In some ways, this win was more encouraging than many of the others during the Caps’ home winning streak. They didn’t blow the game open or take control early and coast to victory—instead, it was puck control and puck movement from start to finish.
It was a gentle reminder that the team is capable of playing a 60-minute game when it’s necessary. That’s always welcome, reassuring, and likely good to help stave off bad habits that could come with regular blowout wins.
They also kept that five-goals-a-game streak alive. And Nicklas Backstrom is now just one point away from 700.
Here's Thursday night's Plus/Minus:
- Plus: Movement. The Caps circled and circled and circled in the Red Wings zone regularly, and each line had at least one extended attacking shift. The puck movement and player movement away from the puck was pretty and effective.
- Minus: Bruises to the third line. Andre Burakovsky got hit in the hand with the puck and left the game. Brett Connolly also got roughed up in the first, but he got up, scored less than five seconds later, and felt well enough to stay in the game. They’re two-thirds of arguably the best third line in hockey and the team’s biggest relative strength up front.
And now, this...
Ten more notes on the game:
- The Caps opened the scoring six minutes into the first. As the puck was bouncing toward the neutral zone, Justin Williams stepped in front of Brendan Smith, boxing him out and preventing him from swatting the puck out of the zone, giving Evgeny Kuznetsov enough time to swoop into the zone and corral the puck. He drove the net and passed across to Johansson. The pass was deflected, but Johansson reeled it in and scored.
- Andreas Athanasiou scored a pair of goals to put Detroit in front. First, with a 4-on-4 situation winding down, he curled around the offensive zone, shook off Alex Ovechkin (who was guarding him) with a fake drop pass, and used the extra bit of room to shoot past Holtby.
- Three minutes later, with Detroit on a power play, Thomas Vanek dug the puck out of Jay Beagle’s skates in the slot and passed to Athanasiou with space, and he put the puck past Holtby for his second goal.
- Brett Connolly tied the game late in the first. He was hit hard into the end boards by Danny DeKeyser on the forecheck. He was slow to get up, but after taking a couple of strides, a loose rebounded came to him, and he shot it past Petr Mrazek.
- T.J. Oshie put the Caps ahead early in the second, taking a banked pass off the wall from John Carlson and shooting past Mrazek. It was a good pass and good shot, but also a shot Mrazek probably should have stopped.
- Detroit wasn’t particularly good in any period, but their best chances came in the second, on two breakaways. Anthony Mantha tried to go to the backhand, but Holtby stayed with him. Later, Luke Glendening intercepted a Nicklas Backstrom pass and raced up the ice, but Holtby stopped his attempt.
- Detroit’s best 5-on-5 line was the Henrik Zetterberg line, and Zetterberg and linemate Anthony Mantha connected for the tying goal early in the third. Mantha and Zetterberg were 2-on-2 against Kuznetsov and Nate Schmidt. Mantha sent a pass in behind Kuznetsov for Zetterberg, who took the puck, held it moving across the crease, and put a backhander past Holtby.
- The Caps took the lead back less than three minutes later after strong shift from the fourth line. Jay Beagle, Daniel Winnik, and Tom Wilson spent a shift on the offensive zone, and starting going for line changes. Eventually, Backstrom held the puck in, T.J. Oshie stole the puck from a tired DeKeyser and passed to John Carlson, and Carlson fired a one-timer past Mrazek.
- The pace and style of the game seemed to suit Kuznetsov, who was able to generate chances for himself and others. He had one particularly dominant shift right after Carlson’s goal, with two great chances for himself and a cross-seam pass to set up Johansson for a good chance. Williams also had a fabulous chance on that shift, alone in the low slot, set up by Nate Schmidt.
- Oshie added a power play goal from his “office” in the slot ten minutes after Carlson’s goal, and Backstrom added an empty net goal late in the third. With his three points, Backstrom pulled north of a point per game this year and one point away from 700.
This game really seemed to suit the Caps. It was slow and not terribly exciting, and they dominated. Washington used its skill and speed to control the puck and patiently create opportunities offensively while preventing Detroit (17 SOG) from generating any sort of sustained pressure.
The Caps haven’t locked up the division or the President’s Trophy just yet, but with the way things are going, it’s hard to imagine this being in question for much longer. The team is on pace for 122 points. That’s about nine better than Columbus or Pittsburgh, and five ahead of Minnesota. With 30 games or fewer remaining, that’s a lot.