Here’s Tuesday night’s Plus/Minus:
Plus: T.J. Oshie, Andre Burakovsky, and Chandler Stephenson had not scored in 51 total man-games. They combined for 4 goals tonight.
Minus: There were chants of “E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES” in Capital One Arena, in our own dojo!
And now, this...
Ten more notes on the game:
1. Philadelphia blew into Washington flying high, winners of 9 of their last 11 contests, and now just 3 points out of second place in the Metropolitan Division. Of course, they’re also just 2 points out of last place, because.....the Metro is weird. Taking two points from these aviary adversaries would be critical for the Caps.
2. And speaking of things that take a crap where you wish they wouldn’t, the Capitals had lost three straight games at home coming into Wednesday night. They had previously been rock-solid like good granite at Capital One Arena; could they right the ship in their own harbor against Philly?
3. One gloriously bright spot for Capitals fans: Evgeny Kuznetsov returned to the Caps’ lineup tonight after leaving last week’s game against the Panthers early with a lower-body injury. REJOICE! Kid Dynamite is back.
4. The Capitals came out of the gate looking rustier than our closest planetary neighbor, however, and it showed early on. Alex Ovechkin, pinched in at the boards, turned and slid a perfectly convenient pass to......Philadelphia’s Wayne Simmonds, who broke it the other way and found Nolan Patrick to make it 1-0 Flyers in the first two minutes.
5. Five minutes later, Philly’s Sean Couturier got loose like a bad rabbit, scampering across the blue line and towards Braden Holtby. Christian Djoos did his best to defend him, but Couturier turned him around twice and then muscled him into Holtby and dunked on him. Travis Konecny fired the puck into the newly open net, and the Flyers leapt out to an early 2-0 lead that would last until the first intermission.
6. In the second period, rookie and Saskatoon’s own Chandler Stephenson decided it was time to put away childish things and become a man. Lars Eller, “The Lartian” to his friends, noticed a tendency in goalie Michal Neuvirth’s habits, and threw the puck at an ultra-sharp angle along the goal line. It hit Neuvirth’s unstacked pads and died in the crease. An aware Stephenson crashed hard and knocked the puck into the back of the net to cut the lead to 2-1.
7. Less than one minute later, Stephenson was back! This time, Chand The Man got loose on a breakaway, and hit the forehand-backhand five-hole square dance that fooled Neuvirth and knotted the game at 2-2 for the Caps. Stephenson now has 4 goals on the season. Not bad when you double your yearly total in fifty-something seconds of work!
Said Stephenson of his first career two-goal night, “It felt pretty crazy...I just tried to get [Neuvirth] moving a little bit, saw a little opening, and kinda just closed my eyes and hoped for the best."
8. The Lartian wasn’t done yet, either! This time, from an equally sharp goal line angle, Eller slung a pass directly to the paddle of Andre Burakovsky’s waiting stick, where it caught a connecting flight to the back of the net. The Caps were staked to a 3-2 lead as the second period came to a close.
I asked Eller about his success from the sharp angles tonight, and whether he saw something in the Flyers that urged him to give it a shot. He said, “You always try to put pucks on net. Something good always happens when you put it on net. I made that decision even before I had the puck. On Burakovsky’s goal, it was really more of a set play. And, you know, it worked out.”
9. And that’s when the doors came off and the Capitals transformed into a Gundam fighting robot. T.J. Oshie - yes, you read that right - T.J. Oshie boomed true a one-timer from his usual slot spot on the power play, and his celly with arms upraised was one of pure, unbridled relief.
Said Oshie of his celebration, with a laugh, “Yeah, that was a little dramatic. I actually thought about that like ten games ago that I was gonna do that, and then ten games later, I finally got the chance.” He continued, “You want to be able to help the team, and sometimes you need a little confirmation by putting it in the back of the net. I think that’s what happened for me tonight.”
Four minutes later, at the halfway point of the third, Christian Djoos blasted a two-timing one-timer of his own that ricocheted off of Devante Smith-Pelly and in, making it 5-2 Washington.
10. Michal Neuvirth, The Boy Who Once Would Be King, was chased from the net by the onslaught, and backup Alex Lyon came on in relief. Philly’s Jakub Voracek got a consolation prize to make it 5-3 Washington, but that was all she wrote, and the Capitals walked away winners.
I asked Lars Eller what coach Barry Trotz said to the team in the locker room at the first intermission to get their play turned around so starkly. He told me, “We all knew we needed to be better, we didn’t play very well. And, he told us. But he didn’t need to.” Eller laughed. “Things worked out there in the second. It’s not too often you score two in one shift.”
The Caps stop their home skid at three games, and snatch two valuable points off the plate of their hated division rival. Not a bad night of work, boys. Next up is the Pittsburgh Penguins (boo, hiss) on Friday.