Sunday, March 28, 2021

A TWO-Point Afternoon: Washington Capitals -- Game 34: Capitals 5 - Rangers 4

The Washington Capitals hosted the New York Rangers in a noon start at Capital One Arena.  The Caps were trying to extend their most recent winning streak to three games, while the Rangers were looking to get back to winning ways after a 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon.  The Caps entered the game atop the East Division by virtue of a tiebreaker over the New York Islanders, while the Rangers started the game in sixth place, three points behind the Boston Bruins for the fourth and final playoff spot in the East Division.  The Caps closed the Washington portion of the season series with a 5-4 win that was far closer a game at the end than it should have been.

First Period

The teams were more or less even in shots and shot attempts over the first half of the period when it appeared the Rangers scored the first goal, a shot from below the goal line that struck T.J. Oshie in the face and ricocheted toward the goal line.  Dmitry Orlov darted in and swept the puck away before it could completely cross the goal line, and fideo review confirmed that it was no goal.

The Caps got the game’s first power play late in the period when Colin Blackwell was sent off on a roughing call at 17:15.  Washington had two shots on goal but did not convert, and the teams went to the first intermission in a scoreless tie.

-- Washington outshot the Rangers, 11-6, and out-attempted them, 18-14.

-- Carl Hagelin led the Caps with three shots on goal.  Yes, that is not a misprint.  John Carlson had five shot attempts.

-- Nicklas Backstrom won five of seven draws, the only Capital over 50 percent for the period.

-- Ten Capitals were credited with hits.  Nine of them had one; T.J. Oshie had three.

Second Period

Washington was awarded their second power play of the afternoon when Brendan Smith was called for hooking at 3:25. The Caps were shutout on shots and failed to convert for the second time in as many power play chances.

The Rangers had their first power play chance of the game at the 7:11 mark when Nic Dowd went to the penalty box on a holding call.  The Caps killed the power play without allowing the Rangers a shot on goal.

The Caps broke through in the 11th minute. Ryan Lindgren tried to shoot the puck to the net from the left point, but the shot was muffled by Tom Wilson.  The puck escaped to the neutral zone, where Jakub Vrana tacked it down and separated from the defense on a breakaway.  His shot was stopped by goalie Keith Kinkaid, but Tom Wilson followed up and backhanded the rebound past Kinkaid’s left pad to make it 1-0 at the 10:43 mark.

They doubled their lead less than two minutes later when an Alex Ovechkin shot from deep in the left wing corner hit a Ranger in the low slot and clicked off the left pad of Kinkaid and into the far side of the net at the 12:29 mark.

Wilson put the Caps up by three less than three minutes later when he batted a rebound of a Nicklas Backstrom shot out of mid-air on his backhand past the right shoulder of Kinkaid at the 15:07 mark.  Washington weather a couple of good scoring chances by the Rangers in the last five minutes of the period, including a breakaway, and got a late power play on a high-sticking call on Carl Hagelin, but finished the period with their 3-0 lead intact.

-- The Caps outshot new York, 8-5, in the period but were out-attempted, 14-12

-- Washington was credited with 26 hits through 40 minutes to 14 for the Rangers.  Fourteen different Caps had hits on their score sheet lines, Zdeno Chara leading the group with four.

-- Alex Ovechkin, Carl Hagelin, and John Carlson led the Caps with three shots on goal apiece; Carlson and Tom Wilson had five shot attempts.

Third Period

The Hagelin penalty that carried over into the third period was killed off, and the Caps kept their 3-0 lead.  Washington got their third power play chance of the game when Libor Hajek went off for interference at 1:50.  The Caps did not convert the power play, but they did extend their lead in the sixth minute.  Carl Hagelin held the puck behind the Ranger net looking for a passing lane.  Sliding to his left, he found Evgeny Kuznetsov in the middle for a one timer that beat Kinkaid cleanly at the 5:10 mark.

New York ruined the shutout bid by goalie Ilya Samsonov when Colin Blackwell circled with the puck in deep to Samsonov’s right.  Looking as if he might go for a wrap-around attempt, he tried instead to bank the puck off Samsonov before going around the net.  The puck bounced around in the crease, and Blackwell cleaned it up to put the Rangers on the board at the 6:42 mark.

Blackwell got his second of the period on a fine play by defenseman Libor Hajek, who kept the puck in at the offensive blue line to allow the Rangers to keep the Caps hemmed in.  He slid the puck up to Kevin Rooney in the left wing circle, who then fed it to the low slot for a redirect by an uncovered Blackwell, and it was 4-2, 9:41 into the period.

What momentum the Caps might have generated was stalled when Oshie restored the Caps three-goal lead, circling from behind the net with Hajek on his tail, redirecting a Justin Schultz drive out of mid-aid and into the top of the net past Kinkaid to make it 5-2 11:46 into the period.

