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This has been a trying season for the Washington Capitals. Wins have been hard to come by and smiles have been few and far between. But this afternoon’s game against the New Jersey Devils was just what the doctor ordered. An Alex Ovechkin hat trick (and assist!) propelled the Caps to a 5-1 blowout over a very good Devils team. Mike Roibeiro added two assists and Braden Holtby played wonderfully in net to help the Caps notch their first victory against a top 8 team.
Sure, skeptics may be quick to point out that the win came against the Devils backup goalie, Johan Hedberg. Honestly, who cares? A win is a win is a win. And the Caps – and their fans - needed a blowout win like this.
Ten Eleven more notes on the game:
- The Caps were brutally outshot Thursday night by the Devils, 37-19. Lesson learned. This afternoon, they kept the pace more reasonable, with the shot count at 26-20 for the Caps. That’s the type of pace the under-manned Caps need to play in order to be competitive on a nightly basis this season. It also helped that Braden Holtby played stellar and made key stops, sporting a game SV% of 0.950. That sort of goaltending was absent during the first quarter of the season.
- Mike Ribeiro and Alex Ovechkin are going to get credit on the highlights for the Caps first goal. But the real catalyst was Jason Chimera, who broke up a Devils scoring chance (caused by a John Carlson giveaway) and helped start the break the other way. The breakout was clean, the o-zone entry sterling, the passing sublime, and the finish perfect. 1-0 Caps, for the seventh straight game.
- The next two goals were clinics by two of the premier snipers in the NHL: Ilya Kovalchuk and Ovechkin. Both players gained speed in the neutral zone, used their opponent as a screen and rifled the puck past two startled goaltenders like only few players can. (But the Caps star shone brighter today!)
- And it goes without saying…welcome back Ovi! Please stay for a while. Your fiancee can stay too!
- Taking a lot of interference penalties – an infrequently called penalty - usually indicates that a team is slow and/or frequently out-of-position. The Caps have taken three in the past four games. What does that tell you? The team also took two more delay of game penalties. Assume what you want there.
- Another infrequent hockey play is to see a penalty shot. We saw one of those this afternoon, as Steve Bernier got around Tom Poti and earned a penalty shot. But Bernier couldn’t solve Braden Holtby, who made the save look easy.
- While interference penalties and penalty shots are infrequent, want to know what is downright rare, like once-or-twice-in-an-entire-NHL-season rare? A player losing his skate blade from his boot. That’s what happened to Eric Fehr late in the first and why he left for a bit. (Raise your hand if you thought he was injured?)
- Speaking of Fehr, what a goal huh? Pickpocketing Hedberg and wrapping it around the net for the Caps first shortie on the season. You would never think of Fehr as an elite penalty killer, but that was an elite play and the back-breaker.
- Add Wojtek Wolski to the list of Caps players (Brouwer, Ovechkin) who have missed obscenely wide open nets this season. Late in the first period, Wolski had the puck on his stick in the crease and an opposing goalie that had his back to the play. Although Wolski had time to make himself a sundae, he panicked and shot through the crease and wide. That’s an indicator of a player who’s pressing. But Adam Henrique repaid the favor two minutes into the second period. With half the net entirely open and unguarded, Henrique somehow managed to shoot it into Holtby, who otherwise was clearly beat. Tit-for-tat, I guess?
- The ice looked like it held up well, considering that the Wizards played last night (good win, btw) and play again in a few hours. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s 40 degrees outside, but still, props to the VZ staff for keeping the ice in respectable shape.
- It’s been an all-too-familiar refrain this year, but the Caps defense is woefully under-manned, and that’s a fair statement even when they’re fully healthy. That said, props need to be given to this group tonight. This rag-tag bunch held the Devils to 20 shots and 1 goal.
So the Caps start with a new one game winning streak, this one coming against a solid New Jersey team. And although the team is still mired in last place and unlikely to make a sustained run at 8th place in the conference, by evening’s end they are going to only be six points back of the Southeast division leader. In other words, there is still a shot at salvaging a playoff-bound season. But they need to bear down. Three of their next five opponents are Southeast Division teams. If ever there was a time to go on a winning streak, now is the time.