The Caps beat the Arizona Coyotes, 4-1, but the score was closer than it looked, even as the possession numbers looked like more of a blowout.
The Caps had the look of a team that would make short work of the Coyotes, out-attempting them 10-5 in the first 8:30. At 8:31, Alex Ovechkin scored on the power play on the team’s 11th shot attempt when Nicklas Backstrom, at the goal line to the left of goalie Mike Smith, took a feed from Marcus Johansson, then threaded a pass through to Ovechkin, who wristed the puck past Smith on the far side to make it 1-0.
The Caps dominated possession after that, but they could not find that second goal over the next 40 minutes. It would be the Coyotes, hanging around for those 40 minutes, who would tie the game in the latter half of the third period. It was a superb play by Anthony Duclair, who poked the puck off the stick of Andre Burakovsky in the Arizona end, chased the puck down in the neutral zone, skated in ahead of the pack, and got a shot on goal. Braden Holtby made the initial stop, but Peter Holland followed it up and stuffed the puck in before Holtby could reorient himself. After more than 50 minutes of dominance, the Caps let the Coyotes back into the game with the tying goal at 12:29.
The goal seemed to wake the Caps from their slumber, though. A Jordan Martinook shot from the hash marks was muffled by John Carlson in front, and the loose puck was scooped up by Dmitry Orlov. Fending off Jamie McGinn as he exited the defensive zone, Orlov reached the red line and eased the puck to Daniel Winnik on his right. Winnik darted into the right wing circle and snapped a shot over Smith’s left shoulder on the near side to make it 2-1 at the 15:21 mark.
Less than half a minute later, the Caps had insurance. Connor Murphy had the puck get lost in his skates as he was backing to his own blue line, and Marcus Johansson hounded him enough to give up the puck along the left wing wall. Kevin Shattenkirk found it and threw it across, trying to find Evgeny Kuznetsov cutting to the net. The puck sailed through and off the right wing wall with enough force to give Justin Williams a free look. Williams did not waste it. He one-timed it off the bar at the back of the net to give the Caps a 3-1 lead at 15:53 of the period.
Winnik sealed things late. With Smith on the bench for a sixth attacker with less than two minutes left, Jay Beagle chipped a loose puck from the left wing circle in his own end past Alex Goligoski to Winnik exiting the zone. Winnik worked his way between Murphy and McGinn and skated in on the empty net. With McGinn draped on his back, Winnik one-handed the puck in as he was being hauled to the ice. The empty netter at 18:21 sealed the 4-1 win.
-- The Capitals set a franchise record with the win, their 31st home win of the season. It snapped a tie with 1985-1986 and 2009-2010 clubs that had 30 home wins apiece.
-- Alex Ovechkin scored his 30th goal of the season on a power play in the first period. In doing so, he joined Mike Gartner and Wayne Gretzky as the only players in NHL history to record 30 goals in each of their first 12 seasons in the NHL. He’s going to have a bit of a challenge to get the most consecutive seasons to start a career with 30-goal seasons. Gartner did it in his first 15 seasons.
-- The Caps had a 28-8 advantage in shot attempts in the first period, 12-3 in shots on goal. It took Arizona more than 27 minutes to record ten shot attempts. By the end of 40 minutes, that shot attempt advantage was 56-27, Caps.
-- Daniel Winnik scored exactly three minutes apart for his second two-goal game this season and his third as a Capital. The two goals in three minutes was the shortest amount of time Winnik took to score two goals in any of his six career two-goal games.
-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had an odd game. He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) in the first 23:30 of the game and none in the 36:30 thereafter. He also lost all ten of the faceoffs he took and was one of just three Caps under 50 percent Corsi-for at 5-on-5 (47.06).
-- Kevin Shattenkirk had his second two-assist game in his last three contests. He has eight points (all assists) in 11 games as a Capital. He also had eight shot attempts (tied for team lead with Alex Ovechkin) four shots on goal (tied for team lead with Ovechkin and Winnik) and was plus-3 (tied for team lead with Marcus Johansson).
-- The plus-3 was Johansson’s third such game this season and first since November 16th in a 7-1 win over Pittsburgh.
-- Jay Beagle won 13 of 18 faceoffs. The rest of the team went 11-for-37 (29.7 percent). Beagle also had an assist. It was also the 82nd game of his career with the Caps that he recorded a point. Washington is 67-8-7 in those games, 31-2-6 on home ice.
-- Braden Holtby stopped 28 of 29 shots. It was the 16th time in 35 appearances on home ice this season in which he allowed one or no goals. Overall he is 26-6-2, 1.74, .933, with seven shutouts on home ice. He is first in the league in home wins, first in goals against on home ice, second in save percentage (Sergei Bobrovsky: .941), and first in shutouts on home ice.
-- You would think, looking at the gross numbers, that the Caps dominated, and to an extent they did. However, at one point they held a 56-28 advantage in total shot attempts, but at game’s end, that advantage was 69-46. At one point, they held a 37-14 (72.55 percent Corsi-for) advantage in 5-on-5 shot attempts, but at the end that advantage was 48-36 (57.14 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).
In the end…
It came all too easy for the Caps early in terms of being able to dominate play. But for the play of Coyote goalie Mike Smith, this game would have been over before the last strains of the National Anthem echoed away. But they left the Coyotes hang around and hang around, and finally a misplay turned into a goal, and the Coyotes might have thought, “hey, we’re still in this.” The Caps have far too much skill and experience than the young Arizona squad, and they converted opportunities late. But this was a reminder that they will face goalies down the road who can steal games, and they will do so against teams that can skate with them. They need to bear down harder than they did for stretches of this game when they seemed a little too satisfied with taking shots from long distance and not making Smith’s night harder to bear.