September 30, 2020

Washington Capitals Game 46 Recap: Caps Clinch Southeast Division Title with 5-3 over Winnipeg

In a crucial late-season game for the Washington Capitals, facing the potential of clinching the Southeast Division or slipping behind the Winnipeg Jets and almost out of playoff position, the Caps put together a playoff-caliber effort in Tuesday night’s 5-3 home victory over the desperate Jets.

Spearheading Washington’s efforts were Matt Hendricks, Jason Chimera, Nicklas Backstrom, Mathieu Perreault, and Alexander Ovechkin, who each scored a goal in the victorious effort to sew up the franchise’s fifth division title in six seasons. Braden Holtby made 24 saves in the process of earning his 22nd win of the season. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 45 Recap: Les Capitals frappent Les Habitent dans la nuit d’hockey

The Washington Capitals knew during Saturday night’s matchup in Montreal against the Canadiens that the Winnipeg Jets had cut their lead in the Southeast Division to a single point by virtue of a shootout loss to the New York Islanders. What was a big enough game already — a Saturday night game in Montreal is akin to a holiday festival — became even bigger, with Tuesday’s game against Winnipeg potentially setting up to be a game to decide the division.

With all that drama in mind, the Caps came out buzzing, took control of all three zones early, and spanked the Canadiens to the tune of a 5-1 final. As has been the case for the past 30 games, the team was led by their captain, Alex Ovechkin, who tallied twice to extend his league-leading goal total to 30, and their goalie, Braden Holtby, who made 35 saves look easy in the winning effort.

Washington is now 9-1-0 in the last 10 games.

The Caps jumped all over the Canadiens in the first period with a strong forecheck. That early attack paid dividends at 4:49 when Ovechkin corralled a turnover in the high slot, turned away from the defense, faked a pass to Marcus Johansson who was on the far post, and ripped a wrist shot past beleaguered Montreal goalie Carey Price to get on the board first.

Just over a minute later, Troy Brouwer scored the first of his two goals. Mike Ribeiro (three assists) won an offensive zone faceoff to Karl Alzner at the point. Alzner found Brouwer walking off the half-boards and the veteran forward found space between two Montreal defenders. Brouwer, from the top of the left-wing faceoff circle then whipped a shot toward net that eluded Price through a maze of bodies, including the aforementioned Ribeiro and winger Martin Erat to give the Caps a 2-0 lead not even six minutes into the contest.

With the normally rowdy Centre Bell crowd taken out of the game, the Caps turned up the forecheck even tighter, making the sledding for the slumping Canadiens almost too much to bear.

The Caps did not let up in the second stanza. Brouwer got his second of the night at 3:49 of the second frame. Ribeiro won a foot race to a puck in the corner and gained control over two Canadiens defenders and slid the puck up the boards to Marcus Johansson. The young Swede had the presence to know that Brouwer was drifting through the high slot, despite having his back to the play. Johansson hit Brouwer in stride and the veteran ripped a shot past Price for his 19th goal of the season, just three off his career high.

A little later, it was the power play’s turn to light the lamp again. Mike Green found Ovechkin in his “sweet spot” at the left-wing faceoff circle. This time, instead of unleashing his standard one-timer, the captain found Nick Backstrom at the far post for a tip-in which rattled off two posts. After a brief review, the goal stood for Backstrom’s seventh of the campaign.

Ovechkin himself closed the Capitals scoring onslaught in the third period with his 30th of the season with another power play marker. They used the same play that set up the Backstrom goal, with Ribeiro hitting Green at the top of the umbrella, who then fed to Ovi at the left-wing circle. This time, the captain was selfish and ripped the shot past Price to cap the scoring and brought a close to the competitive portion of the evening.

Through the festivities, Holtby was stellar again. Montreal broke up the shutout bid a third of the way through the third period, but the contest was well out of hand by that point. The young netminder has been dominant against Canadian teams and he was no less Saturday night, showing up the favorites of his countrymen time and again.

