Thanks to some rescheduling, this was only the second set of back-to-back games the Caps have played so far this season - and it coincided with Ilya Samsonov being ready to step back into the net after a rough bout with COVID and a brief conditioning stint. After not playing in the NHL since January 17th, he returned with a big win.
Plus: Pretty much everything. The Capitals played a really strong game, getting timely goals and really shutting down a young, fast Devils team. It would have been nice to see a power-play goal, with New Jersey sporting the worst penalty kill in the league... but they’re just a week removed from a three-goal power-play outburst so perhaps that’s being nitpicky.
Minus: The first 5-10 minutes of the third. The Devils pushed hard over that span, and the Caps bent but didn’t break to hold on to their one-goal lead.
And now, this:
A few more notes on the game:
- Alex Ovechkin showed signs of coming to life early in this one, getting a two-on-one chance alongside Lars Eller that was stoned by Mackenzie Blackwood. He hasn’t been the scoring monster he usually is, but with a day like today with as many shot attempts as he had, you have to imagine he’ll go on a tear sooner rather than later.
- In his return to the NHL crease, it was clear that Ilya Samsonov (not surprisingly) has a LOT of rust to shake off. It resulted in a very weak goal midway through the first, although the replay shows that the shot ramped off of Dmitry Orlov, and New Jersey’s second goal wasn’t a highlight-reel shot either - but he also made some nice saves and held on to get the win. Onwards and upwards.
- Few Caps are deadlier off the rush than Jakub Vrana; his ability to go full speed and shoot while going at that speed is a powerful combo. That was on full display later in the first when he got a shot off jetting up the slot, then following up his rebound to tie the game at one.
- Early in the second, the Caps jumped out to the lead after the Devils turned it over in the neutral zone, sending the good guys the other way. Wilson was able to feed Backstrom for a tap-in goal to put the Caps up 2-1, one of two primary assists for #43 in what continues to be a very strong season.
- The Capitals can sometimes be too pass-focused, and they showed that in one 15-second span midway through the second period. Wilson was on a two-on-one with Vrana, and was actually in the slot in a great shooting position, but elected to try to pass it and failed to connect with Vrana. Seconds later, Ovechkin, Eller, and Sheary got a three-on-two rush and Eller again opted to pass - right into the skates of Sheary, resulting in exactly zero shots.
- As expected, the Devils came flying out of the gate in the third period, showing off their young legs going up against the oldest team in the league on the back half of back-to-back games. The Caps needed Samsonov to come up with some big saves to keep them in it, as they found themselves penned in their own zone a bit too often - and thankfully he was there to hold the lead.
- This one came right down to the last second, as Kyle Palmieri, staring at an open net, sent the puck into Carlson’s... hindquarters, deflecting up and over the net. Every save counts!
Overall it was a strong game by the Capitals, who have now won three in a row and are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games. They’ll need to continue that strong play with a pair in Boston waiting for them later this week, as first place in the division will be on the line.