Saturday, January 07, 2017

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 39: Washington Capitals 1 - Ottawa Senators 0

For the second time in a week, the Washington Capitals faced off against the Ottawa Senators.  The only differences, it seemed were the venue and color of jerseys.  The actual playing of the game in Ottawa resembled the 2-1 Caps win in Washington as the Caps survived another grinding game against the Sens, coming out on top, 1-0.

The Caps got off and running early.  It was the product of an historic play.  Dmitry Orlov started the play by peeking around from behind his own net and sending the puck up to Nate Schmidt at the blue line.  Schmidt took a couple of strides, then from the red line fed Nicklas Backstrom skating down the middle.  After gaining the Ottawa blue line, he slid a backhand pass to T.J. Oshie at the top of the left wing circle, and Oshie fired a one-timer that beat goalie Mike Condon over his left shoulder on the far side just 1:38 into the game.  For Backstrom, it was his 500th career assist, the first player in team history to hit that mark.

And for the scoring, that was it.  For the next 58 minutes and change, it was the Braden Holtby show.  He turned away all 30 shots he faced to seal the 1-0 win.

Other stuff…

-- Reaching the 500-assist mark is not the only noteworthy aspect of Nicklas Backstrom’ milestone in this game.  Backstrom reached that mark in his 691st game with the club.  As Craig Laughlin noted in the Caps telecast, only Peter Forsberg among players born in Sweden reached the 500-assist mark in fewer games than Nicklas Backstrom.  Forsberg did it is 551 games.  And, as Laughlin pointed out, only two active players – Jaromir Jagr and Sidney Crosby – got to 500 sooner than Backstrom.  Jagr did it in 642 games, while Crosby did it in 554 games.  It's a lot of apples.

-- T.J. Oshie took a Dion Phaneuf hit square on his shoulder in the first minute of the second period and was forced to get treatment in the locker room (clean hit by Phaneuf).  He missed four minutes before returning to the lineup.  It is, however, the same shoulder he injured against Detroit earlier in the year, causing him to miss seven games, and he did head back down the tunnel to the locker room late in the second period after being abused by Phaneuf one more time.

-- Braden Holtby pitched his second straight shutout, tying him with Minnesota’s Devan Dubnyk for the league lead (five).  In his last 11 appearances, he is 6-2-2 (one no-decision), 1.44, .947, with four shutouts.  Looks like he’s back in the Vezina conversation.

-- Tom Wilson had one of those inspirational plays that lifts a team.  On a late Ottawa power play, Wilson sacrificed his body to get in the way of an Erik Karlsson bomb, a block that stung him and had him hobbling to the bench.

-- Washington’s power play continues to struggle.  Not that they had many opportunities.  They were 0-for-2 and had one shot in 4:00 of power play time, a 42-footer from Alex Ovechkin.

-- The Caps had just 20 shots on goal for the contest, and Lars Eller (no, that’s not a misprint) had almost a third of them (six, and that’s not a misprint, either).

-- Speaking of “almost a third,” John Carlson had six blocked shots, almost a third of the 21 that the Caps had for the game.

-- And in more of “thirds,” Jay Beagle had more than a third of the Caps’ 30 faceoff wins, going 11-for-19 (57.9 percent), including a big defensive zone win late in the third period.

-- Alex Ovechkin played just 16:02 in this game.  The Caps are 15-0-1 when he logs 17:30 or less in ice time.

-- In one of the odd, infrequent results of this game, Evgeny Kuznetsov won eight of 11 faceoffs.  This is not the strongest part of Kuznetsov’s game.

In the end…

We had the feeling early on this season that the Caps were suffered a form of post-traumatic stress syndrome after their overtime exit in the playoffs last season.  They seemed sluggish, disengaged, and unfocused for long stretches of their first 23 games.  But since they beat Buffalo in overtime on December 5th, the Caps are 12-2-2 and seem to find different ways to win each night, whether it’s lighting up the hottest team and the hottest goalie in the league for five goals, as they did against Columbus on Thursday in a 5-0 win, or playing smothering defense with sharp goaltending in a tight, low-scoring game, as they did tonight.  It’s an example that it’s not how, it’s how many…wins, that is.  Let’s just hope T.J. Oshie is not out for any extended length of time but takes all the time he needs to get well.

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