The Caps are off until Tuesday, when they host the Jets with a three-point lead in the division. Depending on Winnipeg’s result Monday against Buffalo, a win by the Caps Tuesday could clinch the division — and the No. 3 seed that comes with it — and put the Jets playoff hopes in peril.

The Caps have been playing in “elimination mode” pretty much since the first of February, owners of a 23-10-1 record (113 point pace) since Feb. 9 after the awful 2-8-1 start. They’ve lost in regulation just once in the past four weeks and for maybe the first time in the Ovechkin era, they have earned the mantel of “team no one wants to play in the playoffs.”

The Caps still haven’t qualified for the postseason yet, but they took one step closer Saturday night, destroying a very good team on their home ice in quite possibly the most hostile territory in the league. If the Caps can take care of their own business and qualify for the playoffs, with the East as seemingly open as it is, who knows? No one has played better in the past two months.

Washington Capitals Game 44 Recap: Rough night in Ottawa ends streak at eight

BACKSTROM HURT; WINNIPEG TRIMS DIVISION LEAD TO TWO POINTS

It had to end sometime.

The Washington Capitals, one of the hottest teams in hockey the last three weeks, rode into Ottawa to face a tough Senators team on the back on an eight-game winning streak, fueled by the league’s most dangerous power play and solid goaltending. Unfortunately, the team looked sluggish and was outplayed and beaten in just about every aspect of the game by a team that could very well be their first-round playoff draw — if the Caps can hold off the competition for first place in the Southeast.

Indicative of how badly the Caps were outplayed, they were outshot by the Senators 38-19 — including 11-4 in the first period.

To add injury to insult, center Nick Backstrom missed the last 7:16 of the game with an undisclosed upper body injury, thought to have been sustained when hit in the arm with an errant Mike Green shot midway through the final frame.

The teams played an ugly, uneven first period, with neither team generating any semblance of offense. In the second, the Sens started the scoring just 1:15 in, when Kyle Turris beat Braden Holtby from along the boards with an innocent-enough looking shot to his blocker side. Holtby appeared to look to the heavens in exasperation as the puck sailed past him.

The Caps knotted things up at 11;14, as Mike Ribeiro continued his career year by knocking in a bouncing puck past Sens goalie Craig Anderson. But the tie didn’t last long.

Two minutes after Ribeiro evened things up, Holtby tried to play a puck behind his net and back out the other side to Karl Alzner. Unfortunately, Holtby’s pass was off the mark and ended up right on the tape of Sens forward Cory Conacher, who snapped it into the unattended goal before Holtby could get back to his post.

That score stood until little more than one minute remaining, when Ottawa added an empty-net goal after the Caps lost the offensive-zone draw with six skaters. For the night, the Caps were beat in the faceoff circle, winning just 38 percent of the draws.

Though Holtby could be assigned direct blame on both goals, no one should hang the loss on the Caps goalie. This was a team-wide lackluster effort.

It’s bound to happen at some point after such a lengthy winning streak, but the Caps can ill afford to let up with the Winnipeg Jets breathing down their necks. The Jets cut the Caps lead in the division to two points with a 4-3 overtime win over Carolina. There is no rest for the weary, at the Caps travel to Montreal for a 7:00 pm Saturday showdown with Les Habitent before next Tuesday’s all-important head-to-head matchup with Winnipeg.

All hands on deck from here on out, but if Backstrom’s injury is anything more than a bruise…

Washington Capitals Game 43 Recap: Caps Make Mincemeat out of Leafs in 5-1 Rout

With less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Washington Capitals extended their winning streak to eight games Tuesday night in the Verizon Center in a 5-1 romp over the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs.

