The Washington Capitals broke a two-game losing streak by doing what they have struggled doing this season – getting ahead of their opponent early – scoring first and last on their way to a 3-1 in over the Minnesota Wild at Capital One Arena.
After a quiet start to the game, the Capitals and Wild exchanged power play goals less than three minutes apart mid-way through the first period. The Caps opened the scoring on a man advantage when Nicklas Backstrom took a pass from John Carlson and fed Evgeny Kuznetsov at the goal line. Kuznetsov slid the puck to T.J. Oshie at the hash marks at the edge of the right wing circle, and Oshie one-timed it past goalie Alex Stalock.9:42 into the period to give the Caps a 1-0 lead.
Nino Niederreiter evened things up when he patiently waited for the puck to come to him off a scramble in front of goalie Braden Holtby and fired into the open side of the net to Holtby’s right to make it a 1-1 game at the 12:02 mark.
Less than a minute later the Caps had the lead back. From his knees, Oshie fed the puck from the left wing faceoff circle to Matt Niskanen at the left point. Niskanen moved the puck across to Dmitry Orlov, who one-timed the pass off the near post and behind Stalock at the 12:46 mark to make it a 2-1 game, a lead the Caps took to the first intermission.
Minnesota had a 19-17 edge in shot attempts, but the Caps had a 13-12 edge in shots on goal over the first 20 minutes.
Two minutes into the period the Caps had a glorious chance to add to their lead, Chandler Stephenson getting an edge on the Wild defense as he was circling to the net. He fed the puck back to Backstrom trailing on the play, and Backstrom, from the left wing circle fired at what looked like an open net. However, defenseman Jonas Brodin got his right foot out and blocked the shot away to foil the chance.
The Caps got a scare nine minutes into the period when an attempt pass from Chris Stewart rode up the stick of Alex Ovechkin and struck him in the face. He went off under his own power, but bleeding quite a bit.
There would be no scoring, though, and the Caps took their 2-1 lead to the second intermission. Minnesota had a 9-8 edge in shots on goal and a 17-14 edge in shot attempts.
The teams went back and forth with nothing to show for it over the first 15 minutes of the period. Then, the Caps had a chance to extend their lead when Chandler Stephenson broke in around the Wild defense and was tripped, leading to a penalty shot. However, his attempt to sneak one under the right pad of Stalock was stopped, and the teams played on.
The Caps finally broke through on the front-end of a four-minute power play, courtesy of a double-minor penalty taken by Ryan Suter for high-sticking. Alex Ovechkin took a pass from Nicklas Backstrom at the top of the left wing circle, stepped up, and instead of shooting, passed to Evgeny Kuznetsov camped at the top of the paint. Kuznetsov corralled the unruly puck and nudged it past Stalock to give the Caps a 3-1 lead at the 17:23 mark. The Caps could not convert on the back half of the extended power play, but they had what they needed for the 3-1 win.
-- T.J. Oshie got his tenth goal of the season in this contest, Game 21 of the season. Last year, when he finished the season with 33 goals, he got his tenth goal in Game 22.
-- Oshie had two points (goal, assist), giving him 32 multi-point games as a Capital, breaking a tie with Dave Christian for 33rd place on the Caps’ all-time list and tying him with Ulf Dahlen for 32nd place.
-- Evgeny Kuznetsov also had a goal and an assist for his 47th career multi-point game as a Capital, breaking a tie with Jeff Halpern for 23rd place in team history.
-- The Caps finished the game with 43 shots on goal, a team high for the season, and the first time in four games with 40 or more shots that they won in regulation (they had two overtime wins).
-- For those asking the hockey gods to put the spirit of shooting more in Kuznetsov’s stick, he had seven shots on goal to lead the team.
-- The Caps did allow a power play goal, the third game in a row they did so. That makes three times this season that the Caps have allowed teams power play goals in three or more consecutive games.
-- This was just the seventh time in 21 games that the Caps scored first in a game. They are now 6-0-1 in such games.
-- Brooks Orpik was a real thumper in this game, credited with eight of the Caps’ 29 hits. Taylor Chorney had four blocked shots to lead both teams.
-- John Carlson skated 24:55 in this game. With the 24:53 he skated against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night, that give him consecutive games with less than 25 minutes in ice time for the first time this season and, in fact, only his third game all season under 25 minutes.
-- Braden Holtby shook off a poor performance against the Nashvill Predators to stop 30 of 31 shots. Even with that off night against the Preds, Holtby is 7-1-0, 2.31, .928 in his last eight appearances.
In the end…
This was one of those games in which the losing team might say, “if it wasn’t for (insert name of goalie here), it could have been six or seven goals for the other guys.” The Caps pressed all night with perhaps their most impressive night of the season in applying persistent pressure over three periods. Alex Stalock was superb in goal for the Wild, who might have seen the competitive portion of the game end far sooner than it did but for his efforts. He kept the Wild in it late into a third period that saw the Caps pour 22 shots on goal to the Minnesota net.
For all the eyeball and empirical analysis, hockey breaks down pretty simply. If you score first, chances are you win. It is something the Caps have not done enough of this season, but tonight it was a solid start that set the table for a solid three course meal of basic hockey. It wasn’t fancy, but it was tasty and satisfying. Keep this dish on the menu.