Each of the first two games between the Caps and Devils this season have been close, one-goal affairs. With tonight's game being the final one before the break, and with both teams in desperate need of points (to say nothing of both teams having a penchant for overtime games), tonight's matchup was shaping up to be yet another close one.
And a close one it was, with both goalies holding down the fort until the third period - with neither team offering all that much in the way of shots along the way - until a trio of milestones late in the third period carried the home team to a much-needed win.
Ten more notes on the game:
- On average this season, the Caps have taken almost 13 PIMs a game - so it wasn't that surprising that they found themselves in the penalty box early, with Troy Brouwer getting nabbed for a minor not once but twice in the opening frame. A bit more surprising was the fact that the Devils, one of the League's least-penalized teams, joined them in the parade to the penalty box. All told, the two teams spent eight of the first twenty minutes at five-on-four.
- For all that extra-man time, however, no offense was to be found, with the Caps continuing to be ice cold on the power play and the Devils continuing a mini-drought of their own. Apparently both teams decided to cool it after that and just play at even-strength, because there were only three penalties in the entire rest of the game, all in the third period.
- For most of the season so far, the Caps have been carried by their captain - and early on in this one that was again the case, with the team struggling to hit the net with their shots. They would pick it up as the game went on, but early in this one Alex Ovechkin had more than half his team's shots on net. Good for him, bad for the rest of the crew. He can't score 'em all, guys.
- The Caps are at the same time one of the League's worst second-period teams and one of the best - whichever way you choose to look at it, there's no question that the middle frame is the one where most of the action happens for the team, as they've given up roughly ten more goals in the second than in either the first or the third, and scored about twenty more than the other two. Tonight? Nothing doing in either direction, despite the Devils tilting the ice at times.
- One of the main reasons both teams were putting up donuts? The men between the pipes, with Cory Schneider continuing his mastery of the Caps early on and Braden Holtby shutting the door for the Caps. Neither one had a ton of work tonight, with the Caps firing just 26 shots on Schneider and Holtby facing just 25, but each came up big on several occasions.
- So of course the guy to break the stalemate was none other than recent Hershey call-up Julien Brouillette, who picked up his first NHL point in the last game against the Jets and tonight was rewarded with his first NHL goal (with mom and dad in attendance, no less) just past the halfway mark of the third period. That goal would end up being the game-winner, as well - many congrats to Brouillette on a huge first goal!
- On the other end of the ice, it was Holtby coming out on top with his third shutout of the season, turning aside all 25 shots he faced (including 11 in the first period)
- Can't be the only one who totally expected Martin Erat to head off to the Olympics without a goal (and then probably score a hat trick in his first game for the Czech team)... but he finally ended a drought that has stretched out over the entire season with his first goal as a Cap, an empty-netter to seal the deal for the Caps. Judging by the passing play that led up to it from Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, and the celebration that ensued on the bench, the entire team was pulling for Erat to snap that stretch once and for all. And of course his captain was nice enough to pick up the puck as a keepsake. To remember us by, Marty.
- Hold on, though, because that wasn't all the scoring in this one. Apparently when you take the goalie out of the net, it becomes easier to score, and just over 30 seconds after Erat got on the board it was Troy Brouwer scoring his fourth goal in four games - and his 100th career goal overall. Congrats to all!
- Interestingly enough, coming into tonight's game the Caps had just one empty-net goal on the season, the tally that gave Ovechkin his 400th career goal. By the end of the game, that total had tripled, both goals also serving as milestones for their respective scorers. Just goes to show, having a goalie between the pipes is totally overrated.
So the Caps end a seven-game losing streak against the division, get a couple of milestones in the process and - most importantly - pick up an important two points. And with that, the Olympic break officially begins and does so on a high note. Good luck to all the Caps headed to Sochi tomorrow, and to the rest, heal up and rest up - because the road ahead is not an easy one.