In the first ten minutes of tonight's game the visiting Edmonton Oilers looked like the team Coach Dallas Eakins expects them to be, out-skating, out-hitting, and out-hustling the home team on their own ice. Fortunately for the Washington Capitals and their fans the game is played across sixty minutes and Adam Oates' club had a chance to get their legs under them after the first period (Mike Green quip). The game's middle frame paid great dividends to the Caps, a three shot, three goal outburst starting with Joel Ward quickly put the game out of Edmonton's reach, Braden Holtby having held his own confidently all night.
Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, and Ward all scored their first goal of the season, the three likely sharing a collective sigh in the locker room after the contest. Holtby too had a weight lifted off of his chest tonight, the full effort at home earning him his first 'W' of the year. Washington was able to recover from their slow start to overcome the Oilers in October but Oates must be aware of, and relentlessly improving, his team's (incomplete) sixty minute performance. But tonight, we celebrate the two points.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The Oilers held Washington shot-less for the game’s first 6:14 and it took some dynamic play from Holtby to keep Verizon Center from growing restless. The Capitals looked lost and confused with the puck, more than just the hockey bounces beating the home team mentally in the early going.
- Justin Schultz took advantage of a series of unconnected breakout passes from Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, and Alex Ovechkin and pounced on an unclaimed puck in neutral, a pass to Boyd Gordon after entering the zone quickly culminated in the game’s first tally, a shot in off of the far left post. The early goal would be the highlight of Edmonton’s control of play through the game's opening ten minutes.
- The Capitals responded with a goal of their own five minutes later on their third shot of the night, Laich turning around and whipping a wrist shot along the ice and under Jason LaBarbera from the right faceoff circle. The sequence was started by Steve Oleksy making a nice play to hold the puck in at the blue line, catching all five of the Oilers above Laich with a quick one-pass transition. Adam Oates and defensive handedness or what?
- Aside from the primary assist Oleksy had himself a fantastic outing, skating 17:37 and making smart, controlled decisions with the puck all night to go alongside some strong physical play. Alongside the young Nate Schmidt the two defensemen were a poised pair tonight, their heads up and thinking much quicker than their experience would lead you to believe.
- Holtby's athletic save on David Perron early in the second stanza reduced the game to some four on four play, Perron’s frustration over the missed opportunity ending with each team down a man. Green had the best chance with the extra ice until Edmonton took a second minor penalty while playing at fours. It was Joel Ward firing a Nicklas Backstrom pass home soon thereafter, LaBarbera unable to extend across the crease and deny the raised shot.
- Ovechkin’s sixth of the season followed Ward’s a little less than four minutes later, a classic fade away slap shot from the slot reminiscent of his first in the League. A deft pass from Marcus Johansson got through the opposing sticks and right into Alex’s wheelhouse, a Backstrom screen in front clouding the crease. It would be Ovechkin's second point of the night already having a secondary assist on Ward's power play tally.
- The game would turn overwhelmingly in Washington’s control midway through the second period when Brouwer finished off a nice one touch passing play from Backstrom and Mikhail Grabovski, marking the Capitals' third goal on three consecutive shots in the second period. With the Oilers on their heels and puck-watching after falling behind two the Capitals kept their focus and outsmarted the Oilers in their own zone, tightening the tourniquet in the home team’s favor.
- Washington's power play would remain lethal tonight, the group scoring twice on their three opportunities. A perfect penalty-killing group wouldn't give Edmonton's young stars a chance to dig their heels in and push the game's momentum back in their favor.
- The game showed its teeth with seven minutes left in the final frame, Oilers' goalscorer Will Acton getting involved with Ovechkin deep in the offensive zone before Mike Brown, Luke Gazdic, Karl Alzner, and Green jumped in to defend their teammates. Luckily no one would leave scathed and the red-clad boys would finish their evening's play enthusiastically.
- Recognition due to Marcus Johansson on his 100th NHL point, his primary assist on Ovechkin's tally bringing his League totals to 33 goals and 67 assists, a wonderfully European split. Skating in his 189th contest tonight makes the young Swede a 0.53PPG player; congratulations, Marcus!
The Caps and their fans will take this win and enjoy it tonight, it being their first regulation win of the 2013-2014 season. The party will be short lived though as Washington is set to play host to the Metropolitan Division rival New York Rangers on Wednesday. With another two points at stake and the division opposition starting to collect points on the year, it would be a great time to play sixty full minutes of Capitals hockey.