That Ranger momentum was not snuffed out though.  They cut the Caps’ lead back to two goals when Alexis Lafreniere scored at the 12:18 mark, following up on a rebound of a Kevin Rooney shot, to make it 5-3.

The Rangers got a chance to take another bite out of the Caps’ lead when Wilson was sent off for tripping at 15:57 of the period. It took the Rangers just 11 seconds to convert the chance when Chris Kreider redirected a Ryan Strome pass behind Samsonov at 16:08.

The Rangers pulled Kinkaid late, but it was to no avail.  The Caps skated off with a 5-4 win.

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin’s second period goal was his 456th career even strength goal, tying Brett Hull for sixth-most all time. 

-- Dmitry Orlov had two assists for his first multi-point game of the season and his first since he had a pair of assists against Winnipeg on February 25, 2020.

-- Tom Wilson’s two-goal game was his eighth career multi-goal game, tying him with six other players, among them John Druce, Keith Jones, and Mike Knuble.

-- Washington outshot the Rangers, 22-20, but the Rangers had 48 shot attempts to the Caps’ 39.

-- Four Caps finished with three shots on goal – Alex Ovechkin, Carl Hagelin, John Carlson, and T.J. Oshie.  Carlson led the club with six shot attempts.

-- The Caps out-hit the Rangers, 36-21.  John Carlson, Zdeno Chara, and Garnet Hathaway had four apiece to lead the team.

-- Nicklas Backstrom and Nic Dowd each had double-digit faceoff wins, Backstrom going 14-for-24 (58.3 percent) and Dowd going 10-for-13 (76.9 percent).

-- John Carlson led the Caps with 22:52 in ice time.

-- Odd thing about Alex Ovechkin’s ice time.  He skated 5:37 on power plays but only 11:30 at even strength, less than six other forwards.

-- The five goals scored by the Caps tied a season high allowed by the Rangers, who have allowed five goals five times.

In the end…

For 45 minutes, this was as pretty a game as the Caps have played in a while.  The last 15 minutes?  It was like someone vomited on a Twinkie and passed it off as art.  But a win is a win is a win.  The trick now will be to keep the Rangers from carrying any momentum from this game into the rematch in New York on Tuesday night.


Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 11

It was a light work week for the Washington Capitals, both in terms of games played and strength of opponent.  The Caps looked a bit rusty at times in their first of two games against the New Jersey Devils, but they hung on for a victory before dominating the Devils in the second of the two games to make it a successful week.

Record: 2-0-0

The Caps came into the week and their two-game set against the New Jersey Devils having won all four previous meetings this season, outscoring the Devs, 17-11.  They ended the week 6-0-0 against New Jersey with a 25-14 edge in scoring.  In doing so, the Caps also ended the week with a 16-3-1 record in 19 games since they suffered a four-game losing streak in early February.  At no time over those 20 games did Washington lose consecutive games, and their .825 points percentage over that span is best in the league.

Offense: 4.00/game (season: 3.39 / 4th)

Two games, four goals in each, bring the total the Caps have against the Devils to five in six contests that the Caps posted four or more goals.  It was the ninth time in that 16-3-1 run that the Caps scored four or more goals in a game.

Five players shared in the eight goals over the two games, led by Alex Ovechkin with three.  Evgeny Kuznetsov added a pair, with Conor Sheary, Dmitry Orlov, and Nicklas Backstrom recording single goals.  Eleven different Capitals had points, led by Ovechkin and Kuznetsov with four apiece.  Four other Caps had two-point weeks – Justin Schultz, Daniel Sprong, Conor Sheary, and Tom Wilson.

There were some dark spots, though.  The Caps did not get a point out of the Carl Hagelin-Nic Dowd-Garnet Hathaway fourth line, and all of them were a minus-1 for the week (Richard Panik was the only other Caps with a minus rating, going minus-1).  Jakub Vrana did not record a point and had only two shots on goal, averaging ony 11:40 in ice time for the two games.

Defense: 1.50/game (season: 2.82 / 16th)

The Caps held the Devils to 48 shots over the two games, the 24.0 average being second-best in the league for the week (St. Louis: 23.2).  They allowed only 86 shot attempts at 5-on-5, tied for second-fewest among the eight teams playing two games in Week 11.  It is part of a pattern of stinginess the Caps have exhibited lately.  Four times in their last nine games they allowed fewer than 25 shots on goal.

In a week in which the Caps allowed only two goals a 5-on-5, one would not expect any individual Capital to be significantly victimized, and that was the case this week.  Ten Caps were on ice for a 5-on-5 goal, each of them for only one goal against.

