You've gotta win the games you've gotta win.
As cliche as that sounds, the NHL is very much a league in which teams that don't win the games they "should" win - especially as the calendar changes from winter to spring - quickly find themselves behind the proverbial eight ball, standings-wise. For the Washington Capitals, the team has been presented with a half-dozen "should win" games over the past two weeks (the Islanders twice, St. Louis, Florida, Edmonton and Carolina at home). And while the games themselves may not all have been as pretty as Wednesday night's trouncing of the Oilers, the results have been - six wins, including Friday night's 2-1 victory over the 'Canes. Add in Monday night's huge win in Tampa, and the Caps - the Eastern Conference's second-place team - are on a seven-game win streak, the longest since last February's franchise-best 14-game run. And that's good. Because the next five games aren't "should wins." Such is life in the NHL - make hay while the sun shines.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The Hurricanes entered Friday night's game with a perfect 21-0-0 record when leading after two periods. They entered the third period with a 1-0 lead. Twenty hockey minutes later, they were heading off the ice after losing to the Caps for the fifth time in five meetings this season. As the 'Canes stay stuck two points out of a playoff spot, it's nice to know that the Caps' dominance over them is the reason they're on the outside looking in.
Braden Holtby stopped a career-high 40 shots on the night and is now an absolutely ridiculous 5-0-1/0.69/.977 in his last six NHL appearances. And while there are aspects of his development that are clearly behind where Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov are, his puck-handling isn't one of them. Bold prediction: he'll lead NHL goalies in assists in a season within the next five years.
- The Caps' penalty kill came up big once again, killing all five 'Canes power-play chances and yielding just three shots on goal during that time. On the night overall, the Caps blocked a whopping 26 shots, led by John Carlson with five and Boyd Gordon and Brooks Laich with four each.
- The block of the night, however, belonged to Matt Hendricks, who rejected a Carolina offering at the blueline at the tail-end of a Jason Arnott minor. The puck quickly found its way to Arnott, who had a clean breakaway that Cam Ward stopped. But Hendricks followed the play, wasn't picked up by a defender, and deposited the rebound for the game-winning goal. What a shift.
Alex Ovechkin stayed hot, scoring the Caps' first goal early in the third on a missile from just inside the Carolina zone that hit a stick out high (did you know he was going to do that, Joe Corvo?). The captain now has a seven-game point streak (what a coincidence), and points in 11 of his last 12 games, with 17 points in that span.
- Ovechkin's goal was set up on a nice drop-and-clear-out play by Marcus Johansson, who had another good night centering the top line. MoJo now has points in eight of his last 13 games.
- Despite a penalty and a minus-one rating, Jason Chimera probably had his best game in weeks. Perhaps that says more about his recent play than what he did on Friday night.
- Back to reality for a moment, 41 shots against is way too many to give up. Throw in those 26 blocks and another 14 shots that missed the net and the 'Canes had 81 shot attempts (or roughly 1.3 every minute). The Caps' total was 49. Predictably, the Corsi/Fenwick numbers on the night were ugly.
- The Caps were the beneficiaries of a quick whistle late in the game a few moments before Carolina put the puck into the Washington net. But let's be clear about one thing - the Caps on the ice quit playing on the whistle, as every kid on the planet is taught to do. The whistle didn't necessarily cost the 'Canes a goal.
- The Caps' power-play was 0-for-2 on the night with just one shot on goal in 2:53. That's the seventh 0-fer in the last eight games.
Next up for the Caps is a Sunday matinee engagement with the defending Champs on national television. Let's hope that the result is the same as the last time these two teams met on NBC... but with a bit less controversy. The Caps have taken care of business lately, winning the games they "should" win. Now they move into a more difficult part of the schedule - games they can win... if they're truly contenders.