Saturday, November 28, 2015

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Night: Capitals 4 - Maple Leafs 2

The Washington Capitals ended the November portion of their schedule on a high note, defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs, 4-2, for their fifth straight win.  With the win, the Caps jumped over the New York Rangers to grab the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

Jason Chimera got the Caps off and running early when he collected a loose puck at the top of his own crease and headed up ice on what would eventually be a 2-on-1 rush with Andre Burakovsky on his right.  Chimera carried the puck in and called his own number from just inside the top of the left wing circle, beating goalie Jonathan Bernier to the long side past Bernier’s glove at the 3:43 mark.

Toronto tied the game less than three minutes later on a put-back goal by Peter Holland from the hash marks at the inside edge of the right wing circle.  That would be the way the first period ended, but the Caps would break on top early in the second, thanks to a gift from the hosts.  A dump-in by the Caps was stopped by Bernier, who left it for Morgan Rielly.  For just a moment, Rielly took a look back to see who was trailing, and it was enough to allow the puck to slide off the toe of his stick.  It was teed up nicely for Tom Wilson closing on the play, and Wilson made the Leafs pay, curling the puck back to his forehand and sliding it gently through the five hole and just over the goal line to make it 2-1 just over four minutes into the period.

The Leafs tied the game for a second time on a power play goal by Leo Komarov, but that tie did not last long.  With the Caps on their own power play mid-way through the period, John Carlson fed Alex Ovechkin for a one-timer from the left wing circle.  Ovechkin’s shot struck the shaft of Roman Polak’s stick, then caromed to the front of the net where it hit Marcus Johansson in the leg and popped into the back of the net to make it 3-2 at the 11:08 mark.

The Caps converted another power play just over two minutes later.  Chimera took a pass from Nicklas Backstrom and carried the puck down the right side. Heading down the wall after he crossed the Toronto blue line, he backhanded a pass to the middle where Justin Williams was filling in.  Williams one-timed a shot past Bernier’s blocker, and it was 4-2 at the 13:26 mark of the second period.

The Caps eschewed playing “prevent” defense with a two-goal lead and put on a clinic in playing keep-away with the puck below the Maple Leaf faceoff circles for long stretches over the last 26 minutes.  It did not make for much in the way of scoring chances of their own, but they kept the Leafs bottled up in their own zone, skating off with a 4-2 win in the end.

Other stuff…

-- This is the second time in team history that the Caps recorded 17 wins in their first 23 games.  The other time was in 1991-1992 when they went 17-6-0, making this their best 23-game start ever (17-5-1).  In their last 82 regular season games the Caps are 52-22-8 (112 points).

-- Braden Holtby won his seventh straight decision, a personal best.  In those seven games he is 7-0-0, 1.85, .935, with one shutout.

-- When Jason Chimera recorded an assist on Justin Williams’ power play goal in the second period, it was his sixth power play point of the season (3-3-6).  That is a career high in power play points for Chimera.  Twice before this season he had five, in 2007-2008 with Columbus and in 2013-2014 with the Caps.  Both times he had a goal and four assists.

-- The win was the Caps’ fifth in a row, tying their longest winning streak of the season (October 15-23).

-- Nine different players recorded points.  Chimera finished with two, his fifth multi-point game of the season and third in nine games.  Chimera matched his multi-point game total of each of the past two seasons.

-- How suffocating was the Capitals defense late (or perhaps more precisely, their offensive zone cycle)?  After Justin Williams’ goal, the Caps held Toronto to just 12 shot attempts at 5-on-5 over the last 26:34.

-- Marcus Johansson’s goal was his fifth of the season.  He is the seventh Capitals to reach five goals this season.

-- The win made the Caps 5-1-0 against the Atlantic Division and 9-3-0 against the Eastern Conference.  Their record against the East is the second best, by percentage of games won, to Montreal (14-0-2).

-- Tom Wilson’s goal was his first of the season and broke a 19-game streak without scoring one.

-- The Caps went 2-for-3 on the power play.  That makes them 6-for-9 over their last three games and has lifted the Caps into third place in power play efficiency (26.8 percent).  Their special teams goal differential (power play and shorthanded goals for less power play and shorthanded goals against) of plus-10 is second best in the league (Montreal: plus-11).

In the end…

As November inches toward its close, the Capitals and the Montreal Canadiens are the class of the Eastern Conference.  With the New York Rangers having lost their third straight game on Saturday, the Caps and Canadiens have the top two records in the conference (the Caps have a game in hand on the Rangers, two on the Canadiens).  They are the only teams in the conference – in the league, in fact – with a goal differential per game of 1.00 or greater.  They have the second and third best power plays in the conference; they rank sixth (Washington) and first (Montreal) in penalty killing.  They rank first (Montreal) and second (Washington) in score-adjusted Corsi in the East.

And now, as the calendar turns over to a new month, the Caps and the Canadiens will meet this coming Thursday in what might be a benchmark game for both teams.  The Caps have four days off to recharge and prepare for that game after finishing the month with a fine 9-3-1 November, three of the four losses by a single goal.  It is a rest well-earned...

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