September 20, 2019

Washington Capitals Game 80 Recap: Strong Goaltending and Deflections Give Caps Edge in Detroit

The Washington Capitals had a busy 24 hours, heading to Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena after a tough overtime loss to the playoff hopeful Ottawa Senators on Saturday night. The Detroit Red Wings, another playoff contender, are beset by injuries, and fielded a team without physical players such as Justin Abdelkader, Erik Cole, and Johan Franzen.

The Red Wings came into the game 5-9-2 in their past 16 games, but had the return of forward Drew Miller from injury and were able to beat the Minnesota Wild last night in a shootout. The last time the two faced off in January, the Capitals came away with a 3-1 victory.

The Caps were able to exploit Detroit’s injury woes, coming away with a critical two points. With the New York Islanders idle and the Pittsburgh Penguins losing to the Philadelphia Flyers, the Caps’ win helped to launch them back into second in the Metropolitan division standings, one point ahead of the Islanders and four ahead of the Penguins. Pending the result of the other games tonight (Ottawa vs. Toronto), the Capitals’ victory helped to solidify their standings and another chance to lock up a playoff slot.

First period

After a few possession changes early, the Capitals earned a power play at when Daniel Cleary got called for high-sticking on Brooks Laich 1:51 into the game. The Caps had trouble finding lanes to the net for the first minute of their power play, but took advantage of their opportunity. A lucky bounce for Evgeny Kuznetsov found the stick of Detroit’s Drew Miller, a deflection that launched past goalie Petr Mrazek and gave the Caps an early lead. Matt Niskanen and Mike Green were credited with the assists.

Alex Ovechkin drew a holding call at 10:18 on Henrik Zetterberg. Detroit pushed hard, but faced good defensive play from the Caps and were unable to convert to tie the game.

Second period

The second period started with heavy pressure from the Red Wings, keeping the Caps on their heels as they tried to fend off plays from the point and slot. Braden Holtby did a great job of turning away pucks, limiting rebounds that would have led to opportunities.

The sustained pressure led to a penalty call as Brooks Orpik drew a tripping penalty on Luke Glendening at 1:56 while trying to clear the front of the net. Fortunately, the Caps defense forced most of the chances for Detroit to the outside and prevented scoring opportunities.

Mike Green proved his slapshot is back at 4:42 of the second. Blasting a rocket from the top of the faceoff circle, Green’s shot glanced off defenseman Drew Miller and found a way past Mrazek’s glove, careening into the top of the net to give the Caps a 2-0 lead. Both Tim Gleason and Alex Ovechkin had assists on the goal.

At 5:38 of the period, the Capitals had an opportunity to put the game out of reach and take a big lead when the Red Wings were called for too many men on the ice. Despite the free chance, the Caps could hardly put any oomph into their power play and had issues with turnovers.

Another opportunity presented itself when Marek Zidlicky was called for clipping at 10:28, upending Tom Wilson on the blue line. This time, the Caps kept the puck in the Red Wings zone but were unable to find a lane to the net. With the penalty winding down, the Caps put pressure in front of the net, but it led to a goalie interference call against Joel Ward when he lunged for the puck behind Mrazek at 12:14 of the period. The Red Wings quickly capitalized on their power play and forward Darren Helm scored his 14th goal of the season, a chip-in shot at 12:59 of the period. Pavel Datsyuk was responsible for setting up Helm, with another assist credited to Teemu Pulkkinen.

The Red Wings had a great chance to tie it up with the second period winding down when Mike Green was called for a delay of game penalty. After a couple of close calls and rebounds, the Caps were able to move the puck out of the zone — but Troy Brouwer used his glove to clear it, drawing another penalty and giving the Red Wings a two-man advantage for a minute and a half.

Fortunately for the Caps, the Wings were unable to synchronize their power play and set up a goal-scoring play. A couple of timely clears helped out, preventing Detroit from finding the tying goal. Braden Holtby had an incredible split that left Caps fans mesmerized, but also concerned about the immediate impact of a groin injury. Thankfully, bad news was averted as the Caps trainer quickly cleared Holtby of any serious injury and he played on.

Third period

The third period started slowly, with the Caps playing conservatively to maintain the lead. They were active when needed to turn away the Wings rushes, but also relied heavily on Holtby who turned away several shots from the points and the ensuing rebounds. Given the close game, the Caps wisely shied away from drawing penalties to ensure that Datsyuk and the Wings wouldn’t have another power play opportunity.

Final takeaways

Holtby had another impact game, with key saves to keep the Caps in the game. The second and third periods shots on goal were dominated by Detroit, but Holtby stayed strong and kept the Caps in the lead.

Mike Green has had some big goals of late. His blue hockey stick has been magic, making significant and timely contributions to the Caps goal-scoring efforts.

Unnecessary and unfortunate penalties. The dazzling goaltending of Holtby has bailed the Caps out for much of the regular season, but this trend has to stop as we look towards the playoffs.

Red Wings’ left wing Drew Miller had a tough night, with both of the Caps goals coming via deflections off him.  He might want to watch his stick and glove for the next few games.

Washington Capitals Game 72 Recap: Curse lifted as Ovechkin leads Caps over Wild

The Washington Capitals continued their three game road trip this Thursday with a visit to St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center. Facing off with a surging Minnesota Wild team (8-2 in their past ten games), the Caps looked to build on the momentum of their two game win streak and continue their push for the playoffs.

When the two teams met at Verizon Center earlier this month (March 5), the Wild won 2-1. Notably absent at that game was superstar Alex Ovechkin, the NHL’s leading scorer, who was sorely missed due to an injury. Fortunately for the visiting Caps, they were nearly at full health for this rematch.

