying him with Marc-Andre Fleury for the league lead.
-- Troy Brouwer’s two goals represented his first two-goal game of the season. He had just one goal in his last nine games coming into this contest.
-- With a goal and an assist, Nicklas Backstrom had his fifth multi-point game in his last eight contests.
-- Score effects… the Kings had only 13 shots on goal in the first two periods, 14 in the third. As it was, when tied or leading by one, the Caps had a 23-11 advantage in shot attempts at 5-on-5. At one point the Caps had a shot attempt advantage overall of 40-21.
-- As one might expect from two of the biggest teams in the league, there were a lot of hits – 62 of them, in fact (Kings: 37, Caps: 25).
-- Alex Ovechkin had six missed shots, almost as many as the entire Kings squad (8), all of them in the first two period.
-- The Caps held the Kings to one power play, the fewest allowed by the Caps since they denied Carolina any man advantages in a 2-1 win on December 4th. The Kings recorded no shots on goal on their lone power play. In fact, the Kings had only one shot attempt while the Caps recorded three shorthanded shots on goal of their own, one a mini-break off a steal by Troy Brouwer that, had he converted, would have been the hat trick goal.
-- Karl Alzner recorded an assist, his fifth point in his last eight games. He is now on a pace to finish the season with 23 points, which would shatter his career high (18, set last season). He became the fifth Capitals defensemen to record double digits in assists this season.
-- Backstrom lost four of his first five faceoffs. He won 11 of his last 13 to finish 12-for-18.
-- The game had amazing flow to it, especially early. The first 6:32 of the game was played before a whistle was blown. The Caps had only two defensive zone faceoffs in the first period (Eric Fehr lost one, Jay Beagle won one).
-- Head coach Barry Trotz juggled the lines some, and while it had delightful results on the scoreboard, there were underlying problems. The retooled second line of Troy Brouwer (minus-10), Andre Burakovsky (minus-12), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (minus-12) were abused in the Corsi plus-minus numbers at 5-on-5. There was a bit of score effect in that the three were somewhat better when the game was tied (minus-2, minus-3, and minus-3, respectively), but not everything was skittles and accordions, either (numbers from war-on-ice.com).
In the end…
The Caps beat a team with a reputation well earned, but one that has not been playing well lately and horribly on the road. Nevertheless, the Caps did precisely what they had to do on such a team – get a lead and stand on their throats. At the other end, the Capitals net has become “The Black Hole-tby,” where pucks are sucked into the great void, never to emerge in the net. In his last six games at Verizon Center, Holtby is 5-0-1, 0.99, .964, with three shutouts.
There are nights when the Caps can beat anyone, and there are nights when it looks as if they cannot win against air. Tonight was certainly a case of the former. It might have been their most smothering defense of the season, persistently forcing the Kings into turnovers trying to break out of their own zone with aggressive pursuit and hounding of puck carriers. If they can be reasonably consistent in playing such a game, they can do a lot of damage this season.