The spotlight was on the new guy for the Washington Capitals, but when the final horn blew in their 4-1 win over the New York Rangers, the stars were the quiet veteran and the old coach. It was Kevin Shattenkirk’s debut with the club after his trade to the Caps from the St. Louis Blues on Monday evening, but Marcus Johansson had a two goals and an assist in the win, and Barry Trotz joined the “700 Club,” becoming the third active head coach (with Joel Quenneville and Lindy Ruff, although one might also include fired-this-season Ken Hitchcock in this group) and sixth in the history of the NHL to reach the 700-win mark.
The Rangers scored the game’s first goal early in the first period when they caught the Caps being a bit too passive in their own end. Brady Skjei took a pass from Adam Glendenning in the neutral zone and skated the puck to the Capitals’ blue line. Gaining the zone, he fed the puck to J.T. Miller on his left and headed to the net. Miller slid the puck back to Glendenning trailing the play, and Glendenning found Skjei at the top of the crease for a tap-in past goalie Braden Holtby at the 5:08 mark.
The Rangers carried the 1-0 lead into the second period but could not hold it. Johansson tied the game by finishing a give-and-go with Dmitry Orlov. Johansson fed the puck to Johansson for a shot in the left wing circle that was kicked out by goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Johansson pounced on the rebound and snapped it into the net before Lundqvist recovered, making it a 1-1 game 7:28 into the period.
The Caps took the lead nine minutes later. From the left wing wall, Lars Eller fed Matt Niskanen entering the offensive zone. Niskanen relayed the puck to Brett Connolly crossing through the low slot, and Connolly swept the puck around Lundqvist’s left pad to make it 2-1 at the 16:26 mark.
Washington took a two-goal lead early in the third on another give-and-go play. Johansson skated the puck down the middle into the Ranger end, then fed Evgeny Kuznetsov at the right wing wall. Kuznetsov eased the puck into the right wing circle, then backhanded a pass to the front, where Johansson redirected it past Lundqvist at the 1:15 mark to make it 3-1, Caps.
The Caps clinched the win late on a power play. Nicklas Backstrom controlled the puck at the right wing wall, skated up to the point, then circled back to the top of the right wing circle. With no Ranger coming out to force his hand, he wristed a shot that deflected off the stick of Skjei, bounced off the ice, and knuckle-balled past the blocker of Lundqvist to make it 4-1 with just 2:03 left to give the Caps the 4-1 win.
-- The three-point game for Marcus Johansson was his second this season (both on the road, the last one in Vancouver on October 29th) and the sixth of his career. Both occurrences this season involved two goals and an assist.
-- Shattenkirk had four shots on goal, six shot attempts, and a hit in 17:57 of ice time in his debut.
-- After missing six days, Matt Niskanen recorded his tenth multi-point game of the season with two assists. He also finished plus-3, the third time this season he finished plus-3 or better.
-- Evgeny Kuznetsov recorded a pair of assists for his 14th multi-point game this season and his tenth since the calendar rolled over to 2017.
-- Alex Ovechkin was kept off the score sheet, breaking a seven-game goals/points streak at Madison Square Garden. He was 9-0-9 in those seven games. He did have four shots on goal, eight shot attempts, and six hits.
-- Was there a “Shattenkirk Effect” on the power play? He, Ovechkin, Johansson, and Nicklas Backstrom each played 2:07 on the power play. They accounted for five of the six shots on goal and the lone power play strike in that 2:07 of power play ice time.
-- In other third pair defenseman news, Brooks Orpik was out, and Nate Schmidt got the sweater. It was a very quiet night for Schmidt, who in 17:07 of ice time recorded one shot attempt (blocked) and was on the ice for the Ranger goal, the only Cap to finish with a “minus” for the night (minus-1).
-- We are not exactly sure what inspired Adam Clendening to mix it up with Daniel Winnik. It started with a hit Clendening put on Winnik in the Ranger end to which Winnik took some offense. Later, as they headed up ice, Clendening was chirping at Winnik then cross-checked him, and shortly thereafter the two were entangled behind the Caps’ net, Glendenning getting in another whack. That was enough for Winnik, who made short work of Clendening, who recorded his first NHL fight in 75 career NHL games and first as a pro since he had one in the AHL in the 2012-2013 season. Not that Winnik is a heavyweight, although it was his third fight this season. He has had 13 fights in 697 NHL games (numbers from hockeyfights.com).
-- Braden Holtby keeps rolling. With this 29-save performance, he is now 17-0-2, 1.79, .933, with four shutouts in his last 21 appearances.
-- The Caps Corsi’ed the crap out of the Rangers. At 5-on-5 they had a 58-42 advantage in shot attempts (58.0 percent) and outscored the Rangers, 3-1. They had a PDO of 105.51 to the Rangers’ 94.49 (numbers from Corisca.hockey).
In the end…
One game is not an era, but it has to start somewhere, and the “Shattenkirk Era,” however long it lasts, got off to a fine start last night. Yes, the Rangers did lose their previous two games on home ice (one in a Gimmick), but before that won five in a row at MSG. They were looking to become the seventh team this season and fifth in the East to win 20 games on home ice this season. But despite giving up a first-period/first-goal to the home team, the Caps stuck to what works, which is a formidable combination of skill, depth, and discipline. Add to that an asset as skilled as Kevin Shattenkirk, and well…one can dream. Caps fans got a glimpse of what that dream could look like last night.