After a sloppy and somewhat disappointing overtime loss Tuesday night, the Caps headed to Columbus for their first meeting of the season with their Metro division rivals, the Blue Jackets. With some shuffled lines and without Nic Dowd, who stayed back with his family to celebrate the birth of his second child (congrats, Dowder!!), they looked to get back on track against a spiraling Jackets team missing plenty of big pieces of their own.
Here’s how the Capitals lined up tonight:
#Caps' lines/pairs in Columbus:— Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) January 5, 2023
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 73-Sheary
15-Milano, 17-Strome, 77-Oshie
90-Johansson, 20-Eller, 96-Aube-Kubel
39-Mantha, 59-Protas, 21-Hathaway
56-Gustafsson, 57-van Riemsdyk
Kuemper vs. Merzlikins.
Here’s Thursday night’s Plus/Minus:
Plus: Nice to see Oshie get on the board with a scrappy two goals, and a reminder that he makes the power play so much more lethal.
Minus: Only two goals given up by Kuemper, but one of them was... not great (and neither was the thankfully waved-off third goal).
And now, this cooldown for ESPN’s Emily Kaplan, courtesy of #92 in white:
A few more thoughts on tonight’s game:
- A bit of a messy start for the Caps put them behind the eight-ball again, as Johnny Gaudreau snapped a 9-game goalless streak about five minutes into the first to put Columbus up 1-0. A bad turnover in the defensive zone by Nicolas Aube-Kubel ended up on the stick of exactly the wrong person, and Gaudreau made the Caps pay.
- The Jackets’ early goal may not have come about by way of an odd-man rush, but they had plenty of chances to add to their score using that method, as the Caps spent much of the first half of the first period being outnumbered heading into their own zone. Not exactly the tight defense we’ve come to expect from this team.
- Of course, this is still Columbus - so despite a lengthy stretch that saw multiple odd-man rushes, the total shot attempts registered by the Jackets over a 10-ish minute stretch after their goal? 0. That’ll do.
- The Caps dodged a bullet to start the second period as yet another rush attempt clanged off the crossbar behind Darcy Kuemper just a minute in, a product of some early pressure.
- From narrowly missing being down 2-0, to a tied game thanks to T.J. Oshie about a minute later - and it was a prototypical Oshie goal, scored thanks to some feisty net-front presence, quick reflexes, and a little help from Lady Luck.
- A hooking call on Evgeny Kuznetsov would put the Caps shorthanded in the game’s first penalty. Some excellent work by the team’s penalty-killers not only negated the league’s second-worst power play but also got a couple of chances of their own, with arguably the two best chances of the minor going to the good guys.
- Penalty killed, the Caps went back on the attack - and it was Aube-Kubel picking up a barely cleared puck outside the Columbus zone and bringing it in on net to put the Caps up 2-1. That’s a pretty good way to make up for that first-period turnover, NAK.
- Unfortunately just as the Caps seemed to have the momentum, a rough defensive shift by Nick Jensen resulted in what could only be termed a “questionable” goal given up by Darcy Kuemper by Gavin Bayreuther. Who is allegedly a player in the NHL. Tie game.
- Not for long, though, as the Caps scored perhaps the most bizarre goal they’ve gotten of the year, thanks to Martin Fehervary’s... er, head-strong nature:
- Less than two minutes later, the Caps extended their lead to two with a nice sequence of offensive zone pressure, a pretty pass from fourth-liner Anthony Mantha and an on-target shot past a down-and-out Elvis Merzlikins by Garnet Hathaway to put the team up 4-2.
- The second period dominance continues for the Caps.
By my admittedly quick -- and frequently faulty -- math, #Caps have now scored at least one 2nd period goal in 15 straight games, starting 12/5 at EDM. They've outscored opposition by combined 30-10 in the middle frame of those games.— Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) January 6, 2023
- The Blue Jackets - that Bayreuther dude again - appeared to make it 4-3 about five minutes into the third period (on a shot that, let’s be honest, Darcy needed to have again). But a successful offside challenge by Laviolette negated the strike and kept the two-goal lead intact.
- It would take exactly 46 minutes of game time but the Caps finally earned their first power play of the night on a near-knee-on-knee collision between Hathaway and Columbus’s Tim Berni that sent Berni to the box for two. On the man-advantage that followed, a failed clearing attempt by CBJ (and perhaps a lucky non-call on the Caps?) eventually found T.J. Oshie, who buried a rebound in front to make it 5-2.
- Hey, congrats to Dylan Strome!
Dylan Strome recorded his second assist of the game on Oshie's power play goal, marking his 200th career point. With two assists tonight, Strome has registered his seventh multi-point game of the season.— CapitalsPR (@CapitalsPR) January 6, 2023
- The Caps would get another shot with the extra man a few minutes later, and another pretty pass by Dylan Strome (for career point #201) would set up - who else? - Alex Ovechkin. 809. Nice to see both Ovechkin and Oshie score from their respective power-play offices tonight.
Was it the prettiest win of the season? Perhaps not. But after falling behind early, the Caps largely took over this game - and thanks to some timely scoring, some strong special teams and Alex Ovechkin doing his Ovechkin thing, they take the two points.
Right back at it tomorrow as they head home to face the Nashville Predators.