Thursday, February 19, 2015

A TWO-Point Night -- Game 59: Capitals 5 - Jets 1

The Washington Capitals had a special night at Verizon Center as they dispatched the Winnipeg Jets, 5-1.  For the Caps it was their third straight win and seventh in their last nine games.  The Jets failed to extend what for them had been a two-game winning streak coming into this game.

The Caps did not have their legs under them to start the contest.  Winnipeg took advantage of the Caps playing their first game at home after a four-game road trip to pin the Caps in their own end.  What the Jets could not do with their territorial advantage was get shots to the net.  They did not get their first shot on net until the 7:21 mark and had only four shots in 12:26 when Mark Scheifele took a tripping penalty in the offensive zone to put the Caps on a power play.

The man advantage was all the Caps needed to end Winnipeg’s momentum.  John Carlson got the Caps on the board off a faceoff win when he collected the puck at the right point, slid to his left, and fired a shot through a screen set by Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johansson, past goalie Andrej Pavelec’ glove and into the back of the net.

Four minutes later the Caps added to their lead on what would be their only even strength goal of the night.  Matt Niskanen moved the puck up and out from deep in the Caps’ zone to Karl Alzner at the Caps’ blue line.  Alzner relayed the puck to the Winnipeg line where Alex Ovechkin and Jacob Trouba battled for it.  Trouba could contain neither the puck nor Ovechkin, who spun past Trouba, picked up the puck, and skated in on Pavelec.  Ovechkin cut to his right and fired a shot through the legs of Mark Stuart and past Pavelec to make it 2-0 with just 1:25 left in the opening period.

The second period was relatively quiet on both sides until the 12th minute when Tobias Enstrom fired a shot from the top of the offensive zone that hit Karl Alzner’s stick, then the heel of his skate, the puck popping up and tumbling over goalie Braden Holtby’s right shoulder to halve the Washington lead at the 11:17 mark.

Any momentum Winnipeg might have generated from that goal was snuffed out when Blake Wheeler took a tripping penalty just 15 seconds after Enstrom’s goal.  The Caps grabbed the momentum for their own once more on an odd play with the man advantage.  As the Caps were maneuvering the puck in search of a scoring opportunity, Jets defenseman Tyler Myers took down Troy Brouwer for a delayed penalty.  Play continued, and Mike Green slid the puck to Nicklas Backstrom on the right wing wall.  Backstrom eased out from the wall and with his passing lanes covered, called his own number with a harmless looking shot that leaked through Pavelec’ pads for the goal on a play where the Jets seemed to stop skating when the delayed penalty was called.

Winnipeg took another penalty when Adam Pardy was sent off for tripping to give the Caps a 5-on-3 advantage.  The Caps did not convert the two-man advantage, but the cashed in on the 5-on-4 on a bizarre play.  Winnipeg had an ugly line change that left them with too many men on the ice and another delayed penalty indicated.  Despite too many men on the ice, the Jets had only one man back as the Caps took the zone with a four-man charge.  Marcus Johansson took a pass from Backstrom and skated down the right side to the right wing faceoff circle before throwing the puck across to Alex Ovechkin.  From the left wing circle, Ovechkin sent the puck back between the hash marks in the slot for Backstrom filling in on the play.  The puck movement left Pavelec far out of position to defend a Backstrom shot, and Backstrom buried the puck in the open net to make it 4-1 at the 15:47 mark.

That would be how the second period ended, the competitive portion of the evening more or less over.  In the third period, with Brooks Orpik sent off for an interference penalty in the 13th minute, Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice pulled out all the stops and his goaltender to make it a 6-on-4 power play.  It backfired when Blake Wheeler tried to feed the puck out of the corner to Andrew Ladd but managed only to put the puck on the stick of Troy Brouwer.  With no fear of an icing call on the penalty kill, Brouwer turned and fired the puck the length of the ice for the shorthanded goal to end the scoring for the evening and give the Caps the 5-1 win.

Other stuff…

-- It was a special night for the Caps, indeed.  Three power play goals and a shorthanded tally made it seven special teams goals in two games, following up on the two power play and one shorthanded goal scored against the Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday night in the 3-1 win in Pittsburgh.

-- Nicklas Backstrom’s three points (2-1-3) lifted him into a tie with Chicago’s Patrick Kane for the league scoring lead.  He is 5-16-21 in his last 16 games.  It was Backstrom’s fourth game this season in which he recorded three or more points.

-- Alex Ovechkin’s goal enable him to maintain his two goal lead over the New York Rangers’ Rick Nash in the goal-scoring race.  Ovechkin has 22 goals in his last 24 games.  Four of those goals, including his goal tonight, have been game-winners.

-- John Carlson’s goal gave him goals in consecutive games for the first time this season. 

-- Winnipeg came a long way on their trip, but as if to make a point about it, they took five tripping penalties.  Three of them, along with a too-many-men penalty, came in a 4:15 span of the second period and pretty much doomed whatever chance they had of making this a competitive game.

-- Marcus Johansson had a pair of assists, his first two-point game since January 7th (2-0-2 in a 6-2 win over Toronto).  It was his first two-assist game since December 9th when he had a pair of helpers in a 5-3 win over Tampa Bay.

-- For goalie Braden Holtby it was the 19th time in 49 appearances this season in which he allowed one goal or fewer.  In his last nine appearances he is 6-2-1, 1.44, .947, with two shutouts.

-- Three power play goals on six chances makes it 6-for-16 on the power play for the Caps over their last three games (37.5 percent).  Washington is 10-for-34 on the power play in February (29.4 percent). 

-- Shutting out Winnipeg on the power play (3-for-3 penalty kill) makes it four straight games without having allowed a power play goal and going 13-for-13 in the process.

-- Despite outshooting the Jets by a 33-20 margin, the Caps were out-attempted by Winnipeg, 52-49. 

In the end…

Once the Caps got the stiffness of the long road trip out of their legs, there was not much to see here.  They dominated territory over the last 50 minutes of the game with a very aggressive pursuit of the puck.  Hounding Winnipeg puck carriers into making quick decisions kept the puck in the Jets’ end for much of the evening.  And when the Jets did make decisions, they looked like the wrong ones far more often than not. 

This could have been a game with a far worse narrative, coming as it did between facing a fierce rival and hosting the Metropolitan Division leading New York Islanders on Saturday.  The Caps seem to be handling these sorts of “trap” games much better than they have in recent years when there were some opponents they did not seem to take too seriously.  Against Winnipeg, they did what they do well – score a power play goal – then did it again and again.  It is that kind of ability to stand on an opponent’s throat that had been missing from the Caps’ repertoire in a very long time.  If they can maintain that sort of attitude, then can be not only a team that does not fall prey to misplaced focus, but they can be one that is very hard to play against when the games matter more.