The Washington Capitals made it two straight overtime wins on Wednesday night with a 4-3 victory over the Boston Bruins at Verizon Center. It was a game not without its tense moments, and it was one that reflected much of what the Capitals’ season has been to date.
The Caps got out of the gate quickly when Justin Williams scored just 23 seconds into the game. Alex Ovechkin started the play skating the puck up the left side to the red line, where he sent it cross-ice to Evgeny Kuznetsov skating past the player benches. Kuznetsov carried the puck into the Bruins’ zone, stopping at the edge of the right wing circle. Drawing back just a bit to create space between himself and Bruin defenseman Zdeno Chara, Kuznetsov floated a shot at the Boston net. William, going to the front of the net, got position on Brandon Carlo just enough to get his stick on the puck as it was sailing by. The deflection tumbled past goalie Tuukka Rask, and the Caps were off and running.
Seven minutes later, it was Williams again. It started with Dmitry Orlov keeping the puck in the offensive zone at the left point, then feeding it to Ovechkin circling behind him. Ovechkin moved it to Kuznetsov entering the zone down the left wing. Kuznetsov circled through the left wing circle in the direction of the Bruin net, put he lost control of the puck on a lift check from Chara. Williams pounced on the loose puck, spun, and snapped a shot past Rask’s pads to make it 2-0, 7:57 into the period.
That was how the teams went to the first intermission, but the Caps picked up where they left off when they returned to the ice. Jay Beagle collected a loose puck at the red line and skated it up the right wing wall. Daniel Winnik jumped up to make it a 2-on-1 rush for the Caps, and when Beagle snapped a crips pass past Carlo onto Winnik’s blade, it was only for the latter to rip the puck past a lunging Rask to make it 3-0 at the 5:51 mark.
If Caps fans’ memories were starting to drift back to March 3, 2008, when the Caps beat the Bruins, 10-2, on this ice sheet, the Bruins put that notion to rest with goals 2:25 apart late in the second period to get within one. Dominic Moore got the first one when the Caps lost a faceoff in their own end (details!...details!!), didn’t get to a loose puck in front of their own goal (goalie Braden Holtby and defensemen Brooks Orpik and Dmitry Orlov finding it just out of reach), allowed Anton Blidh (just off the set as an evil villain in a new James Bond movie) to get a shot off, then lost track of Moore following up to tuck the rebound past Holtby.
David Pastrnak got the B’s within a goal when he muscled Evgeny Kuznetsov off the puck on the Bruins’ side of the red line, earing himself a breakaway on Holtby. Pastrnak skated in and, with Orlov desperately trying to close the gap, tucked the puck between Holtby’s legs to make it 3-2 with just one minute left in the period.
Boston made it all the way back when the teams returned for the third period. With Boston on a power play, Brad Marchand occupied Nicklas Backstrom and Karl Alzner as he skated the puck through the right wing circle toward the corner. He left it for Austin Czarnik, who relayed it to Colin Miller for a one-timer at the top of the zone that beat Holtby through a screen and into the top of the net to make it 3-3, 8:19 into the third period.
That would be all for the scoring in regulation for the two teams, and the Caps needed less than 100 seconds in the extra session to end it. Nate Schmidt started the play by moving the puck up and out of the Caps’ end to Marcus Johansson at the red line. Johansson backhanded a pass cross-ice to Backstrom on the right wing at the Boston blue line. He skated in and, from the top of the right wing circle, fed Schmidt charging down the middle into the zone. Schmidt returned the puck to Backstrom, who looked over his options and dialed his own number, snapping the puck through Rask’s legs to give the Caps the 4-3 overtime win.
-- Nicklas Backstrom’s goal in overtime was his 17th game recording a point in his career against the Bruins. The Caps are 17-0-0 in those games. Backstrom is 5-26-31, plus-15 in those games.
-- Williams’ two-goal game was his third multi-goal game as a Capital and his first this season. It was also his first multi-goal game as a Capital against a team that was not the New York Rangers.
-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had a pair of assists, his first multi-assist game since the Caps beat the Winnipeg Jets, 3-2, back on November 1st, and his first multi-point game since he had a goal and an assist against the St. Louis Blues in a 4-3 win on November 23rd.
-- The Caps had only 20 shots on goal. It was not their low for the season, but they could see it from there. They had 18 shots on goal in a 3-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche on October 18th.
-- The Bruins might be feeling as if they let one get away instead of the Caps barely escaping that fate. Owing, no doubt, to score effects, the Bruins enjoyed a 72-47 advantage in overall shot attempts, and a 57-40 edge in shot attempts at 5-on-5 (58.76 percent Corsi-for; numbers from Corsica.hockey).
-- In a scoring oddity, Brooks Orpik was the only Capital to finish in minus territory (minus-1).
-- Tom Wilson… six hits, a minor penalty, no shot attempts. Is this the player, or the role the player is being asked to play?
-- It wasn’t all unicorns and accordions for Nicklas Backstrom in this game. He won just four of 16 faceoffs (he was 4-for-11 against Patric Bergeron, but Bergeron does that to a lot of guys). And speaking of which, Kuznetsov did have the infrequent over-50 percent game in the circle (9-for-16/56.3 percent), but he did lose the defensive zone draw that led to Dominic Moore’s goal.
-- Nate Schmidt’s assist broke a six-game streak without a point, and he displayed an interesting transition aspect to his game, going from “puck-moving defenseman” to clear the puck out of his own end onto a teammate’s stick, then becoming “forward charging hard to the net” when the Caps gained control in the offensive zone moments before Backstrom’s game-winner off the pass from Schmidt. It might be too much risk-versus-reward for the Caps to tolerate, but he might be an intriguing overtime addition when teams are 3-on-3.
-- Braden Holtby’s win makes him 10-2-0 in 12 career appearances against Boston, the last six wins coming consecutively with the win last night. As if that isn’t impressive enough, his career numbers against the Bruins are a goals-against average of 1.20, a save percentage of .948, and he has three shutouts. In those last six consecutive wins, he has those three shutouts and has a 1.00 GAA with a .966 save percentage.
In the end…
So this is the Washington Capitals. As Nicklas Backstrom pointed out in the post-game interview on the bench, the Caps are a team that plays well for 20 minutes here and there, but they don’t do it for 60 minutes often enough. Last night was an example. The Caps, even though the two early goals were a bit fluky, threatened to run the Bruins out of the building. They built a 3-0 lead 26 minutes into the game, then they seemed to let their minds wander. It cost them, almost to the point of giving away at least one point and possibly two. Twenty five games into the season, we are at the point where we might ask ourselves, can this team turn its focus on when it has to down the road, or is this the team they are? The former is the hope, but the latter is the fear. Something to watch going forward.