Sunday’s 2-0 Washington Capitals victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs was a close game to the finish and one the Caps may learn and grow from as they enter the stretch run to the postseason.
Even though Michal Neuvrith earned the shutout and Washington had a multi-goal win, the game never felt like it was totally in Washington’s control. It was the type of game that can get away from a team quickly and one the Caps will be in many times down the stretch, as well as in the playoffs. It was a defensive game where neither team gave the opposing players much space and scoring chances were hard to come by. Several players compared the game to a playoff game when asked about it after the game.
“Since maybe the past three games it feels like a playoff game every time and guys feel it in the locker room, we know points are important at this point,” Mathieu Perreault said after the game “We have played pretty solid the last few games and hopefully we can keep that going.”
Perreault had one of his better games in the last few weeks on Sunday and was one of the spark plugs of the team. With time on the power play and with Alexander Semin, Perreault helped keep the team’s foot on the gas throughout the third period. In fact, it was Perreault who banged home a Semin rebound to give the Caps a two-goal cushion in the final frame.
Perreault wasn’t the only player to think it felt like a playoff game. Young defenseman Karl Alzner was second on the team in ice time and provided a key piece to a stingy Capitals defense. Alzner was on the ice for both goals, but none were as important as the first one to give the Caps a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Midway through the Caps’ PK, Alzner was in prime position to breakup a Toronto inbound pass, disrupting the breakout, when Brooks Laich picked up the puck at center ice. Laich skated into the zone short handed and fired it glove side on Jonas Gustavsson for the first goal of the game and the eventual game winner. It was a short handed goal on paper, but in reality it represented the type of goals teams need to score if they want to have a long postseason.
It is Washington’s third win in a row and helps them stay four points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets and just one point behind the Southeast Division leading Florida Panthers. Perhaps more important than simply winning though, was winning a low scoring game, something Head Coach Dale Hunter thinks all teams have to do down the stretch.
“You gotta wins game no matter what,” Hunter said after the game. “Some games you gotta win 2-0 or 4-3 whatever it is, what ever the game dictates you have got to execute at it.”
Executing based on the game is something new to a Capitals team so used to winning a “fire-wagon” type of high scoring hockey. With a long road trip coming up, it is important for the team to start winning the close games neither team truly seizes control over. With a game against the pesky New York Islanders on Tuesday, Washington may need to immediately apply some of what they learned in Sunday’s win.