It took extra time on Thursday night, but the Washington Capitals made sure their trip to Brooklyn was a happy one as the Caps squeezed past the New York Islanders, 3-2. It was the Caps’ third win in three tries against the Islanders this season.
It was a game that did not start out in a promising way for the Caps, who surrendered the first goal late in the first period. John Tavares got the Islanders on the board when he took a pass from Nick Leddy just inside the Caps’ blue line, circled through the right wing faceoff circle, and wrong-footed a wrist shot past goalie Braden Holtby at the 15:41 mark.
It was part of an early game funk for the Caps that resulted in head coach Barry Trotz making some adjustments among forward lines. It had the intended effect less than two minutes into the second period. It started with Justin Williams and Leddy fighting for the puck in the corner to the left of goalie Thomas Greiss. Williams fought Leddy to a draw, allowing Evgeny Kuznetsov to swoop in and gather up the puck. Circling behind the Islander net, Kuznetsov spun and sent a pass back out to the left of Greiss where Alex Ovechkin was waiting. Ovechkin wasted no time snapping the puck into the net, and the game was tied 1:25 into the period.
Less than two minutes later, the Caps scored a more conventional power play goal. With the top line reunited, T.J. Oshie held the puck just inside the blue line as Nicklas Backstrom filled in down the middle. Oshie led Backstrom perfectly with a pass, and Backstrom slid the puck off to his left where Ovechkin was gliding in. Ovechkin took one step to his right and fired a laser past Greiss to make it 2-1 just 2:52 into the period.
The one-goal lead held up through the rest of the second period, and when the Caps worked through the first 18 minutes of the third period without damage, it looked as if they would get out with their one-goal lead intact. However, a cross-ice clearing attempt by Marcus Johansson did not have enough energy and was settled by Travis Hamonic at the right point. Hamomic fired the puck at the Washington net. Holtby made the stop, but the puck squirted out to Frans Nielsen to Holtby’s left. With time to pick his spot, Nielsen snapped the puck over Holtby’s left shoulder and into the top of the net to tie the game, 2-2, with just 1:44 left in regulation.
That would be how the teams went to overtime, and it looked as if the five-minute session would not be sufficient to settle matters. In the final minute, with the open ice allowed by the 3-on-3, John Carlson drew the puck to the right point, crossing paths with Justin Williams as he did. Carlson then fed Williams high in the offensive zone, and Williams blistered a one-timer that sailed through a screen and past Greiss for the game-winner in the Caps’ 3-2 win.
-- The Caps’ 42nd win in 56 games is an NHL record, breaking the Detroit Red Wings’ 41 wins in 56 games in the 1996-1996 season.
-- The win was the Caps’ 21st on the road, matching their home win total. Only the Chicago Blackhawks have more home wins (22) than the Caps’ have road wins this season.
-- With his two goals, Alex Ovechkin tied Gilbert Perreault for 38th place on the all-time goal scoring list with 512 career goals. Next up…Jeremy Roenick (513).
-- The Caps had a good night in the circle, going 36-for-63 in faceoffs overall (57.1 percent), and a very good night in the offensive zone, where they were 17-for-26 (65.4 percent).
-- Alex Ovechkin recorded ten shots on goal. That makes three games in his last four in which he hit the ten-shot mark. No other player in the NHL has more than two such games all season (Evgeni Malkin has two). He has more shots on goal in his last four games (35) than 297 skaters to have dressed for games this season.
-- Justin Williams had a goal and an assist to extend his points streak to three games and four in his last five. Over those five games he is 3-3-6, plus-3.
-- Ovechkin’s two goals gave him six multi-goal games this season, putting him in a tie with Tyler Seguin for most in the league.
-- You have to work hard at making a play look as easy as Nicklas Backstrom’s assist on Ovechkin’s second goal. And no player in the league builds as solid a resume in as understated a fashion. With that assist, Backstrom has points in nine of his last 12 games, over which he is 4-9-13, plus-2.
-- The trapezoid behind the opponent’s net is always going to be known as “Wayne Gretzky’s Office,” but Evgeny Kuznetsov seems to want to start a franchise of his own. The back pass from behind the net to the uncovered weak side has become something of a signature move for Kuznetsov, who recorded a point for the 12th time in 15 games and his third game in a row. He is 3-18-21, plus-8, over his last 15 games.
-- Braden Holtby might want the John Tavares goal back, but he looked sharper than he did in any game since he stopped 33 of 35 shots against the Philadelphia Flyers in a 3-2 win back on February 7th.
In the end…
If there is one place the Caps have struggled a bit this season, it has been in the 3-on-3 overtime. In games settled during the five-minute session, this win lifted their record to 4-3 (they are also 3-1 in the Gimmick). This win was gratifying in one important sense. At this time of the season – the “dog days of February,” if you will – and against an opponent that the Caps had already beaten twice, this might have been a game in which focus was flagging. Early on, that looked to be the case. But Barry Trotz took swift action to shake things up among his lethargic forwards, the players shook off the fog, and they tended to business. Again. It is a trait this team just keeps demonstrating.