Buoyed by a strong performance in their previous game and excited at the prospect of facing former teammate Alexander Semin, the Washington Capitals dominated play from start to finish Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes and recorded a much-needed 3-0 shutout over the injury-stricken visitors.
Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson both had one-goal, one-assists nights, while John Erskine also scored and Braden Holtby recorded 33 saves for his first shutout of the season, while the Caps put 40 shots on Carolina’s net and its star goaltender Cam Ward. Mike Ribeiro, Alex Ovechkin, Joel Ward, and Mathieu Perreault recorded a single assist.
“If you get chances, that means you are doing some good things…I thought we played a good team game” against Carolina, noted Joel Ward. “Every line was going and everyone had chances.”
Backstrom opened up the scoring with just his second goal of the season, finishing a beautiful touch-passing sequence that saw four Caps players control the puck in four quadrants of the offensive zone over a ten-second span before the Swedish center tapped Mike Ribeiro’s centering feed past Ward from the top of the crease.
It only took 31 seconds into the second period for the unheralded John Erskine to double Washington’s lead. Erskine, who also signed a two-year contract extension – worth $3.9 million dollars – over the weekend, was the trailer coming into the zone as the Caps pushed into Carolina’s end. Backstrom dished the puck from the right half boards to the high slot, where Erskine had enough time to catch the pass and then wind up for a slapshot that beat Ward low on the blocker side.
Joel Ward laughingly claimed that fans and the media “underestimate” Erskine, praising the 29-year-old as “a big tough guy that can shoot a puck and play offense as well.” Over his 11-year-career Erskine hasn’t exactly been known for his offense, scoring only 13 goals and 34 assists in 436 career NHL games, but with Tuesday night’s win his teams are now 13-0-0 in games where he’s put the puck in the net.
Washington’s goal total should have been at least one goal higher if not for Cam Ward’s dazzling glove save on Joel Ward midway through the second period. The Caps winger had a gaping net in which to shoot a juicy rebound, only for Carolina’s netminder to lunge feet across the goal mouth to turn the attempt away.
“It definitely scares us,” Washington head coach Adam Oates said of Cam’s save on Joel, even though the Caps led by a 2-0 margin at that point.
Holtby added praise for his fellow member of the goalie brotherhood, saying Ward “stood on his head, that was the only reason [the game] was even close.”
The Ward-on-Ward save capped a ten-minute stretch in the second period that Holtby claimed was “by far the best I’ve seen us play, probably since I’ve been in the organization.”
After Ward, Carolina’s best player on Tuesday night may have been the erstwhile Capital Semin, who finished with a team-high four shots and had a golden scoring opportunity on a shorthanded breakaway just minutes into the game, only for his glove-high wrist shot to be stonewalled by the patient Holtby.
“He’s not a hard guy to pick out on the ice, wherever he is,” said Holtby when asked if he knew it was Semin bearing down with the puck.
“That could have been the difference there,” noted Carolina head coach Kirk Muller, who also acknowledged that Hurricanes captain Eric Staal forwent a two-on-zero opportunity to give Semin the breakaway change on the play. “He’s always in Beast Mode” was Joel Ward’s analysis of his young netminder.
With less than nine minutes to play in regulation Carlson cemented the win with a one-timer from the right faceoff dot that beat Ward inside the far side post. It was the 39th of 40 shots Ward would face during the hour-long siege of his net, and one which he was helpless to prevent after stopping the initial attempt by Mathieu Perreault in the slot.
Because of other results in simultaneous NHL games, Washington remains in last place in the Eastern Conference, but Oates’s squad is only four points removed from Carolina for first place in the Southeast Division and the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs it entails. With their next game, in Philadelphia, starting less than 24 hours after the end of the win over the ‘Canes, it will be incumbent on the Caps to continue their current hot streak to retain any chance of staying in the playoff picture.
Abram Fox is the Washington Capitals Page Editor for District Sports Page. He has been covering the Capitals from the press box since the 2007-08 season.