If last night’s game between the Washington Capitals and the Minnesota Wild was an episode of the children’s show “Sesame Street,” it would be devoted to the letter “O.” Alex Ovechkin had a hat trick, and T.J. Oshie added a pair of goals, including the game-winner in overtime to give the Caps a 5-4 win over the Wild. The win allowed the Caps to maintain their three-point lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Metropolitan Division standings.
Oshie got the Caps started mid-way through the first period. It was due in large part to Oshie’s persistence in pursuing the puck as the Wild tried several times, without success, to get the puck across their blue line and out of their zone. Finally, Oshie pulled the puck across his body to fee Ovechkin cutting right to left through the offensive zone. Ovechkin collected the puck and fed Nicklas Backstrom coming down the middle over the blue line. Backstrom one-timed the puck on net, but goalie Devan Dubnyk got his left pad on it. Oshie jumped on the rebound and stuffed it past Dubnyk to make it 1-0, 11:36 into the period.
Minnesota tied it early in the second period when Jason Pominville converted a feed from behind the net by Martin Hanzal into a one-timer that beat goalie Braden Holtby at the 2:17 mark. The tie lasted just five minutes when Ovechkin scored on a power play, one-timing a pass from Marcus Johansson from the left wing circle at the 7:31 mark. Five minutes after that, Ovechkin had another power play goal, one-timing a pass from Kevin Shattenkirk from the same spot to make it 3-1 at the 12:28 mark of the period.
Hanzal got the Wild back within a goal late in the second period when he backhanded a rebound of a Pominville shot through Holtby, making it 3-2 at the 15:43 mark. That would be how the teams went to the second intermission.
In the third period, Ovechkin made it three goals on three power plays. Although they lost a faceoff in the offensive end, the Caps hounded the wild into giving up the puck, Johansson sliding the puck up the right wing wall to Backstrom. From the far edge of the right wing circle, Backstrom sent the puck across to Ovechkin at the top of the left wing circle, and he wristed it through Dubnyk to make it 4-2, 12:29 into the period.
Minnesota scored just over two minutes later when Dmitry Orlov tried to play the puck out of the defensive end, only to have it flagged down by Jason Spurgeon, who sent a long range shot from the right point past Holtby at the 15:03 mark. Then, with Dubnyk pulled for an extra attacker in the last minute, the Wild tied the game when a Spurgeon shot ricocheted out to the left wing circle, right onto the stick of Eric Staal, who fired it into the open side of the net past Holtby with 26.6 seconds left.
In overtime, Oshie was denied on a chance to end it with a one timer from the doorstep, firing the puck wide. The Caps reset the play though, with Johansson collecting the loose puck, circling out from behind the Wild net, and finding Oshie for another one-timer, this time from the left wing circle that beat Dubnyk to the far side, just inside the post to give the Caps the 5-4 win.
-- The win was the Caps’ 50th of the season, fifth time in team history they hit that mark and the second consecutive year they did so (they had a team record 56 wins last season).
-- It was not his prettiest effort, but it was Braden Holtby’s 40th win, making him the third goalie in league history to win 40 or more games in three consecutive seasons. Martin Brodeur did it with the New Jersey Devils in the 2005-2006, 206-2007, and 2007-2008 seasons (he won the Vezina Trophy in the latter two seasons and was runner-up in the first), while Evgeni Nabokov did it in the 2007-2008, 2008-2009, and 2009-2010 seasons (he was a Vezina runner-up in the 2007-2008 season). Over his three seasons, Holtby is 128-40-23, 2.15, .924, with 20 shutouts. Among 39 goalies having played at least 5,000 minutes over the past three seasons, Holtby is first in wins (23 more than Devan Dubnyk and Pekka Rinne), second in goals against average (Carey Price: 2.09), second in save percentage (Price: .929), first in shutouts, first in minutes played (11,493), first in games played (197), and first in games started (196).
-- Alex Ovechkin recorded his 17th career hat trick, the most in the NHL since he came into the league in 2005-2006 (Eric Staal has 13). It was his 112th multi-goal game over that same period, 35 more than runner-up Sidney Crosby.
-- Oshie’s game-winner in overtime was his first overtime game-winning goal as a Capital (regular season; he did have one against Pittsburgh in a postseason game. With the first of his two goals he eclipsed last season’s point total (51 last season, now 53 this season). It was his sixth multi-goal game of the season and ninth in his two seasons with Washington (second over that span to Ovechkin’s 11).
-- Marcus Johansson had four assists, the first time in his career he recorded four assists in a game. Nicklas Backstrom is the only other Capital to accomplish the feat this season (March 18th in a 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning).
-- Backstrom had three assists, the fifth time this season he recorded three or more assists in a game, the third time in March, and the second time this month against Minnesota.
-- Ovechkin had a four-point night of his own, the 21st time in his career he recorded four or more points in a game. He is one of five Capitals to record four or more points in a game this season (Backstrom: 3 times, Oshie: 2, Kuznetsov: 1, Johansson: 1, Ovechkin: 1).
-- Lars Eller…tough night. Finished minus-4 in less than 13 minutes of ice time.
-- Tom Wilson…odd night. Double minor, fighting major, three hits, no shot attempts.
-- Minnesota won the possession wars, out-attempting the Caps at 5-on-5 by a healthy 38-22 margin (68.73 CF%). The shots on goal were equally advantageous for the Wild at fives (21-10/67.7 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey). In the little things that didn’t go well department, the Caps were sledgehammered in the faceoff circle, winning just 18 of 51 draws (35.3 percent).
In the end…
Sustaining success requires secondary scoring, but when a club gets as robust a baseline from their primary scorers, good things can happen, even when the underlying numbers do not look so good. So it was for the Caps on Tuesday night. The top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie combined for all five goals and four assists. For that, thank the power play, which, when you add in Marcus Johansson’s assists, had three goals on six shots and six of the 10 assists recorded. And all that is nice, but the Caps did not have a particular good game at even strength. Against a struggling team, that was disappointing, even for a road game. But the Caps get a chance to get right back to it and do things the right way (or at least perhaps the more sustainable way) when they face the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night.