It is what a team does with the rest that defines their season. The Washington Capitals took another step in defining their season, falling behind the New Jersey Devils three times before scoring twice in a span of 2:07 late in the third period to skate off with a 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night.
Three times the Devils took a one-goal lead, the first time coming less than five minutes into the contest when Kyle Palmieri skated the puck in deep and around the Caps net. He tried to wrap the puck around the post to goalie Braden Holtby’s right, but the puck squirted out into the low slot where Travis Zajac banged it in.
The Caps tied it late in the period when the Devils failed to clear the puck out of their own end. Joseph Blandisi tried to lift the puck off the glass and over Dmitry Orlov, but Orlov gloved the puck down, then sent a pass to Alex Ovechkin in the left wing circle. Ovechkin pulled the puck to a shooting position, when wristed a shot through the legs of goalie Cory Schneider at the 17:02 mark.
The Devils broke the tie before the teams went to the first intermission when Palmieri gathered up a loose puck in the right wing faceoff circle, skated to the goal line, then snapped a shot that hit Holtby in the name plate on the back of his jersey and ricocheted in to make it 2-1 with just 17.3 seconds left in the period.
The teams skated through the first nine minutes of the second period with the red lights remaining dark, but the Caps tied things up in the tenth minute. Michael Latta scooped up a loose puck in the right wing circle and looped around the New Jersey net. For an instant it looked as if he might try a back pass in the fashion of Evgeny Kuznetsov, but he continued on his way. When he came out the other side he threw the puck at the crease, but it hit a skate in front and slid out to the right wing faceoff circle. Kuznetsov was waiting, and he snapped a shot high over Schneider’s left shoulder to make it 2-2 at the 9:16 mark.
That would be the way the teams went to the second intermission, but New Jersey took the lead back mid-way into the final period. Reid Boucher walked the puck out from the left wing wall and fired a shot from just above the faceoff circles that deflected off Justin Williams’ stick and sailed past Holtby to make it 3-2 at 11:04.
Less than three minutes later, the game was tied one last time. Brooks Orpik circled with the puck at the top of the offensive zone and slid it off to Orlov in the left wing circle. Orlov fired a shot that was muffled in front. T.J. Oshie out-fought Jon Merrill for the puck in the low slot, and from his knees he backhanded the puck twice, the second whack taking an interesting path to the net. The puck struck the left skate of defenseman Seth Helgeson, hit Schneider on the way through, then hit the skate of Merrill before dribbling across the goal line to make it 3-3 at the 13:55 mark.
Then the game took one final unexpected turn. Kuznetsov took a pass from Ovechkin and set up below the Devils’ goal line. As he was setting up at the edge of the trapezoid to the right and behind Schnedier, Williams skated through the left wing faceoff circle, pulling a defender with him. This left the circle vacant, and Brooks Orpik stepped up. Kuznetsov slid him a no-look pass, and Orpik one-timed the puck past Schneider for what would be the game-winning goal in the Caps 4-3 win.
-- Brooks Orpik played 797 regular season games with Pittsburgh Penguins and the Caps without having recorded a game-winning goal. In Game 798, he got his first. His only other career game-winning goal came in overtime of Game 6 of the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal playoff series against the New York Islanders. It was the series-clinching goal in that series.
-- Alex Ovechkin’s goal was his 513th of his career, tying Jeremy Roenick for 37th place on the all-time list. It was his tenth goal in his last nine games, his 17th in 17 games, and his 24th in 26 games.
-- Ovechkin also recorded an assist, breaking a nine-game streak without one. He has two assists in his last 25 games.
-- Orpik also had an assist. It made for his first two point game of the season, his first since he had a pair of assists in a 5-4 overtime win in San Jose against the Sharks on February 11th last season. It was his first two-point game at Verizon Center since Game 4 of last season, also against the Devils.
-- T.J. Oshie celebrated his 500th career NHL game with a goal that broke a seven-game streak without one.
-- Dmitry Orlov had a pair of assists for his first multi-point game since December 20th. He set a career high in assists with his 17th and 18th helpers, breaking the 16-assist mark he set in his rookie season in 2011-2012.
-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had another multi-point night with a goal and an assist. It was his 17th multi-point game of the season, tied for fourth-highest in the league. He leads the club in this category. He is 8-24-32 in his last 26 games.
-- Tom Wilson had eight hits in this game, more than twice as many as any other player on the ice, except Orpik (5).
-- Brooks Laich had an assist, his first point since he had an assist against the Devils on February 6th. They are the only two points in the 2016 portion of his season.
-- Although one could make an argument that two of the Devils’ goals were not the fault of Braden Holtby in goal (that Palmieri goal looked kind of ugly), the fact is that he has allowed three or more goals in four of his last five games. He is 4-1-0, 3.17, .887 over that span.
-- The Caps win makes them 19-3-4 in one-goal games this season, the best record in the league.
-- The Caps have 43 wins in 57 games, most wins by a team through 57 games in NHL history. Their 90 points through 57 games is one off the league record (91), jointly held by the 1976-1977 and 1977-1978 Montreal Canadiens, and the 1979-1980 Philadelphia Flyers.
In the end…
This was not the sharpest of nights for the Caps. It was more a classic case of grinding a team down after they played the previous night. The Devils enjoyed a 21-19 edge in shot attempts in the first period, but the Caps turned that around with a 14-11 edge in the second period. In the third, the Caps dominated with a 24-12 edge in shot attempts (numbers from war-on-ice.com). Add in the skill advantage the Caps have relative to the Devils, and it was enough of a formula to keep the Caps juggernaut running.