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The traditional refrain on New Year’s Eve is “Auld Lang Syne”, which reminds us not to let friends from the past be forgotten. Well, the Caps and Devils barely had time to forget their renewed “friendship” from a couple of nights ago before they were back at it again this afternoon - and it’s probably safe to say that neither one is going to be forgetting the other any time soon.
Here's Saturday afternoon's Plus/Minus:
- Plus: The offense. Two nights ago the Caps were silenced by Keith Kinkaid, managing just a single goal (shorthanded, no less). In the rematch, they found the key to Kinkaid, and got a few lucky bounces to boot, en route to a lopsided victory.
- Minus: John Moore’s injury. You can talk about the circumstances surrounding it (and we’ll get to that in a minute) but regardless of what causes an injury you never want to see a guy have to be stretchered off the ice. Sending good thoughts and hopes for a speedy recovery to Moore.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Matinee games can sometimes be a bit sluggish, but this one got off to a quick start when the Caps opened the scoring less than three minutes into the first. It was the third line getting things started, with Brooks Orpik kicking off the play on a perfect outlet pass, followed by a beautiful feed from Andre Burakovsky that was tipped home by Brett Connolly for his fourth of the year. Related, Connolly should get more games.
- Not long after, there was “excitement” of a different (and not good) kind when Devils’ defenseman John Moore took the puck behind the net and absorbed a big hit from Tom Wilson. People are going to immediately be up in arms about the hit because it was Wilson, and because there was an injury, but it didn’t seem like much of anything from a disciplinary standpoint - it’s a hit that happens a million times a game, and it’s unfortunate that an injury resulted from that hit, but hard to see the NHL taking any further action on that one.
- Maybe it was that hit and a potentially missed penalty (if you want to say it was boarding) and maybe not, but afterwards the referees seemed intent on whistling every infraction against the Caps for a long stretch. When they were done with that, it was just bad and inconsistent the rest of the way, to the point where five-on-five play (especially in the second period) was the exception, not the rule. By the end of the game, teams were shorthanded 12 times - and nine of those were against the Caps (some more earned than others). The good news? All nine were killed off, in another excellent display of penalty killing.
- Nice symmetry by the Caps to start the first period with a goal from the third line and end it with a goal from the fourth, as Jay Beagle got his stick on an Orpik point shot and deflected it past Kinkaid for the 2-0 lead. That was Beagle’s first goal in 10 games, but did extend his personal point-scoring streak to three games.
- Know who really likes to play the Devils? Brooks Orpik. With two assists in today’s game, he now has 14 points in 61 games vs. New Jersey, which is tied for his highest total against any team (he also has 14 points against the Isles, albeit in eight more games played). Not bad.
- Orpik’s offensive explosion was part of an all-around impressive level of production throughout the team’s defense, who combined for five assists today.
- Last time these two teams faced each other, it was Evgeny Kuznetsov’s turnover that led to the Devils’ only goal of the game. Today it happened again, with Kuznetsov’s pass back to the defense dribbling out to Kyle Palmieri - aka a guy with 30 goals last season - instead of a Caps teammate and Palmieri firing it past Grubauer to cut the Caps’ lead by one. Perhaps not as blatant a turnover as Thursday night, but still… make better decisions, Evgeny.
- It could have been a deflating moment, but the Caps responded in the best way possible, scoring not once but twice in quick succession within about five minutes to extend their lead to three. First it was T.J. Oshie, who pounced on a rebound after a somewhat broken rush up ice by the top line to make it 3-1. About 30 seconds later, it was none other than Alex Ovechkin wrapping up a two-point shift for himself with a snipe from the Ovi spot (at even strength, but still) for his 17th of the season.
- The Caps scored a lot of goals by tip-ins and deflections today, continuing a recent positive trend of getting “ugly” goals. That said, you won’t see an “ugly” goal as nice as the one Williams scored late in the second, with a deflection that showed some impressive hand-eye coordination to reach back and tip a Niskanen point shot into the net. No chance for Kinkaid on that one, either.
- With a little over five minutes left in the game, the Devils again got on the scoresheet with a goal from Beau Bennett - one that probably wasn’t going to spark a rally by the Devils, but regardless the Caps made sure to respond in exactly the right way, as Williams set up Marcus Johansson less than a minute after Bennett got on the board. No let-up by the boys in white tonight, and that’s an excellent sign.
So 2016 draws to a close on a high note for the Caps, who have just a few hours to celebrate the win and ring in the new year before they’re back in action tomorrow night. Here’s hoping they’re able to carry this win over into what hopefully is a better, more consistent second half.
And now, this...