If someone had told you that the only point from the Washington Capitals' top line would come on an assist from Tom Wilson, that Karl Alzner and Jay Beagle would score goals, and that the Caps would almost get a goal from goalie Braden Holtby, you might have been forgiven for rolling your eyes. Nevertheless, all of that came to pass as the Capitals got goals from Alzner, Beagle, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and an empty netter from Brooks Laich, as well as 33 saves from Braden Holtby as the Caps turned back the Devils, 4-1, in Newark.
Ten more notes on tonight's game:
- It was milestone night for the Caps. Brooks Laich recorded his 300th career point with his assist on Evgeny Kuznetsov's goal, and Joel Ward recorded his 200th career point with an assist on the same goal.
- Braden Holtby was a wall in goal. On a night in which New Jersey dominated the gross possession numbers (66 total shot attempts to 42 for the Caps, much of that being score effect), Holtby was in serious denial mode. It was only the fourth time in 21 appearances in which he faced more than 30 shots on goal and just his second win under those circumstances. Nevertheless, he is now 7-4-1, 2.11, .930 in his last 12 appearances.
- The top line of Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Tom Wilson combined for four shots on goal and seven shot attempts with Wilson recording the only point. Ovechkin did not record what would be his only shot on goal until the 12:25 mark of the third period. It was the third game this season in which Ovechkin was held to one shot; the Caps are 2-1-0 in those games.
- The fourth goal was credited to Brooks Laich into an empty net, but moments earlier that fourth goal was almost Braden Holtby's. With the Devils' net vacant, Holtby took a shot, so to speak. His fling from the far end of the rink went wide, though. The last NHL goalie to record an empty net goal was Arizona Coyotes goalie Mike Smith against the Detroit Red Wings back in October 2013.
- Not only was this the Caps' second straight win, it was their second straight win in regulation, the first time this season that the Caps accomplished that feat.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov appears to have made good use of his reflection time. After being held out of Thursday's win over Carolina, Kuznetsov snapped a power play goal over goalie Cory Schneider's left shoulder, one of four shots on goal in ten minutes and change of ice time. Those four shots on goal tied a season-high for Kuznetsov.
- John Carlson had one of, if not his best game of the season to date, almost because you barely heard his name called. But there he was with 21 minutes of even strength ice time, more than a minute of power play ice time, and almost three minutes on the penalty kill. He had an assist, springing Jay Beagle for his goal, had three shots on goal, four hits, and was a plus-2.
- About that Beagle goal. Having scored against Carolina on Thursday, his second period goal made it goals in two straight games. It is the first time in Beagle's career he scored goals in consecutive games.
- Karl Alzner opened the scoring for the Caps, his first goal of the season, breaking a string of 42 games without a goal dating back to March of last season.
- Putting the game out of reach before the final horn has its benefits. In the third period the top line got a break. Ovechkin skated just 4:54, Backstrom just 5:17, and Wilson just 3:35. No Caps forward skated as many as 20 minutes.
The Caps are now 2-0-0 in their 12-game run against Eastern Conference opponents to close the calendar year. As much as the wins themselves, it was the way the Caps earned them, through hard work and attention to detail over 60 minutes. Even if it is reasonable to consider the Caps' win over the Devils being influenced somewhat by New Jersey's roster depleted by injury (a fair take), getting timely goal scoring and solid goaltending is a formula for what one hopes is sustained success. That ability to sustain success will be tested as the Caps move up in weight class competition as they head to Tampa Bay to face the Lightning on Tuesday. At the moment, though, the Caps have the look of the team fans were hoping to see when the season started.