The Washington Capitals traveled to the scene of many disappointments in recent years – Madison Square Garden in New York City – and served notice that this isn’t your father’s Capitals. It isn’t even your older brother’s. The Caps fell behind by a 3-1 score after 20 minutes, then systematically and clinically dissected the Rangers for six unanswered goals, during which they chased the demonic Henrik Lundquvist from the Rangers’ net, and won going away, 7-3.
The first 20 minutes of this contest will not make any Capitals highlight videos. Justin Williams did get the Caps off on the right foot when he redirected a Taylor Chorney drive past Lundqvist at the 12:03 mark after getting decked at the side of the net by Kevin Hayes.
Then the Caps started kicking their own behind with their other foot. The Rangers scored three times in a space of 4:21 – goals by J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider, and Dan Boyle – to take a 3-1 lead into the locker room at the first intermission.
Then the Caps unleashed the fury. In the sixth minute of the period Justin Williams worked the puck down the left wing wall, then sent a pass into the middle for Dmitry Orlov skating down the middle. Orlov walked down the middle and with Chris Kreider playing nominal defense, draping his stick across Orlov’s arm, Orlov slid the puck through the top of the crease. Evgeny Kuznetsov unwrapped the present and backhanded a shot past goalie Henrik Lundqvist to make it 3-2.
Less than two minutes later, T.J. Oshie tied the game. It was another case of indifferent (or incapable) Ranger defense. Nicklas Backstrom fired a cross-ice dump in from the center red stripe that bounced hard out of the corner to Lundqvist’s left. Oshie beat Marc Staal to the puck, cut to the middle, and before Dylan McIlrath could get his stick in Oshie’s path backhanded the puck past Lundqvist.
Four minutes later the Caps took the lead they would not relinquish. With Chris Summers in the penalty box, the Caps worked the puck around the perimeter smartly on the ensuing power play. Then, in an instant, they broke down the Rangers defense down low. John Carlson fed Nicklas Backstrom in the right wing circle. Backstrom took a step deeper and fed Marcus Johansson at the goal line. Johansson snapped a pass through the crease to Alex Ovechkin at the left wing faceoff dot, and Ovechkin did the rest, firing a shot over Lundqvist’s glove high on the far side to make it 4-3.
The Caps were not done with the second period or with Lundqvist. With the period winding down and the Caps on another power play, the Caps worked the triangle play to perfection – Backstrom from the right wing down to Johansson at the goal line and out to Williams in the slot for a one-timer that close the second period scoring and Lundqvist’s night.
The third period began with Magnus Hellberg coming in to make his NHL debut, but he fared no better than Lundqvist. The Caps scored on their first two shots on goal, the first a shorthanded goal by Jason Chimera when he took a loose puck chipped out of the defensive zone by Tom Wilson and beat Hellberg on a breakaway. The second came two minutes later when Evgeny Kuznetsov took advantage of some loose play by Summer behind the Ranger net to pilfer the puck and feed Marcus Johansson all alone in front for the seventh and final goal of the evening.
-- The Caps scored seven goals. It was the first time they did that at Madison Square Garden since beating the Rangers, 7-4, on November 11, 1992. Their plus-4 goal differential ties the best ever for the Caps on Ranger ice. They did it twice before – April 1, 1987 in a 5-1 win and March 16, 1988 in an 8-4 win.
-- The Caps had two power play goals, giving them five in seven power play chances over their last two games.
-- Kuznetsov and Williams scored their tenth goals of the season, respectively, in this game. That gives the Caps five skaters with ten or more goals, most in the league.
-- Nicklas Backstrom recorded three assists, the 28th time he hit that mark in his career. Since he came into the league in 2007-2008, only Sidney Crosby has recorded three or more assists in more games (29).
-- Going back to the third period of the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Caps have scored 11 goals on their last 35 shots (31.4 percent).
-- Give Braden Holtby some credit. He was left largely to his own wits in the first period as the Caps team defense resembled less a hockey team and more a group that was strolling on 5th Avenue doing some window shopping. After suffering three goals on 16 shots in the first period, not to mention nine scoring chances, he turned away all 21 he faced thereafter.
-- There were 11 different Capitals with points, five with multi-point games. The latter was not a season high. Washington had seven multi-point scorers in their 7-4 win over Edmonton on October 23rd.
-- If Tom Wilson is shaving the rough edges off his game in the wake of the match penalty/rescinded match penalty against Ottawa last week, it doesn’t show. He took three minor penalties – an unsportsmanlike conduct and a double minor for roughing – and had four hits to tie for the team lead in this game.
-- Marcus Johansson had his first three-point game of the season and his first since October 3, 2013, in a 5-4 win over the Calgary Flames.
-- On the other side of the ice, the play of Henrik Lundqvist has to be a concern to the Rangers and their capacity to overtake the Caps. In his last 13 appearances he is 5-6-1 (one no-decision), 3.53, .899. The Rangers can’t compete if that level of performance continues.
In the end…
No, the Caps are not going to come back from 3-0 and 3-1 deficits in consecutive games to win with any regularity, but it sure is nice to see them able to do it. Sure, falling behind by multiple goals early in games and the possession numbers overall are problems that need to be corrected, but if there is a takeaway from these last two games, it is that the Caps have found a way to maintain their composure in the face of difficulty. The fact that they have so many weapons at the offensive end of the ice and a goaltender at the other end who can shake off those still infrequent stretches of leaky play is a comfort to Caps fans, even when things look bleak. And when they comeback like they did against a team that has caused them so much misery the past few seasons, it makes for a warm glow this holiday season.