Jack Hillen, Martin Erat, Troy Brouwer, Alexander Ovechkin, and Marcus Johansson scored for the Caps, while Braden Holtby delivered the type of stellar performance in net observers have come to expect, stopping 29 of 30 Maple Leafs shot. Holtby stonewalled Toronto for the first two periods of the game and then some, allowing just the one goal.

Ovechkin was in vintage form Tuesday, feeding off Toronto’s physical play and making his mark known on all aspects of the scoresheet. He netted Washington’s fourth goal – his league-leading 28th of the season – on a one-timer on a feed from Mike Green on the power play. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 42 Recap: “Game Over” Green beats Lightning in OT

What started out as a laugher ended up as a nailbiter, as the Washington Capitals frittered a four-goal lead to the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday night in front of a squirming sellout crowd at Verizon Center, prompting overtime. There, a terrific offensive move by an inconsistent forward drew a four-on-three power play which resulted in a scintillating goal for one of the hottest Caps players to deliver a 6-5 win and a four point lead in the Southeast Division with six games remaining in the regular season.

The Capitals, winners of seven straight, are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games, 13-3-1 in their last 17 games, and their 48 points would qualify for sixth in the conference were they not leading the Southeast, enjoying the No. 3 seed that comes with that distinction.

The overtime goal came at four-on-three courtesy of Marcus Johansson, who gathered a puck along the right wing boards and made a slick move around veteran Vincent Lecavalier, dangling the puck at the end of his stick. Johansson cut hard to the Lightning net, where Lecavalier had little choice but to haul down the Caps forward or surrender a clean scoring chance.

But the tactic only delayed the outcome for a few more moments. On the ensuing power play, Mike Green collected a pass from Mike Ribeiro, took two strides into the high slot, and fired a BB past Mathieu Garon, Tampa’s second goalie of the night, for the game-winner — his tenth of the season.

The overtime tally was the 15th game-winning goal of Green’s career, the sixth in overtime. He ranks tied for third among active defensemen in overtime goals.

“Tomorrow we are going to wake up and we have our two points and that’s all that matters,” Green said, alluding to Tampa Bay’s comeback. “And this game’s put away, but we have to learn from this. We can’t let situations like that happen. They used to call us the Cardiac Kids for a reason and we showed that tonight.”

Washington raced out to a 3-0 lead in the first period, with Troy Browuer (16), Jack Hillen (2) and Alex Ovechkin (27) all tallying against Lightning starter Ben Bishop. The Capitals dominated play at both ends and Tampa looked interested only in getting it over with and heading for the bus.

The Caps extended the lead to four early in the second on Jason Chimera’s second goal of the season. Tampa showed a bit of life, answering a minute later with Richard Panik’s first goal of the night. But two minutes later, Eric Fehr tipped in a nifty pass from Matthieu Perreault and at 5-1, things looked bleak for the Lightning.

Tampa Bay cut the lead to three with less than two minutes to go in the second on a goal by Martin St. Louis, setting up the big third period comeback. The Caps, who seemed to be playing from their heels in the third frame, surrendered three third period goals to complete the comeback and force overtime.

Head coach Adam Oates described how the Caps fell flat after playing so well the first 40 minutes of the game. “Guess there is no really easy explanation. First of all, they are a good team. And everything went our way in the first period. You lose a little bit of momentum because it was a little too easy, you get a little flat and all of a sudden, here they come. You start sinking yourself and before you know it, it’s happening pretty fast.”

The Caps are off until Tuesday when they will host the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7:00 pm.

Washington Capitals Game 41 Recap: Caps keep streaking, knock off Canes 3-1

The Washington Capitals know that all they need to do is take care of their own business the rest of the way to secure a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Thursday night, against a Carolina Hurricanes team that has nothing to play for, the Caps withstood a clunky start to put another two points to their total, beating the Canes 3-1 to extend their late-season win streak to six games.

Troy Brouwer had two goals, including the empty netter with five seconds left to put the final nail in the coffin. Mike Green scored his ninth of the season, and Braden Holtby was excellent yet again, registering 43 saves in the win.

