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The Washington Capitals came into tonight's game playing their best hockey of the year, having earned points in seven straight outings— their best such streak since winning eight in a row back in lockout shortened '12-'13. They succeededwith goals from Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alex Ovechkin (as they usually do when it's those names on the ledger), and will look to improve their standing points number for a ninth straight game on Monday night. Look for our full recap later, but first, Saturday night's Plus/Minus:
- Plus: Mike Green. After a win Thursday night in which Green provided big time assists on both the game-tying and game-winning goals, it was nice to see the Caps' big gun on the blueline tickle the twine for the first time since October 22. That was...mighty fine (eat my dust, Shakespeare). It's always a good thing when MG52 starts heating up, and that laser beam slap shot was a welcome reminder of his capabilities...not that we needed reminding.
- Minus: Not a lot to complain about tonight, but shots were hard to come by for the Caps tonight, only notching 21, against a team that's not particularly good at suppressing them. It was the smallest shot volume the Caps' have generated since the second game of the season, when they also put 21 on Tuukka Rask and the Boston Bruins. Thankfully, a big time shooting percentage, and some great play in net from Braden Holtby helped ensure that substandard shot generation wasn't a factor in deciding the outcome of this one.
And now, this...
#Capitals Alex Ovechkin ties Pavel Bure for most career goals by a Russian-born NHLer.— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) December 21, 2014
Ten more notes on the game:
- It's no secret that Braden Holtby has been pretty great of late, and tonight he got off to a good start, making several strong stops on the game's opening penalty kill, and then against Jaromir Jagr's line on the succeeding shift. He kept that momentum up through the rest of the game, earning the shutout. Keep it up, Holts.
- In the hour before the game it became evident that whispers of Jack Hillen's return to the lineup were true. Hillen took Nate Schmidt's lineup spot, despite some pretty overall impressive play from the latter. And it was Hillen feeding Mike Green about three minutes into the 2nd period to open up the scoring. Nice one, Jack.
- Before the game, the good people behind the scenes at Comcast showed an infographic revealing that the Caps, with 65 points to date from their blueliners, are pacing to have the most points from defenseman since the 2009-2010 season. Tonight, they kept it up, with Hillen and Green both picking up points on the opening tally, and John Carlson notching a secondary assist on Nicklas Backstrom's goal.
- Usually when one of the better possession teams in the league takes on one of the underperforming possession teams (and for Washington and New Jersey, what a year-over-year role reversal this is), it's the former leaving the building with two points. From the get-go, it didn't look like the teams would comply with the performances suggested by their statistics (the Caps first 5 on 5 shot didn't come until 11:30 into the game), but by the end, thanks largely in part to a third period dominated by the Capitals, the good guys came out on top of the possession battle.
- Nicklas Backstrom was torrid, notching six points in the four games prior to being held off the scoresheet Thursday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He got back on the sheet with a secondary assist on Mike Green's goal tonight, and though the secondary assist is dubious in it's value attribution, on this particular play it's a nice nod to a pretty great shift for the Caps' top-line...once they finally got in the o-zone, that is.
- Nothing dubious about Backstrom's goal towards the end of the 2nd period, however, to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead, except perhaps the source of the primary assist: Jay Beagle. The assist was Beagle's 7th point in his 27 games played. He added point number 8 on Nick Backstrom's empty netter. His previous career high came in 2013-2014, when he notched 9 points in 62 games. Should be a career year for the Beags.
- Unfortunately, the only reason Beagle was ever in position to make that drop-pass to Nicklas Backstrom, is because he was filling in for Tom Wilson, who left the game with an apparent injury...and then returned to begin the third period. Everybody exhale.
- As good as the power play has been for most of the season, the penalty kill has done everything in its power to negate those contributions. Following up from their last outing, where they allowed 2 PPGs in Columbus, the Capitals penalty killers successfully killed off all three of the Devils' chances. That's more like it, boys. How far would some sustained improvement on this front go over the course of the rest of the season?
- Coming into tonight's game, only the New York Islanders had more road wins than the Washington Capitals, who have been using their road success to buoy a decidedly subpar standard of play inside Verizon Center walls. The Caps added to the tally, and you'd like to see them maintain the road success with big division games coming up against the Rangers, Penguins, and Islanders in the next 8 days.
- Alexander Ovechkin. What. A. Goal.