With the addition of Kevin Shattenkirk, the Caps were supposed to be a juggernaut.
It took a little while, but in the final 40 minutes, Washington looked the part, with pretty puck control and movement in the offensive zone, and, ultimately, a 4-1 win—Barry Trotz’s 700th win as a head coach in the NHL.
Here's Tuesday night's Plus/Minus:
- Plus: Second line. The trio of Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Justin Williams He was engaged, he was skating, he was using his size and strength to control the puck, and he was getting to the front of the net.
- Minus: The first period looked more like a collection of skilled individuals than a team playing under a coach known for structure.
And now, this..
Ten more notes on the game:
- The Rangers game out of the gate strong. Less than 15 seconds in, Derek Stepan found Ryan McDonagh alone in the low slot for a chance, and Rick Nash hit the post on the follow-up. Then, five minutes in, Brady Skjei tallied for New York on a wonderful passing play off the rush:
Nash hit the post on the power play midway through the period, and Skjei hit the post again on a long slap shot a minute later. New York wasn’t done—Mats Zuccarello had a great chance on a rebound that Karl Alzner blocked.
- In the final two minutes, the Caps finally got going, a little. In what was a harbinger of things to come, first, Johansson made a twister pass off the rush for Williams, who out-waited Lundqvist, but then passed the puck through an open crease. In the final 30 seconds, the Caps made one of their few good, clean breakouts of the first, leading to some good offensive-zone pressure by the top line and a rebound chance for Alex Ovechkin.
- The Caps’ top line was strong in this game. Although their shifts weren’t as pretty as the second line’s, Ovechkin and Tom Wilson were skating and using their size and strength to win puck battles and maintain possession. In fact, Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin dominated the shot clock head-to-head against Derek Stepan, Rick Nash, and Jesper Fast in the range of 26 attempts for and just 10 against. It was the strongest stat line for by the top line in quite some time.
- Washington got its first power play early in the second, and although it didn’t connect, the group of Backstrom, Ovechkin, Williams, Shattenkirk, and Johansson got plenty of chances. Shattenkirk set up an Ovechkin one-timer 15 seconds into the power play, and later, Johansson and Ovechkin just missed connecting on what could have been a slam dunk. Lundqvist also gloved an Ovechkin shot headed for the top corner. The puck movement was accurate and crisp all-around.
- Johansson tied the game seven and a half minutes into the second. The play started with a nice backhand breakout pass by Kuznetsov to Orlov through the skates of a forechecker. Orlov fed Johansson in the center, who passed back to Orlov on the left wing. Orlov threw the puck at the net and Johansson scored on the rebound to tie the game.
- The Rangers put the puck into the net with eight minutes to go in the period—Braden Holtby lost track of the puck after some crazy caroms—but the play was called back for offsides.
- The Caps pulled ahead late in the second thanks to Brett Connolly. Lars Eller carried the puck into the zone and pulled up, finding Niskanen skating into the slot. Niskanen tried to deke but lost control of the puck, and Connolly, who was nearby, swept the puck toward the net and past Lindqvist.
- The Caps’ second line was really good in this one. It was hard to tell whether they were better creating chances off the rush or off extended in-zone pressure—they did both so frequently and easily. Early in the third, they struck again, as Johansson carried the puck into the zone and passed to Kuznetsov on the wing. Kuznetsov passed back to Johansson, who tipped the puck past Lundqvist into the far-side top corner.
- Up 3-1 and with the game under control, the Caps’ main objective seemed to be to get Johansson the hat trick. His best chance was on a give-and-go with Kuznetsov, but Adam Clendening got in the way and the puck skittered just wide of the post (and Clendening knocked the net off, anyway).
- Skjei finally did get another puck to go in off his stick, but it was into his own net. The Caps went back on the power play late in the third. Washington played Ovechkin in the slot and Carlson in Ovechkin’s usual spot, and was trying to set up Johansson for the hat trick. Eventually, Backstrom just shot, and the puck deflected off Skjei’s stick and bounced past Lundqvist.
The Rangers are one of the best teams in the league and the Caps made them look like an appetizer. There will be games where the Caps’ individual skill can get them into trouble with risky plays, but in this game, they managed to recover back on defense just fine.
With an engaged top line and three reliable pairs on the defense, and a seven-point lead with two extra games played, the Capitals should claim the top seed in the Eastern Conference again.