Alzner, Beagle, Wolski, Ovechkin gather around Mike Green to celebrate his goal - Carolina Hurricanes v. Washington Capitals, 4/11/2013 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Alzner, Beagle, Wolski, Ovechkin gather around Mike Green to celebrate his goal – Carolina Hurricanes v. Washington Capitals, 4/11/2013 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

The first period was a bit of a scramble. The Caps were granted an early power play on a delay of game call just 3:06 into the contest. The advantage lasted all of eight seconds though, as Troy Brouwer erased the power play with a high sticking infraction of his own. Things got worse as Jack Hillen was called for tripping while the teams skated four on four. It only took Carolina only 10 seconds to capitalize on the four-on-three, with Jeff Skinner beating Caps goalie Braden Holtby for the first goal of the game.

In fact, it took the first ten minutes of the game for the Caps to wake up for this one. They were outshot at one point 14-0. But a tripping call against Alexander Semin gave the Caps another power play in the middle of the frame. They did not score, but the advantage was enough for the Capitals to get their legs under them. The play the rest of the period was much more balanced, and the shot differential after 20 minutes was 15-8.

The hard work late in the first paid dividends in the second. The Caps were having the better of the play already, and were given their second man-advantage of the frame at 7:54 when Jordan Stall went off for slashing. The Caps finally took advantage of the situation, as Mike Ribeiro found Tory Brouwer in the low slot for a one-timer that eluded Canes goalie Justin Peters 28 saves) blocker side to knot the game at one.

It was Brouwer’s first goal in six games.

After a quick and uneventful fight between Matt Hendricks and Nicholas Blanchard, the Caps went back to work. After an extensive offensive zone possession from several lines, Jay Beagle found Mike Green floating into the offensive zone. Green took the pass near the blue line, eluded a soft attempt of a check from Jeff Skinner and walked in on Peters. With Alex Ovechkin distracting Peters at the top of the crease, Green rifled a wicked wrist shot over Peters’ blocker to give the Caps a 2-1 lead.

The Capitals mostly tried to play keep-away in the third period, and they managed the task primarily due to some excellent work by Holtby. After the two-game rest given to him by head coach Adam Oates, Holtby shook off any rust early and was stellar down the stretch, including a blocker save with about 1:30 left that could have forced the issue at the end of the game.

The Caps have a couple of days off to rest — and scoreboard watch — until they face Tampa Bay Saturday night. But with task at hand, they continue to excel as the regular season very quickly now is dwindling.

Washington Capitals Game 40 Recap: Capitals extend win streak to five in Montreal

The Washington Capitals visited the Montreal Canadiens Tuesday night, their first trip to the Bell Centre this season, using a late-season winning streak to reach the top of the Southeast Division. They continued their heady play of late, going into one of the most hostile barns in the league and emerged a 3-2 victor for their fifth straight win.

On top of the world (for the moment), the Capitals were riding high off captain Alex Ovechkin’s return to form. Winning four games in a row, the Capitals were ready to prove they could keep pace with a non-Southeast Division team.

Ovechkin, tied for the lead league in goals (25, with Tampa Bay Lighting’s Steven Stamkos), but was still facing criticism because the majority of his goals (21), had been scored against Southeast teams, with only four goals against playoff-contending teams.

Montreal would prove a fine test for Ovechkin, who passed with flying colors. He scored his 26th goal of the season midway through the second period, taking the lead in the NHL scoring race and making another Rocket Richard Trophy look likely to be added to his collection.

Less impressive than the goal itself was Ovechkin’s  stickwork as he flew down the wing, past defenders, before he scored to tie the game at 1-1. It wasn’t a super-new move for Ovechkin, but proof that he’s growing and evolving as a player, no doubt due to being under the tutelage of head coach Adam Oates.

