A Friday night Metropolitan Matchup pitted the Capitals against Carolina on home ice, the Hurricanes having points in their last three straight and having won both previous contests this season in Washington, DC. There was also the week's build-up of Alex Ovechkin and his 399 career goals, having hit the last mark before four hundred Tuesday night in Philadelphia. The Capitals and their Captain would not disappoint, taking two points in regulation from the Hurricanes and Ovechkin hitting the personal milestone in the game's final minute.
Strong special teams play from Washington on both sides of the equation was the difference tonight, along with a spectacular outing from rookie netminder Philipp Grubauer (First Star) - 39 saves. Nicklas Backstrom, Eric Fehr, and Ovechkin paced the good guys with five shots each, John Carlson putting three of his own on from the back end. A balanced attack and timely defensive play send the Capitals home to face the New Jersey Devils tomorrow night brimming with confidence.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Ovechkin would tally the four hundredth goal of his career with 25 seconds left into a wide open Hurricanes net, closing the Metropolitan Matchup in Washington's favor. With pressure on in the Capitals' zone it would be Backstrom and Ovechkin working the puck out into neutral ice before the Russian star took the puck and hit the benchmark. By scoring in tonight's game Ovechkin's 400 beats out fellow countryman Pavel Bure's own 400th, the Capitals' star doing so in one fewer game played (634).
- A fast and loose Carolina team would occupy Washington’s defensive zone in the first period, the Hurricanes making the Capitals defense look porous with smart stretch passes and good foot speed. Both Jeff Skinner and Jordan Staal found themselves on breakaways within a minute of each other - you’d have to expect Assistant Coach Calle Johansson to start stapling butts to the bench if not for Grubauer early (and late too).
- The Hurricanes had an ideal start on home ice, the hosts taking it to the Capitals early and converting by the game's seventeenth minute - Jordan Staal scored his eighth on the year on a nice snap shot from the right wing side. A one touch pass from Alexander Semin at the offensive blue line enabled Staal to gain the zone with speed and allowed him to put an uncontested shot past Grubauer's blocker side.
- Early on the power play in the second period Marcus Johansson stickhandled the puck around Cam Ward’s left leg, knotting the score less than a minute into the middle frame. A strong shot from Backstrom at the top of the slot created the rebound that Johansson jumped on and capitalized with, Ward unable to corral the original snapshot through traffic.
- Carlson would keep the power play hot in the second frame with a slap shot from the blue line that found its way through Troy Brouwer and past Ward’s glove hand. A excellent backhanded saucer pass from Backstrom gave the defenseman a chance to step into the puck, the heavy shot Carlson’s 30th of his career.
- The power play wouldn't be done after Carlson, the extra man unit with just enough luck to get the puck to Brouwer after Mike Green broke his stick on a slap shot from the point. A deft deflection to the upper half of the net put the Capitals up one and gave the visitors some life heading into the second intermission.
- Grubauer saved his best breakaway performance of the game for Eric Staal in the third period, the swift skating power forward trying to score on his forehand after getting in behind Tom Wilson and John Erskine. A full split save with the right pad from Grubauer sent the Hurricanes' Captain skating the other way and boosted the road team's confidence with their one goal lead - a second good, late, save on (classic) Alexander Semin sealed the deal.
- A strong penalty killing effort from Washington to end the third period kept Carolina fans on their hands and out of the game's equation in the final frame. The penalty killers also killed an early Troy Brouwer minor to start the third, the less glamorized special teams group taking the spotlight in the third. Washington would end the night having killed off four of five Carolina power plays, the home team's inability to do so the cause of their demise.
- Washington's power play (ranked second in the NHL entering Friday's game) would end the night with three goals on four chances. While much was being made about Ovechkin's lack of success against Kirk Muller's penalty killing units it was his comrades providing the finish with the man advantage. The second period tirade would be all they need, the power play unit scorching hot heading into the holiday break.
- Johansson would not skate in the third period, the winger not returning to the Capitals' bench after departing with the team at the end of the second period. The Swede would finish his night with one goal and two shots in 10:58 of ice time. Here's to hoping the ailment is nothing serious, Marcus with six points in his last five games.
With a quick turnaround tonight the Capitals will need to get to sleep and rest after traveling home from Raleigh. The big division win keeps Washington above the teams nipping at their heels in the Metropolitan - tonight's opponent, the Flyers, and the Devils. With New Jersey in town tomorrow evening the Capitals could create a good gap of standings space between them and the third place team(s) within their division. I wouldn't be surprised to see Braden Holtby in net Saturday night, despite Grubauer's excellent effort on the road.
A strong outing on the road should inspire an involved effort from the get go tomorrow night, but we know how those prognostications go in the hockey world. Tonight's two points were well earned from the entire lineup, the shaky start notwithstanding. One more game before the holiday break.