Coming from behind to win games in the NHL is a hard thing to do, but the Washington Capitals are making a habit of it lately. On Monday night the Caps spotted the Arizona Coyotes the game’s first goal, then scored three before holding off the visitors in a 3-2 win at Verizon Center.
After a scoreless first period, Kevin Connauton got the Coyotes on the board in the second period when he took a pass from Tobias Rieder on a 3-on-2 rush, curled to the middle, and snapped a shot past goalie Braden Holtby’s glove 3:25 into the period.
The Caps evened the score on a power play less than three minutes later. With Martin Hanzal in the box for Arizona, Evgeny Kuznetsov circled out from the right wing wall, and with no passing options available called his own number, wristing a shot that seemed to handcuff Coyote goalie Louis Domingue, sneaking under the goalie’s left arm and trickling over the goal line to make it 1-1 at the 6:03 mark.
Washington broke the tie mid-way through the third period when Alex Ovechkin scored his league-leading 39th goal. Taking a pass from Justin Williams along the left wing wall, Ovechkin stepped out a took measure of his options. He chose a wrist shot that sailed past the leg of defenseman Jarred Tinordi, who tried to block the shot, and under Domingue’s right arm to give the Caps their first lead at the 8:17 mark.
Just 26 seconds later the Caps had a two-goal lead, but not without some controversy. Tom Wilson started the play by firing a one-timer from the right wing circle off a feed from Jason Chimera. Domingue gloved the puck down, but not cleanly. The puck dropped onto his pad, and then to the ice where Domingue slapped his glove on it. Wilson followed up his own shot, though, and poked the puck free. For a split second Domingue turned to the referee behind the net seeking a stoppage, but the puck was free for Mike Richards to snap it into the net from the low slot for a 3-1 lead and setting Domingue off onto a stick swinging fit against his own net.
Just one minute later the Coyotes made it interesting once more with Connor Murphy firing a long range shot from the right point that made its way through a crowd before eluding Holtby, but that would be as close as the Coyotes would get as the Caps won their fourth straight, 3-2.
-- The Caps won their 44th game of the season. The 44 wins ranks tied for ninth in franchise history (with the 1999-2000 team), and the Caps still have 24 games left to play.
-- Evgeny Kuznetsov extended his points streak to five with a goal and an assist. He is 9-25-34 in his last 27 games.
-- Mike Richards’ goal was his first as a Capital and his first since he recorded one with the Los Angeles Kings in a 7-6 overtime loss to the Nashville Predators on January 3, 2015.
-- Alex Ovechkin recorded an assist in addition to his 39th goal of the season. It is the first time he recorded assists in consecutive games since he had helpers on November 28th and December 3rd in wins in Toronto against the Maple Leafs and in Montreal against the Canadiens.
-- The Caps took it on the chin in the faceoff circle, winning just 33 of 74 draws (44.6 percent). Only T.J. Oshie among the Caps taking more than two draws won more than he lost (4-for-7).
-- This was the fifth straight game in which the Caps allowed the game’s first goal. The Caps raised their record to 15-9-4 in such games, the only team in the league with a winning record when allowing the first goal.
-- The win was the Caps 16th in their last 18 home games (16-1-1). They are a league-best 23-4-2 at home. No, they do not have a chance to set a record for home wins (the Philadelphia Flyers were 36-2-2 at home in 1975-1976), but they are on a pace to finish with the most home wins (33) in the post-2004-2005 lockout era.
-- It was yet another case of the Caps grinding a team down. Arizona out-attempted the Caps in the first period at 5-on-5, 16-14, but the Caps had a 14-7 edge in the second period, and they out-attempted the Coyotes at 5-on-5 by an 8-6 margin before striking for two goals in 26 seconds in the third period.
-- Braden Holtby was sharper than he has been recently, especially in facing fewer than 30 shots. Stopping 25 of 27 shots, it was the first time he faced fewer than 30 shots and had a save percentage above .925 (.926 in this game) since he stopped 25 of 27 shots in a 3-2 win at Boston against the Bruins on January 5th. He had gone nine appearances facing fewer than 30 shots without posting a save percentage as high.
-- The Caps were six-for-six in killing penalties, tying the most shorthanded situations faced this season and the first time this season that they faced more than five shorthanded situations and killed them all.
In the end…
Another “not pretty but we’ll take it” sort of result. This team is in a part of the season where they just seem to find a way to scratch and grind out wins when they do not quite have their “A” game. The trick has been getting reliable contributions from names we recognize (in this instance Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Braden Holtby) and from names that do not show up as frequently (but change on a game to game basis), in this case Mike Richards and Tom Wilson. It works for this club, well enough that they will have a chance to secure their sixth winning streak of five or more games on Wednesday when they host the Montreal Canadiens.