Not only did they have Ovechkin back, but Brooks Orpik returned to the lineup after he was sidelined this past week due to a lower-body injury. This time, they came away victorious – their first-ever win at Xcel Center – a gritty 3-2 win that left them tied for points with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Metropolitan Division.

Despite their unimpressive 11-11-3 record against Western Conference opponents so far this season, the Caps came to St. Paul to prove they can compete with playoff caliber teams. In many ways, the two teams are similar. Not only are they each fighting to secure playoff slots, but they are evenly matched in their respective strengths and weaknesses.

The Caps have the league’s top power play (25.7%), the Wild have the league’s best penalty kill (86.7%). Goals Per Game? The Caps average 2.89, the Wild 2.80. Goals Against Average? The Caps average 2.41, the Wild 2.47.

First period

Jason Chimera had a great opportunity 9:15 into the game on a long breakout pass from Joel Ward that led to a one-on-one that he shot wide of the net. Just thirty seconds later, Minnesota had a scoring opportunity of their own, a quick pass in front of the net to a wide-open Mikael Grandlund that ended up getting caught in his skates.

Tom Wilson and Sean Bergenheim received matching minors 9:27 into the first period that opened up the ice a bit. Washington had a few scoring chances, but they were stamped out by Devan Dubnyk, the massive Wild goalie who has helped propel them from the depths of the Western Conference to a wild card spot, and fourth place in the Central Division.

Nicklas Backstrom’s great puck movement in the offensive zone at the end of the period led to the first Caps power play, a hooking call on Mikko Koivu. On their first chance to test out their power play against the Wild’s penalty kill, they kept the pressure on but were stifled by Dubnyk’s netminding.

Second period

The back-and-forth continued for the first few minutes of the second period, an even battle that saw the puck in both ends. Eric Fehr and Mike Green had the best chance of the opening five minutes of the period, a 2-on-2 opportunity that Green was unable to convert on a phenomenal pass from Fehr.

Earlier in the same play, Minnesota’s Jordan Leopold drew a holding call against Ward (4:49) at the other end of the ice. Despite the Wild’s swarming penalty kill, the Caps power play nearly scored when a close-up slap shot from Ovechkin glanced off the crossbar.

When Tom Wilson and Zach Parise tangled up for another matching minor at 14:45 into the period (Parise for roughing, Wilson for a questionable embellishment call), the Caps pounced. Ovechkin raced through the neutral zone, firing a wrist shot at Dubnyk that resulted in a rebound that he ripped to the top of the net (15:25, assists from Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen). Less than a minute later, Evgeny Kuznetzov swiped the puck from Jonas Brodin right in front of the Wild net, putting a nifty deke on Dubnyk to put the Caps up 2-0 (16:04).

With the second period closing down, Minnesota scored their first goal of the night when Granlund passed up to Parise, who broke into the Caps’ end and found Christian Folin at the other side of the zone. Folin took the pass and sniped a wrist shot past Braden Holtby to put the Wild on the board (19:51).

Third period

At 3:05, Ovechkin scored his 47th goal of the season on a set play from the faceoff to give the Caps a 3-1 lead. Backstrom won the draw, winding back and passing to the Great 8 who rocked a snapshot past Dubnyk before anyone could blink an eye.

At 12:21 into the period, Chimera drew a hooking call on Chris Stewart that led to a power play goal for Minnesota. Jared Spurgeon came from the side of the net to tip-in an airborne puck (14:04) with assists credited to Thomas Vanek and Granlund.

The final two minutes of the game were a scramble in the Caps’ end as they fended off furious attempts by the Wild to even the game. Pulling Dubnyk to get the man advantage, Minnesota frantically tried to crash the net but Braden Holtby stood strong in net despite heaps of goalie interference that went uncalled.

Final takeaways

Ovechkin snapped his two-game scoreless streak with two huge goals.

For the most part, the Caps played a phenomenal defensive game. They were physical in front of the net and limited Minnesota’s scoring chances.

Holtby had a great night – the two goals against him were not reflective of his play. At least one of them (a power play goal batted in from the air) was unstoppable.

The Caps had a tough time adjusting to the aggressive style of the Wild’s penalty kill. Minnesota smothered the puck carrier in the zone and effectively minimized the Caps’ passing, an important part of their power play success. In fact, the Caps did not have a single power play goal, despite scoring two during 4-on-4 play and one in regular strength.

Washington Capitals Game 45 Recap: Third period breakdown dooms Caps in Dallas

The Washington Capitals got off to a weak start against the Dallas Stars on Saturday night, a tough 5-4 loss that leaves them wondering how they left two points behind in their swing through the Big D.  Coach Barry Trotz allowed the overworked Braden Holtby the night off, giving Justin Peters the start and a chance to keep the Caps rolling, but Dallas stole the show and left the visiting Caps empty-handed.

Washington, having just come from a demoralizing last-minute loss against the Nashville Predators, could not find a way to sustain momentum, handing over another loss.  The Caps, red-hot over the past fifteen games, were left wondering how to regain the spark that pushed them through December and early January. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 39 Recap: Caps find redemption against Leafs in high-scoring affair

The Washington Capitals rode into frosty Toronto’s Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night red-hot. Coming into the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Capitals lost just one regulation game over their past fourteen, a 10-1-3 record since Dec. 4.

With a sugar high from last week’s exciting Winter Classic victory and a home win against the Florida Panthers on Sunday afternoon, the Capitals continue to enjoy a great start to 2015. Their year continued rolling along with a 6-2 blowout win against the Leafs, a dominating performance that exacted revenge for their 6-2 loss in Air Canada Centre on Nov. 29. [Read more…]

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