Goaltending: 1.50 / .938 / 1 shutout (season: 2.59 / .910 / 2 shutouts)

Another split week for the goalies, and it was a case of Ilya Samsonov probably cementing his role as the Caps number one netminder down the stretch run.  Vitek Vanecek stopped 21 of 24 shots in his 59:40 of work for the week, getting the decision in the Caps’ 4-3 win to start the week against New Jersey.  It extended an odd month for Vanecek, who has been either very good or very mediocre stopping pucks in his six March appearances.  Three times he posted a save percentage of .947 or higher, including a shutout against Buffalo.  On the other hand, three times he posted save percentages of .875 or worse, allowing three or more goals in each, including a 14-for-18 effort in just 35:43 of work against Boston in a 5-1 loss on March 5th.

At the other end of the scale, Samsonov posted his first shutout of the season, a 24-save effort, in the Caps’ 4-0 win over the Devils on Friday.  With that win, Samsonov has a save percentage under .900 in two of seven appearances this month, and he has save percentages of .955 or better in three games, posting an overall March record of 5-`-0 (one no decision), 1.88. .933, with one shutout.  His .933 save percentage for the month is fifth-best of the 40 goalies with 300 or more minutes.

Power Play: 0-for-4 / 0.0 percent (season: 24.4 percent / 8th)

Few chances, no success.  The Caps spread the shots around, but that was good and bad.  Six Caps shared the nine power play shots on goal, with Jakub Vrana, Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov each getting a pair.  On the other hand, they had one shot on goal from Alex Ovechkin and only one from a player in the middle of the 1-3-1 layout (T.J. Oshie).  The Caps had those nine shots in 8:00 of power play time, not a bad shots per minute rate.  But they seemed not to get them from scoring areas or from rebounds.  What made it a little harder to take was that despite being better of late, the Devils are a poor road penalty killing team (66.0 percent at week’s end).

Penalty Killing: 5-for-6 / 83.3 percent (season: 81.2 percent / 10th)

It was not a bad week for the Caps on the PK.  Allowing three power plays in each of the two games is not a bad amount to allow, and the Caps allowed only nine shots in 10:26 of shorthanded ice time.  The result was more or less an average week of penalty killing for the Caps.

Faceoffs: 55-for-118 / 46.6 percent (season:  percent 48.5 / 23rd)

Here was another category that was rather average for the Caps, by their standards this season.  The odd part of it was that the Caps were under 50 percent against a team worse than them in faceoffs (46.3 percent for the season at week’s end).  On the good side, the Caps were a bit better in the ends (a combined 40-for-79/50.6 percent) than they were in the neutral zone against the Devils (15-for-39/38.5 percent).

Nic Dowd was once more an above 50 percent player for the week in this category, and Nicklas Backstrom had a 50-plus percent week as well.  With Lars Eller out, T.J. Oshie took a heavier load in draws than usual, tying Dowd for second-highest number of faceoffs taken.  In a related point, the faceoff duties were parceled out by the ends rather cleanly.  Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov took primarily offensive zone draws (13 and 14, respectively), while Dowd and Backstrom took most of their draws in the defensive end (16 and 14, respectively).

Goals by Period:

Balance was the key.  Three first period goals, two second period goals, three third period goals, and one allowed in each of the three periods makes for a 2-0-0 week.  The Caps still dominate first periods (plus-8 for the season) and second periods (plus-15), but there remains work to do in third periods (minus-4).


The two-win week added to the Caps’ recent run of good fortune, and as a result this year’s team has almost caught up once more to last year’s team in many categories.  The goals for/goals against categories are striking for the similarities through 33 games.  One area that remains a concern, though, is power play chances. This year’s team is still 15 chances behind last years, almost half a power play opportunity per game (this year’s Caps rank 30th in the league in power play chances).

In the end…

Even with the absences of Tom Wilson (suspension) and Lars Eller (injury), plus a nicked up Alex Ovechkin (who did not miss any games, but has missed practice for “maintenance”), the Caps are rolling.  They have survived the absences by doing things in what some might call the “right way.”  They have been extraordinarily stingy, their 2.20 goals allowed per game over their 16-3-1 run since February 16th being second-best in the league.  It is the kind of result that can be sustained with effort, and with the East Division now bunched up at the top, with three teams separated by two points, effort is precisely what the Caps need as they prepare for the last third of the regular season.

Three Stars:

  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (3-1-4, plus-5, eight shots on goal, 15 shot attempts, one game-winning goal, passed Mark Messier for seventh place all time in even strength goals (455))
  • Second Star: Ilya Samsonov (1-0-0, 0.00, 1.000; posted his first shutout of the season)
  • Third Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (2-2-4, plus-4, one game-winning goal, seven shots on goal, posted first goals on home ice this season)