Defenseman Jack Hillen sent a slapper toward Canadiens goalie Carey Price that initially appeared to have been tipped in by either Jason Chimera or Eric Fehr, to put the Capitals up 2-1. Hillen was credited with the goal, but it was eventually given to Fehr, as it looked like he ever-so-slightly tipped it in from his position in the crease. Hillen and fellow defenseman Steven Olesky picked up the assists.

Hillen finally did get his first goal as a Capital, though, in the third period off a shot from the point that beat Price glove side. The Capitals went up 3-1, and Hillen had another two point night, just like that.

Goaltender Michal Neuvirth earned his second consecutive start and was solid all evening, making the saves that kept his team in the game and no doubt rewarding the trust of his coach in his ability to relieve Braden Holtby.

The Capitals held on to win, 3-2, bringing them to five consecutive wins, their longest streak of the season. They are now at 44 points, and holding on to the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

Washington Capitals Game 39 Recap: Ovi nets two in win over Lightning

If the Washington Capitals go on to win the Southeast Division or otherwise qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, their current stretch will surely be looked back upon as the impetus for that run, however improbable that might have seemed earlier in the season. Sunday evening, before a sellout crowd at Verizon Center, the Caps won their fourth game in a row, knocking off the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2 to secure sole possession in the division for the first time this season.

The Capitals have a two-point division lead with nine games remaining in this truncated season.

The Caps were paced, as they so often are, by their captain, Alex Ovechkin, who scored twice to tie Steven Stamkos at the top of leaderboard for goals scored this season with 25. Ovechkin has now recorded 16 goals and seven assists in his last 14 games, a period where the Caps have gone 10-4 to catapult them to the top of the division and rejuvenate their once moribund playoff hopes.

Michal Neuvirth’s performance in goal, to the tune of 28 saves, should not be forgotten however. Neuvirth has been something of a forgotten man on the Cpas this season, with Braden Holtby taking command of the No. 1 goaltender job. But with the Caps playing in the second game on back-to-back nights, Neuvy showed that he can still be a quality contributor to the Caps effort down the stretch.

The visitors got on the board first in a somewhat sleepy first stanza, befitting of the back-to-back stature of the game. Granted a power play courtesy of a Steve Oleksy tripping call just 1:45 into the game, the Lightning didn’t waste any time making the Caps pay. A mere seven seconds into the infraction, Vincent Lecavalier beat Neuvirth for his eighth goal of the season, off a feed from Caps nemesis Martin St. Louis.

The Caps tied things up at 3:13 of the second. Jack Hillen collected a pass from Nick Backstrom from the half wall and lofted a shot toward Bolts goalie Ben Bishop. Alex Ovechkin cut through the slot and redirected Hillen’s shot past Bishop for his 24th  goal of the season, rising to the No. 2 spot in goals for this season behind Tampa’s Steven Stamkos.

Tampa retook the lead a few moments later when Alex Killorn put a deke on Hillen one-on-one, and Hillen fell to the ice, allowing Killorn to come in alone on Neuvirth and beat him cleanly.

The Caps answered back though in the latter stages of the second period, fairly dominating play and tallying twice more in the frame. John Carlson unloaded a bomb from just over the blue line on a drop pass from Joel Ward that had Bishop looking skyward for help. Less than four minutes later, Ward himself took advantage of forward Nate Thompson, rushing hard to the outside to get position to come on net, and then slipping a shot past Bishop that the 6’6″ netminder should have stopped.

All that was left was for the Caps to stifle any semblance of comeback, something that has proven difficult for them throughout the season. But they thwarted every Lightning attempt to get back into the game, and Ovechkin added his second goal of the night on an empty netter with just five seconds remaining in the contest.

It showed head coach Adam Oates’ great confidence in Ovechkin, having the captain defending the Caps territory in a one-goal game in the final minute.

