Saturday, March 03, 2018

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Stadium Series/Game 65: Capitals 5 - Maple Leafs 2

If outdoor games have become old and stale in the view of some, the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs injected new life into the format as they took the ice at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis, MD, on Saturday night in their Stadium Series matchup.  The Caps broke on top with a three-goal first period and locked down a 5-2 win in a game that was one of the most entertaining of the outdoor games played to date.

First Period

It did not take long for the seal to be broken on this one.  Jay Beagle drew a penalty by Travis Dermott less than three minutes into the game, and the Caps made the Leafs pay.  Nicklas Backstrom walked the puck off the right wing wall and wristed a shot at the Toronto net.  Goalie Frederik Andersen made the save, but the rebound came out to the low slot.  Evgeny Kuznetsov was first to it, pulling it over to his forehand and snapping it past Andersen on the stick side to make it 1-0, 3:50 into the period.

Toronto tied it less than two minutes later when a drive from the right point by Roman Polak hit the skate of Zach Hyman as he was crossing in front and skittered past Holtby’s right skate to tie it at the 5:20 mark.

Then it was the captain’s turn.  It started with Backstrom dumping the puck into the Leafs’ zone from long range.  Andersen stopped the puck, but Backstrom was able to follow it up with a shot that Andersen knocked aside.  Then, Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson went to work to dig it out.  Ovechkin backed out from below the goal line as Wilson dueled for the puck.  Wilson out-fought Leo Komarov for it and fed the puck out to Ovechkin, who got inside position on Mitch Marner and snapped a shot high past Andersen’s glove to give the Caps the lead once more, just 59 seconds after the Toronto goal, at 6:19.

Washington took a two-goal lead late in the period on another power play.  With Dominic Moore off on a delay-of-game/puck-over-glass penalty, Evgeny Kuznetsov sped down the right side into the Toronto zone.  With Connor Brown straining to keep up behind him, Kuznetsov angled to the Maple Leaf net, and as he was circling around it, fed the puck out to Backstrom trailing the play.  Backstrom stuffed it in from the post to Andersen’s left, and it was 3-1 at the 16:20 mark.  That would be how the teams went to the first intermission.

The Caps led the Leafs in shots on goals, 11-7, but Toronto had a 20-19 edge in shot attempts overall.

Second Period

Toronto inched to within a goal in the eighth minute of the period when Marner dropped a pass for Nazem Kadri just inside the offensive zone.  Kadri pirouetted and wristed a shot at Holtby, who thought he had the puck at the near post, but it snuck past him at the 7:22 mark.

The Caps answered quickly again.  Jay Beagle started the scoring play by skating the puck into the right wing circle in the offensive zone and pulling it back to John Carlson.  His drive was stopped by Andersen, but the rebound came out to Chandler Stephenson on the left side.  Stephenson threw the puck at the crease where it squirted out to Carlson.  With Morgan Rielly and Jay Beagle tied up with Andersen, Carlson deposited the puck in the empty half of the net to make it 4-2, 8:05 into the period.

The Caps chased Andersen less than three minutes later.  Kuznetsov collected a loose puck and circled toward the defensive blue line.  He spied Jakub Vrana behind the defense and led him perfectly.  Vrana broke in clean on Andersen and snapped the puck through his pads at the 10:49 mark to make it 5-2, Caps.

Curtis McElhinney relieved Andersen at that point and prevented any further damage to the Leafs’ cause until the teams went to the second intermission.

The Caps out-shot Toronto, 18-12 in the period, while the Maple Leafs had a 24-21 edge in shot attempts.

Third Period

The goal scoring portion game having come to an end, the Caps did a credible job of clamping down on the Maple Leafs to deny them any opportunities to make it a competitive game once more.  They even kept their focus when the game was interrupted by a power outage at the ten-minute mark when the teams changed ends.  It made for a happy evening for Caps fans with the team skating off with a 5-2 win.

Other stuff…

-- Nicklas Backstom had four shots on goal in the first period (he finished with five).  Coming into this game he had only four games in which he had more shots on goal for the entire contest.  No other Capital had more than one shot on goal in the period.  Backstrom also had three points in the first period (1-2-3). Coming into this game he had four games in which he finished the night with three or more points.  It was his fifth game with three or more points this season.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had a three-point game, too (1-2-3).  It was his sixth game this season with three or more points.  His goal was his 20th, the second time in his career he hit the 20-goal mark and passing the 19 goals he had in each of the previous two seasons.

-- John Carlson…three-point game (1-2-3).  It was his second game this season with three or more points.

-- This was the first time the Caps had three players with three or more points in a game since December 30th, when Backstrom (1-2-3), Carlson (1-2-3), and Alex Ovechkin (0-3-3) did it in a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils.

-- Jakub Vrana’s goal snapped a 25-game streak without a goal. 

-- The Caps were 2-for-2 on the power play, the first time they were perfect on more than one power play chance since they went 2-for-2 in a 4-3 overtime win over the Dallas Stars last January 21st.

-- Braden Holtby stopped the last 16 shots he faced to clinch the win and end a personal six-game losing streak (0-4-2).

-- Tom Wilson had a Wilsonian sort of game… an assist, three shots on goal, five hits, two of them of the thunderous sort.

-- Jay Beagle was an amazing 13-for-14 on faceoffs (92.9 percent).  On the other hand, he was the only minus player for the Caps (minus-1).

-- The Caps went to 3-0-0 in outdoor games, their record trailing only that of the New York Rangers (4-0-0).  Those two teams are the only ones with more than two wins in outdoor NHL games.

In the end…

Good win.  Good win.  The Caps were quick out of the gate, stifled the Maple Leafs, opened a lead, and then shut it down in their own end.  Getting contributions from Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and John Carlson was welcome, and the goal by Alex Ovechkin seemed to give the team an early spark.  The best part might have been goalie Braden Holtby gaining confidence as the game went on, displaying some of the swagger and flair he has when he is on his game.  It is something that has been missing lately as he looked as if he was searching for pucks more than stopping them.

This is the sort of complete win the Caps needed to start the month and see them off for their California trip that will start in Anaheim on Tuesday against the Ducks.  It also allowed the Caps to head off with, for the moment, a two-point lead on the Philadelphia Flyers in the Metropolitan Division.  Every point is important now, and the Caps got two the “right” way in this game.