The Washington Capitals and Minnesota Wild faced off Sunday night — and while these two teams had not played each other yet this season, and no prior animus existed (that we know of), we still got a wild, back-and-forth hockey game with 34 total minutes of penalties and a vicious fight.
But the Capitals came out on top, getting a critical two points to stay on top of the division.
Plus: Braden Holtby was excellent again, making 37 saves in the victory as he continues to recover from his mediocre play earlier in the season. After three straight losses, Braden now has three straight wins.
Minus: The defense that required Holtby to make 37 saves. Holtby had little help on the goals-against and he bailed his d-man out on other occasions, as the Wild pummeled 17 shots on net in the 3rd period. The Capitals mixed up their blue line once again... and it did not go to plan.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The Michal Kempny-Dmitry Orlov pair got off to a terrible start. Capitals head coach Todd Reirden scratched Radko Gudas, who has been turning the puck over with aplomb lately, which made Orlov, a left shot, play on his off side. That was not the issue. Instead, Kempny, who has struggled all year after coming back from injury, was the problem early and often. First, the Czech defenseman turned the puck over with a crisp pass from the point to the opposing Ryan Suter, who sprung Ryan Donato, who promptly blitzed the backchecking Kempny. Even after Donato lost the puck on his first attempt on net, Kempny over-skated the ensuing play, allowing Donato to collect the puck and bank it off Holtby and in. Three awful defense plays in eights seconds. Impressive.
- Kempny’s Rough Night: The Sequel: #6 continued to play poorly throughout the game; he was also nowhere to be found on Kevin Fiala’s power play tally, spotting the Wild’s best offensive player a good 10 yards for no good reason. Brenden Dillon’s fighting major soon after probably saved Kempny a benching in the 2nd period.
- And Kempny’s Rough Night, Part 3: After the Capitals regained their two-goal cushion in the final frame, Kempny inexplicably fell on a Wild player, earning himself another mention here and giving the Wild a power play. They converted, making the latter minutes of the game unnecessarily stressful for Washington.
- Alex Ovechkin hammered home career goal number 703 on a one-timer from the circle on a five-on-three power play. This one will require forensic analysis: Backstrom to Carlson to Ovechkin, smash.
- More Russians, more fun. Ovechkin added another one-time goal just under four minutes later, wrapping up a quick three-goal blitz by the Caps. Ilya Kovalchuk shuffled a backhanded pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov, who fed the puck cross-ice to an open Ovechkin, who once again did what an open Ovi does: smash the puck on a one-timer and put it past the goalie. (Shout out to Kovalchuk on his first point as a Capital, as well.)
- Here are some fun Ovechkin goal facts. Ovechkin has more goals per game against the Wild than any other team in the league: 17 tallies in 17 contests (that’s an average of one goal per game, nerds). Ovechkin has also scored 11 goals on March 1, tied with January 31 for most goals Ovi has on calendar day in his career.
- Reirden seemed to enjoy the look of the Russian trio and put them together at various points later in the game, as well. When he joined the Capitals last weekend, Kovalchuk was asked how he’d handle being bumped down to the bottom-six with Washington. “We’ll see,” Kovalchuk responded. “It’s all depends on how I play. If I play well, I might become the first-line player.” Sunday night, Kovalchuk proved he may have a higher ceiling than originally expected when the Caps sent Montreal a third-round pick for his services.
- One player benefiting from being bumped down in the lineup is Richard Panik. After a stale offensive showing for the first half of the season on the third line, Panik has his second point in three games since getting put on the fourth line, beating Stalock with an excellent wrist shot.
- Former fourth-liner, now big-timer, Tom Wilson is also hot on the first line. Wilson has scored in four of his last six games and has a total of 21 goals this season. He had 22 all of last season.
- The Capitals have been the league’s best road team this season with a 21-10-1 record, largely because when they’ve been on their game, they play a simpler style with fewer turnovers and adventures in their own zone. Coming into Sunday’s game, however, they had lost four in a row on the road. While the win over the Wild was hardly clean and simple, especially late, it was a victory.
Sunday’s game was odd from the start with its nasty, wide-open feel that seemed almost playoff-esque. The big boys and the man in net were able to save the game for Washington, giving them a three point lead in the Metropolitan Division on the Philadelphia Flyers. The Capitals return home to face Philly Wednesday. It’s a big one.