The Caps are far from a complete project, but they are playing well at the right time and seemingly now have their playoff hopes in their own hands. They have yet to defeat a team that holds a playoff spot in regulation this season, but will have their chances down the stretch to eliminate that negative mark as well, starting Tuesday when they travel to Montreal to face Les Habitents.

Every season there’s a team that no one wants to face come playoff time. Maybe this season that team will be the Washington Capitals.

Washington Capitals Game 37 Recap: Shootout win nets first place in division

The Washington Capitals dug themselves a considerable hole starting the season with just two wins in their first 11 games. It took the majority of their schedule to erase that disastrous start, but by virtue of a 2-1 shootout win over the New York Islanders the Caps have come all the way back to tie for first place in the Southeast Division. The Winnipeg Jets lost 4-1 to the Montreal Canadiens to find themselves with an equal number of points — and the Caps have two games in hand.

In reality, the team that beat the Islanders Thursday night is a much different squad than the one that scrambled to keep their heads above water once the league came back from the lockout back in January.

Braden Holtby, playing with all the confidence in the world, has unquestionably secured the No. 1 goaltender position. Mike Green, with five goals in as many games, is playing like the two-time Norris Trophy candidate he once was. A rejuvenated Alex Ovechkin has finally picked up his scoring pace and has elevated himself onto the league’s goal scoring leaderboard. Brooks Laich has returned from his debilitating leg injury to provide quality minutes in the offensive and defensive end.

And Wednesday, GM George McPhee added another piece to the puzzle, bringing in winger Martin Erat to provide offensive help up front.

In fact, the team that has gone 16-9-1 their last 26 games bears little resemblance to the one that started out a dismal 2-8-1.

The differences were evident against the Islanders. Holtby was the best player on the ice, taking a shutout until late in the third period when the Islanders finally broke through with 4:59 left in regulation. Ovechkin, though he didn’t score in regulation, was all over the ice like he used to be, plus was the only shooter to succeed in the shootout portion of the game. Green scored the Caps only regulation goal, pinching in from his point position to bury a shot past Islanders goalie Evgeny Nabokov from the right wing dot in the first period.

Asked how long his squad could relish in the achievement of ascending to the top of the division, head coach Adam Oates replied, “The guys will enjoy it for a little bit, but we’ve got a lot of hockey left. I think it’s more important that we focus on the weekend, because it obviously could drop just as fast. We’ve got to focus on our games.”

Eleven games, to be precise. That’s all that stand between the Capitals now and the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. What seemed so unlikely back in January after the disastrous start is now in the Caps hands. They control their own destiny having erased the deficit they authored through their poor play. They’ll travel to Florida Saturday night to face the Florida Panthers, then return home Sunday to host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

After this season, the Caps won’t have the cellar-dwellers of the Southeast Division to push around anymore. But until this season is finally exhausted, they must continue to feast on the lesser talented foes of the southern wasteland of the NHL. The Caps must take advantage anywhere they can, and that starts again Saturday in Sunrise.

Washington Capitals Game 35 Recap: Caps Blow Two-Goal Lead in 5-4 OT Loss to Flyers

Desperate for standings points to remain in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, the Washington Capitals took and then frittered away a two-goal lead in the third period to fall 5-4 on the road to the Philadelphia Flyers Sunday night in Philadelphia on a last-gasp goal by Kimmo Timonen to send the game to overtime, where Ruslan Fedotenko put the Caps out of their misery.

Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Marcus Johansson, and Alexander Ovechkin all scored for Washington, while Braden Holtby made 29 saves in the losing effort.

Although Timonen’s goal only tied the game, it clearly deflated Washington, who mustered no offensive pressure in the extra frame. D.C.’s nominal shutdown defensive pair of Karl Alzner and John Carlson failed to react to slick passing between Timonen, Sean Couturier, and Fedotenko, while the forward duo of Ovechkin and Mike Ribeiro could only look on helplessly as Fedotenko easily slotted Timonen’s cross-ice pass into the empty net for the win. [Read more…]

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