Saturday, March 19, 2016

Washington Capitals Recap: A TWO-Point Night: Capitals 4 - Predators 1

When the Washington Capitals took the ice on Friday night against the Nashville Predators, they faced a team every bit as hot as they were, if not more so.  From February 13th until the drop of the puck on Friday night the Preds were 11-1-4 to the Caps’ 10-4-1 record.  They posed a stiff test for a Capitals team that is trying to fine tune its game for the postseason.  The Caps passed that test with a 4-1 win.

After a scoreless first period, the Caps spotted the Predators a goal on a power play.  Working the puck around the top of the offensive zone, Roman Josi fed it to Filip Forsberg at the top of the right wing faceoff circle.  With Mike Ribeiro screening goalie Braden Holtby, Forsberg caught Holtby peeking around the wrong corner and fired a shot into the open side of the net to Holtby’s left for the 1-0 lead 3:30 into the second period:

Then it was time for the Caps to take advantage of a Predators penalty.  Ryan Johansen was sent off at the 5:52 mark for tripping Taylor Chorney to set the Caps up with a man advantage.  Nashville had the penalty almost killed off, but not quite.  A pair of sharp passes and a fine finish did the Predators in.  Nashville cleared the puck down the ice to get a line change as the Caps power play was winding down.  Braden Holtby skated out to the corner just outside the goal line and sent the puck up hard to Evgeny Kuznetsov at the Predators’ blue line.  Kuznetsov skated the puck slowly in and from the right wing circle wound up as if for a slap shot.  However, a passing lane opened up between the Preds’ Shea Weber and Colton Sissons, and Kuznetsov sent a slap pass through the middle of the ice to Daniel Winnik darting in on the left side. Winnik took the pass in stride and snapped a shot high into the net behind goalie Carter Hutton, who bit on the Kuznetsov fake and was defending the shot that never came.

Less than five minute later, the Caps had the lead for good.  Caps fans have seen it before; the Predators, perhaps not.  With the teams battling for the puck in the Olympia corner, Kuznetsov beat Petter Granberg to it when it squirted out from a clot of players.  Kuznetsov circled behind the net, but he did not come out the other side with the biscuit.  From behind the cage he backhanded a pass behind him and out to T.J. Oshie, who wristed it into the cage as Hutton was leaning the other way to defend the puckcarrier who never came.  It was 2-1 at the 12:22 mark.

Just as the second period was winding down, Winnik scored his second of the game.  It started with Dmitry Orlov grabbing a loose puck and starting up ice from inside his own blue line.  Getting up a head of steam through the neutral zone, Orlov backed off the defense, and as he reached the Nashville blue line he slid the puck off to his left to Winnik filling in on that side.  Winnik took a couple of steps up, and from the top of the left wing circle he snapped a shot that handcuffed Hutton and sailed into the far top corner of the net to make it 3-1 with just 18 seconds left in the period.

If the Predators had any designs on making this a competitive game once more, the Caps erased them in the first minute of the third period.  The play started with Kuznetsov skating the puck down the right side into the Nashville zone.  The puck slid off his stick, but Kuznetsov worked his way around Ryan Johansen to regain possession.  From the right wing corner he, and perhaps he alone, spied Andre Burakovsky arriving in the low slot.  Kuznetsov got the puck to him smartly, and Burakovsky had time to pick a corner.  He chose wisely, snapping the puck over Hutton’s glove into the top corner for the final tally in the 4-1 Capitals win.

Other stuff…

-- Daniel Winnik recorded his first two goals as a Capital and did it in most efficient fashion, doing it with the only two shots on goal he recorded for the game.  Winnik became the 23rd Capital to record a goal this season.  Last year’s club had 21 different players record goals.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had three assists, the fourth time this season he recorded three or more assists.  He is tied with Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson for most games recording three or more assists.

-- All of Kuznetsov’s assists were primary assists, giving him 41 such helpers this season, tops in the league, six more than Chicago’s Patrick Kane.

-- This was the 12th time this season that the Caps had five or more power play opportunities (they had five in this game).  They are 8-3-1 overall in such games and 2-2-0 when they fail to record a goal, as they did in this game.

-- Back to Kuznetsov.  It is amazing how a player can dictate the outcome without taking so much as a single shot attempt.  In fact, Kuznetsov’s score sheet is quite clean.  Three assists, plus-3, and he won 13 of 18 draws (72.2 percent).  That’s it. No shot attempts, no hits, no takeaways, no blocked shots.  Just passes for layups and faceoff wins.

-- Dmitry Orlov was a plus-4, making him one of ten players this season with two games of plus-4 or better (Kuznetsov is another).  The other was in a 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on February 20th.

-- T.J. Oshie set a personal career best with his 22nd goal of the season.  He had 21 for the St. Louis Blues in 2013-2014.

-- When Andre Burakovsky scored in the third period, it was his 15th goal of the season, giving the Caps eight players with 15 or more goals, tying the 2009-2010 team for most players with 15 or more goals since the 2004-205 lockout.

-- Braden Holtby seems to be working himself back into “2015 Holtby.”  This was the third time in four games that he allowed a single goal.  Over those four games he has a goals against average of 1.68 and a save percentage of .933.  Compare that to his numbers in the 2015 portion of this season: 1.86, .934.

-- There were considerable score effects in the possession numbers, the Caps going into defensive mode after taking the 4-1 lead in the third period.  At 5-on-5 the Predators won the shot attempts battle, 24-6, and they had more shots on goal, 9-3.  But over the first two periods, the Caps were the better team.  Over the first 40 minutes the Caps enjoyed a 34-27 edge in shot attempts at 5-on-5 and a shots advantage of 21-9 (numbers from 

In the end…

This is now the second-winningest team in Caps history, the 2009-2010 team with 54 wins the only team standing in their way of the top spot.  This was a game that was a little more reminiscent of the games the Caps played over the first 50 games of the season where they systematically wore down an opponent with depth and skill.  Even with Nashville getting the first goal, on a power play, one did not have the feeling that the Predators were the better team.   The best sign here might be that the Caps recorded their first win by more than one goal in more than a month (3-1 over Los Angeles on February 16th) and their first win by multiple goals that did not involve an empty netter supplying the more-than-one-goal margin since they beat Columbus, 6-3, on January 19th.  It comes just in time as the Caps head out onto a three-game road trip, starting with a nationally-televised game in Pittsburgh on Sunday evening.