The Washington Capitals staked their claim to the Metropolitan Division lead on Saturday night, knocking dead the unlikely Goliath the New Jersey Devils and saying, “You see this here division? It’s ours.”
Here’s Saturday night's Plus/Minus:
Plus: The Caps got off to a much faster start tonight, dropping two early bombshells on New Jersey like waking your kids up and telling them they’re both adopted and going to military school.
Minus: Seeing Marcus Johansson on the visitors’ bench wearing enemy colors for the first time gave us feelings we’ll need to talk through in group.
And now, this...
Ten more notes on the game:
1. Fans were treated tonight to a clash to decide the lead in the Metropolitan Division, which, while perhaps not the Ferrari of the NHL it once was, is at least solidly the Volkswagen Passat of the league. Who would emerge atop the plush German-engineered pile, New Jersey or Washington?
2. Also blowing in from New Jersey along with the hairspray and salami sub wrappers was former Capitals winger Marcus Johansson, a beloved fixture who played seven seasons in Washington. Sitting on the visitors’ bench for the first time in his career, MoJo was treated to a lovely video tribute. He took a lap of acknowledgment and thanked the fans with his customary polite stoicism.
Asked about defending his long-time former teammate, John Carlson said, "It was a little weird. But we've played him a couple times in the preseason now, so... it's less weird."
3. BUT THEN IT WAS ENOUGH WITH THE KISSY-FACED HOW-YA-BEENS AND IT WAS TIME FOR HOCKEY, GURD DURNIT. And the Capitals got off to a much faster start than they did on Thursday night against Boston, when the Bruins smashed Washington’s teeth in for two goals in fifty seconds. Tonight, just 2:26 into the contest, Christian Djoos roared down the left wing and into the zone, streaked behind the net and around the other side, and slung a perfectly sneaky feed to Tom Wilson, who was waiting, stick on the ice, in the low slot. Wilson banged it home, and the Caps took a 1-0 lead.
4. Mere moments later, Ol’ T-Bone Willy recorded another high-danger chance, gathering up a turnover in the offensive zone and ripping a BB on net that forced Devils’ goaltender Cory Schnieder to make the save with the wee handle of his stick.
Matt Niskanen said of the Caps' fast start, "We were zipping it pretty good. We were also the beneficiaries of the schedule. I think they had a little bit of heavy legs, and we were fresh. So, we took advantage of that. We've been on the other end of a few of those, so, no mercy."
5. Washington wasn’t done with the first period dominance. With 8:51 left in the frame, the Caps’ top line strung together a jaw-droppingly gorgeous tic-tac-toe passing play that sent the puck between the circles twice from Ovechkin to Backstrom before planting off of Christian Djoos’ paddle and into the gaping net. The Capitals had a two goal lead early.
6. But New Jersey’s John Moore stopped the bleeding for the Devils, rifling home a beautiful heads-up pass from Travis Zajac to make it 2-1 Washington at the first intermission.
7. Halfway through the second period, with the Devils beginning to push back a bit, Captain America John Carlson said, “E pluribus unum, sucka,” and smashed home a booming slapshot from Nick Backstrom like it owed him money. The goal put the Capitals up 3-1 after the second frame.
8. The Capitals jumped into the third period like a kangaroo with hemorrhoids, taking the majority of the first several shots. The constant onslaught eventually broke through, with Devante Smith-Pelly feeding Matt Niskanen(!) across the crease for a broad-side-of-the-barn open net tap in. The Capitals led 4-1 deep in the game.
9. Travis Zajac gave the Devils their last gasp, redirecting home a pass on the doorstep to bring New Jersey to within two, 4-2, with eleven minutes remaining. But it wouldn’t be enough, and with the addition of a Nicklas Backstrom empty-netter, the Capitals left victorious and glorious.
10. The Capitals now sit alone atop the Metropolitan Division, high and unassailable like the mighty eagle or the noble cumulus cloud.
A great start, a worthy middle, and a successful finish. That’s a good recipe for a casserole or a win. Next up is the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh on Tuesday, *2018.*
I asked Christian Djoos, who's had quite an eventful 2017, and John Carlson, whose upcoming free agency promises to make for an eventful 2018, if they had any New Year's resolutions.
Like true, consummate pros, they both told me: "I have one day left to pick."
Have a safe, happy, and wondrous New Year! We’ll see you in 2018, Caps fans!