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As expected when the schedule was released in January, the Washington Capitals visit to Madison Square Garden tonight to play the New York Rangers was a pivotal contest with playoff implications. What was not expected is that both teams – stacked with star-studded rosters - would be on the outside looking in, desperately fighting for eighth place as they enter into the home stretch of the shortened regular season.
Tonight both teams earned points, but it was the Caps who took the Bettman point, winning the game on a Nicklas Backstrom shootout goal in the fourth round. The game started with the road-weary Caps taking a 2-0 lead early in the game, but the Rangers responded soonafter with two goals of their own. The final 47 minutes of regulation remained entertaining with both teams trading scoring chances, but neither team was able to dent the twine.
In the end, the Caps gain a point on the Rangers, and, more importantly, get two points closer to a playoff spot.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Braden Holtby didn’t have the best night, giving up a cheap goal on a first period penalty kill when he directed the puck into this own net. Still, he stifled numerous odd-man breaks, stopped 30 of 32 shots, and put up a 0.938 save percentage. Oh…he also stopped three of four shootout attempts. If this was baseball it would certainly qualify as a “quality start”.
- Nick Backstrom is one of the league leaders in assists this year, but he’s fallen short in goals this season, entering the game on a paltry 10-goal pace across 82 games. So it must have felt good to score his fifth goal of the season, simply by crashing the net and scoring a goal with his belly. Right place, right time. His shootout winner wasn’t too shabby either!
- Speaking of Nick, his regulation goal was the first goal scored by a Caps forward this year against the Rangers.
- Both teams had 5-on-3s. The Rangers capitalized on theirs, and the Caps didn’t on theirs. The team is 1-for-8 on the season on 5-on-3s. Ugly. But, hey, the good guys still won!
- That said, the Caps power play is pretty damn good, huh? (Well, at least when they’re only up by a man.) They score on a quarter of their power plays and they potted one tonight. Clearly, Adam Oates knows what he’s doing with the 5-on-4 PP.
- There is a noticeable difference in how the Caps current defensemen play the point, regardless of whether it’s at even strength or on the power play. Steve Olesky, Dmitry Orlov and Jack Hillen are simply more skilled with the puck than John Erskine, Jeff Schultz and, at this point in his career, Tom Poti. You see the difference in the way the puck is broken out of the defensive zone and handled in the offensive zone. The Caps second goal was a direct result of this new-found skillset, and, outside of Green or Carlson, is not a play that the old defense could make.
- Oates was right about the 1-3-1, he appears right about the lefty/righty demand on defense, and he’s also been right about slotting Alex Ovechkin, who’s recent resurgence has netted the Captain seven goals in his past seven games. Ovi added an assist, a shootout goal, five hits and created numerous chances, circa Ovechkin 2009. Right now, Ovi’s playing at a 41-goal pace. If the Caps make the playoffs, there is no doubt Oates is deserving of a few Jack Adams votes. (This recap is turning into an Adam Oates lovefest!)
- Oates love-hate relationship with Matthieu Perreault is bound to bounce back to the negative side after the center blew a play in the first period that led to an odd-man break and Aaron Asham goal. He only skated 8:48 during the game and didn’t get much time after his blunder. What you see is what you get, and with Perreault it’s a high-risk, high-reward player.
- Would have been nice to have noted shootout specialist Wotjek Wolski for this one. Oh well!
- For those of you that were wondering, former Cap Roman Hamrlik skated a very quiet 10:34 tonight, but, to his credit, he did finish +1.
Tonight’s win allows the Caps to finish off a successful road trip, where they won three of the four games. The Caps likely need 53 points (give or take one or two) to make the playoffs. They sit at 31 with 16 games left to play. That means they need to go 11-5 (give or take) in the final 16 games of the season to make the dance. Considering the remaining schedule it’s a potentially achievable pace, but there isn’t much room for error. While the Caps are not in “must-win” mode yet, the team definitely cannot waste its golden chances. Home games against non-playoff teams – like this Tuesday’s Islanders game at Verizon Center - would qualify as one of those golden chances.