The Washington Capitals took the ice with a record over .500 for the first time this season, hoping to keep the three-game win streak moving forward and leave the mediocre start to the season behind. To do so, they'd have to beat another hot team, with the Minnesota Wild also sporting a three-game win streak of their own (and a six-of-seven overall stretch). The two teams played a conservative and tightly-checked game, ultimately having to go to the shootout to determine which team's win streak would come to an end. Braden Holtby slammed the door shut and Nicklas Backstrom provided just enough offense for the Caps to skate out with a four game winning streak.
Ten more notes on the game:
- With the top two power play units in the league on the ice tonight, both teams knew they couldn't afford to take many penalties. After a first period that saw each team go one-for-two on the power play, each team would only get one more chance for the rest of the game,with the final Wild PP spanning into the start of overtime, giving the Caps a chance to atone for their last 4-on-3 penalty kill performance. With the power plays a wash, the teams would have to settle the game at even strength.
- And even strength was not to the advantage of the Caps tonight, as the Wild are a top-three possession team and the Caps are bottom-third. After a lopsided first period, the Caps hung in with the Wild for the rest of the game. The possession battle had our attention from the start, so it's nice to see the Caps play well and hold on to the puck. Best of all, the game-tying goal came after a long shift working down low in the Wild zone.
- And the authors of that game-tying goal? Maybe not the usual suspects. The second line has been invisible (at best) for most of the season for the Caps, but tonight they showed some flashes of what they could be and got rewarded with a crucial goal. Marcus Johansson used his skating to support the dirty work provided by Tom Wilson and Brooks Laich and the trio had several opportunities, ultimately using a deflection off of the defense to finally get one past Josh Harding.
- Backstrom may not have been told that Ovechkin has returned. He's kept up the torrid play that is normally reserved for Ovechkin's absences from the lineup, with three points last game and another assist on Ovechkin's goal tonight. He was the most dangerous Caps forward all night and it's only fitting that he ended up with the shootout winner. He's playing with confidence and it's fun to watch.
- Holtby was stout from start to finish. He kept the Caps in the game in the face of a quick start by the Wild (12 shots to 5 in the first period) and came up with a number of huge saves to keep the Caps within one goal in the second half of the game. You can't fault him for either goal against as both were the result of open shooters cutting free right in front of Holtby.
- Speaking of those goals, John Carlson and Karl Alzner were both of them. On both sequences, the two defensemen ended up playing their man (and both playing the same man on the second). If it's by design, when both D go below the goal line there is more pressure on the forwards to cover the low slot. On the two Wild goals, they didn't get it done and there were open looks right in front of Holtby.
- got his first NHL points last game, and tonight he followed up with another assist on Johansson's goal (which was also Johansson's second goal in as many games). His work on the cycle on that goal is what Caps fans hope to get used to as his career progresses (and I'd put down cash that Mike Yeo was complaining about the pick Wilson set to let Johansson wheel out of the corner), but he's going to have to play with talented players if he's going to produce. All the physical play in the world isn't going to translate into much production on the fourth line.
- Nate Schmidt continues to play solid hockey in a top-four role. He's clearly got the skating and the puck skill, but for a guy of his size and experience, it's impressive that he's avoided being exposed in glaring breakdowns. His poise and confidence moving the puck up ice has been a noticeable addition to the Caps' ability to breakout and transition to offense.
- Alex Ovechkin continued where he left off last game against the New York Islanders. Almost literally.Ovechkin has a league-leading (tie) thirteen goals, but it seems like we've seen the same two or three goals on repeat. After Jonas Brodin got abused by Backstrom's pass just nineteen seconds into the first Caps PP, the Wild penalty kill box made a noticeable shift to cut off that pass to Ovechkin. The Caps didn't get another backdoor pass through to Ovechkin, but Troy Brouwer did have a couple great looks and hit some iron in the third. There's too much talent out there to cover with four defenders.
- One of the goals that we didn't see from Ovechkin? The one right off the draw. The Caps were owned in the dot all night (winning 46% total) but especially bad on the power play where they won 1 draw in 5 chances. It's hard to nitpick the league's top unit, but starting a power play by losing the draw isn't a great way to go about things.
The Caps continue their winning streak, moving further from .500 (in the right direction) while also pushing their western conference record to an even .500 (although three of the wins were via shootout). The slow start seems to be behind them, but there's plenty of room for improvement. For now, hanging tight in the possession game and grinding out a win against a quality opponent is enough. We'll just hope they continue to build on it.