Sunday, March 29, 2015

A TWO-Point Afternoon -- Game 76: Capitals 5 - Rangers 2

The Washington Capitals scored early, scored late, and weathered a brief flurry from the New York Rangers late in the first period to skate past the Blueshirts, 5-2, at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon.

Washington’s five-goal outburst was their first game with more than three goals in their last nine games, and it started in the game’s fifth minute.  Alex Ovechkin gained the Ranger zone with speed down the left wing wall with Jesper Fast trying to pin him to the boards. Ovechkin eluded that attempt and cut behind Fast to the middle of the ice.  Before either Dan Girardi or  Ryan McDonagh could close the gap on Ovechkin, he snapped a shot that beat goalie Cam Talbot past his blocker, and the Caps had a 1-0 lead 4:32 into the game.

That lead looked safe for the Caps late in the period, but the Ranger scored goals 61 seconds apart to take the lead.  Kevin Hayes took advantage of some misfortune on the part of John Carlson to tie the game.  A pass from Tim Gleason to Carlson in front of goalie Braden Holtby was not handled cleanly by Carlson, and the puck was loose in the high slot.  Hayes collected it and deked Holtby to the ice before using his reach to one-hand the puck past Holtby’s left pad to tie the game with 1:50 left in the first period.

Barely a minute later, the Rangers had a lead.  Matt Niskanen moved up the right wing wall to try and control a loose puck, but he overskated it under pressure from Rick Nash.  It gave the Rangers the opportunity to break out of their end with speed, and it was Derick Brassard taking a pass from Mats Zuccarello and skating the puck down the ice.  Brassard cut to his left as he reached the Caps’ blue line and fed Zuccarello on his left.  Zuccarello returned the puck to Brassard for a one-timer from the left wing faceoff dot that beat Holtby on the long side to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead with 49 seconds left in the period.

After that it was all Capitals.  Mid-way through the second period Alex Ovechkin recorded his 48th goal of the season on a power play to tie the game.  The scoring play started with Matt Niskanen skating the puck down the right wing side of the Rangers’ end, then dropping the puck back to Nicklas Backstrom along the wall.  Backstrom created space and a passing lane along the wall and found Ovechkin across the ice at the left point.  Ovechkin dialed up a slap shot that looked as if it might go wide on the long side but hit Ranger defenseman Dan Boyle and caromed past Cam Talbot for the goal to tie the game.

In the third period it was time for secondary scoring to assume a primary role.  Jason Chimera gave the Caps the lead when he skated down the middle and set up shop in front of Talbot as teammates Brooks Laich and Eric Fehr were getting whacks at a loose puck.  The puck inched its way over to Chimera, and with Carl Hagelin draped all over him at the edge of the paint, Chimera backhanded the puck under Talbot to make it 3-2 just 4:41 into the final frame.

Chimera scored again three minutes later.  Steaming down the middle, he took a nifty pass from Brooks Laich from the right wing wall, skated in and waited for Talbot to go down to defend a shot before snaking a backhand around Talbot’s left pad to make it 4-2 at the 7:40 mark of the period.

With the Rangers pulling Talbot for an extra attacker in the last three minutes, the Caps closed the scoring when Marcus Johansson gloved down a pass from Troy Brouwer at the center red line, faked a shot with Rick Nash trying to defend, and snapped the puck into the empty net with 2:23 left in the game for the final 5-2 margin.

Other stuff…

-- The two-goal game for Ovechkin was his 14th of the season, tops in the league and six more than his closest pursuers, San Jose’s Joe Pavelski and Dallas’ Tyler Seguin (eight apiece).

-- Jason Chimera had his first two-goal game of the season, breaking a 20-game streak without a goal and a ten-game streak without a point.  It was the first time he recorded two goals in a game since he had a pair in a 4-3 Gimmick loss to the New Jersey Devils on December 23, 2011.

-- Secondary scoring means assists too.  Eric Fehr had a pair of helpers, his first two-assist game of the season.  Brooks Laich also had a pair of assists, his first two-assist game of the season as well.

-- When Ovechkin scored on the power play in the second period, it broke a streak of 13 straight power plays without a goal, including the first two in this game.

-- This was the fourth time this season that a pair of Capitals registered two goals in a game.  The others:
  • November 11: Capitals 4 – Blue Jackets 2 (Alex Ovechkin, Marcus Johansson)
  • January 7: Capitals 6 – Maple Leafs 2 (Eric Fehr, Marcus Johansson)
  • February 15: Capitals 5 – Ducks 3 (Alex Ovechkin, Andre Burakovsky)
-- Evgeny Kuznetsov was the only Capital taking more than two faceoffs who finished over 50 percent (8-for-13/61.5 percent)

-- The teams split 50 shot attempts down the middle, 50 apiece, but it was the Caps who won that battle at 5-on-5, out attempting the Rangers, 38-32 (31-23 in close score situations, from

-- Nicklas Backstrom broke a three-game streak without a point when he assisted on the Ovechkin power play goal.  It lifted him into a tie with Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek for the league lead in assists (55).

-- John Carlson was a plus-2 to make him plus-10 for the season.  The Caps now have five players at plus-10 or better.  Last season they had none.  The Caps have eight players with better plus-minus numbers than the team best last season, plus-7 by Joel Ward and Steve Oleksy.

-- Braden Holtby stopped 23 of 25 shots.  In games following a performance in which he stopped fewer than 90 percent of the shots he faced, Holtby is 9-6-2, 2.36, .920, with three shutouts.

In the end…

Just when you think the Caps are about to take a long slow slide into the ooze of the off season, they play a game like this that makes you think they can do some damage in the post season.  Not that it was perfect – two late goals in a period is evidence of a continuing need to tighten things up.  But the Rangers are, at the moment, the class of the Eastern Conference, if not the entire league, and they would be expected to have their moments.

That the Caps could roar back with four unanswered goals after what might have been a dispiriting end to the first period speaks to possibilities for this team, but it also speaks to the confounding nature of this team of which we spoke in the end of week review.  These were two important points to bank, coming as they did on the road against a very good team.  Now they get to follow it up against a lottery team on Tuesday night, the Carolina Hurricanes.  If they play as they did this afternoon against the Rangers, it will not end well for Carolina.  Then again, if the Caps do not play as they did today, then this afternoon’s effort might end up having been wasted.  There just isn’t any time to rest on one’s laurels at this time of year.

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