Six inches. That was the difference on Saturday night for the Washington Capitals as they hung on for a 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in a surprisingly high-scoring game at Capital One Arena. Those six inches came late in the third period when a shot by Pierre-Luc Dubois hit Caps goalie Braden Holtby in his side and squirted into the blue paint of the crease. Before Artemi Panarin could get to the loose puck, Jay Beagle lifted his stick, spun, and cleared the loose puck out of danger, and Columbus’ last best chance to tie the game went by the boards as the Caps skated off for the win.
Before that, the Caps opened the game in a sizzling fashion. With the fans still settling into their seats, Lars Eller dug a loose puck out of the corner to the left of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and worked it up the boards. He caught up to it and snapped a pass to Brett Connolly chugging down the slot. Connolly wasted no time ripping a shot past Bobrovsky’s right pad to make it 1-0 just 63 seconds into the game.
Barely a minute later, Devante Smith-Pelly got to a loose puck in the corner to Bobrovsky’s right and sent it around to the other corner. Matt Niskanen got to it and fired it toward the Columbus net. Zach Werenski blocked the feed, but the puck caromed out to the slot where Alex Chiasson was waiting. He snapped the puck past Bobrovsky, and the Caps had a 2-0 lead just 2:06 into the game.
The Caps held that lead into the second period, but Columbus halved it early on when Columbus took advantage of the Caps’ inability to clear the puck out of their own end, Pierr-Luc Dubois feeding Artemi Panarin for a one-timer that beat goalie Braden Holtby on the blocker side to make it 2-1, 3:51 into the period.
The Blue Jackets tied the game late in the second period when the Caps were lackadaisical in their own end on a power play. Matt Calvert was gifted a loose puck in the high slot, giving him an opportunity to spin and fire a shot past Holtby’s blocker to make it 2-2 at the 16:28 mark.
Columbus might have taken that momentum into the second intermission, but the Caps grabbed the lead back late in the period. It was one that Caps fans have seen countless times before. On a power play, Nicklas Backstrom worked the puck to John Carlson at the top of the offensive zone. Carlson fed it across to Alex Ovechkin in the left wing circle, and Ovechkin snapped a shot that beat Bobrovsky on the short side with just 37.6 seconds left in the period to make it 3-2.
The Caps restored their two-goal lead early in the third period. From just inside the blue line in the offensive zone, T.J. Oshie fed Evgeny Kuznetsov skating into the zone. Kuznetsov appeared to lose the puck as he was challenged by Josh Anderson, but the puck slid onto the stick of John Carlson. From tin inside hash marks of the right wing circle, Carlson fed it right back to Kuznetsov who held the puck for an instant to get a better shooting angle into what was an all but open net as Bobrovsky had committed to defending a shot from Carlson that never came. Kuznetsov’s goal made it 4-2 just 1:08 into the period.
Columbus made things interesting late when Werenski cleaned up some loose change in front of the Caps’ net and chipped the puck past Holtby’s left shoulder to make it 4-3 at the 16:58 mark. That would be as close as the Blue Jackets would get, though, and the Caps had a 4-3 win to even their five-game home stand at a win and a loss.
-- The was the fifth time in the last six meetings between these clubs that the game ended in a one-goal decision. The Caps are 3-1-1 in those decisions.
-- Alex Ovechkin’s power play goal was his 218th of his career, breaking a tie for tenth place, all-time, with Jaromir Jagr and Mike Gartner. The goal was also his 577th career goal, tying him with Mark Recchi for 20th place all-time.
-- John Carlson had a pair of assists, his third multi-point game this season and his 53rd as a Capital, fifth all-time among Caps defensemen.
-- The Caps spread things around, scoring-wise, 11 players sharing in the 12 total points available this evening.
-- Lars Eller and Brooks Orpik each had an assist without registering a shot attempt.
-- After the Kuznetsov goal to open the third period, the Blue Jackets out-shot the Caps, 17-2 and out-attempted them, 33-8.
-- Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom were the only Caps to go minus-2; Orpik was plus-2.
-- The Caps were charged with 24 giveaways to five for Columbus.
-- The four goals the Caps scored on Sergei Bobrovsky broke an eight-game streak for the Blue Jacket goaltender in which he allowed two or fewer goals. At the other end, the three goals allowed by Braden Holtby marked the first time this season he allowed three goals in consecutive appearances on home ice.
-- Chandler Stephenson went out of the game late in the second period with what was described as an “upper body injury.” He did not return.
In the end…
This is a game that the Caps perhaps did not deserve to win. They struggled mightily getting pucks out of their own end, were clumsy with the puck, and let Columbus dictate pace for too long over too many stretches. But they were disciplined enough to stay out of the penalty box, this being the second game this season that they did not face an opponent’s power play (November 12th against Edmonton being the other), and they have been shorthanded only three times in their last three games. It was enough to enable the Caps to keep pace with their conference rivals, there now being just a four-point margin separating the first-place Columbus Blue Jackets and the fifth-place Capitals. It was a game that highlighted things to work on, and it was a game with some good takeaways. It will not get any easier as the San Jose Sharks come to town on Monday.