Welcome back to the Morning After, your home for Washington Capitals game analysis.
GAME 17: CAPITALS 5, DEVILS 1 (6-10-1, 13 points, 5th in Southeast, 14th in East)
In so many ways, it was a victory the Caps needed. They got scoring from their captain, their highest-paid player and their only true goal-scorer. They got solid goaltending from Braden Holtby and a defense that didn’t break down.
“I think the games that we won, we’re 20 guys that win,” center Mike Ribeiro said. “It’s not one line or two, it’s everyone working hard. When everyone does that, well, that’s what happens: We win the games.”
The victory lifted the Caps out of last place in the Eastern Conference and gave them at least something to feel good about with a couple of days before hosting the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night.
Standings fluctuation changed things, but at the time it was their first victory over a team in the top eight in the East. Previously the Caps were 0-8-1.
“I think it’s a big win. It’s more about our play in the third period,” Holtby said. “That’s a big, big part. We weren’t happy how we played last game against Jersey in the third and you can tell, the guys, they took it upon themselves to make sure that that didn’t happen again.”
The Caps outscored the New Jersey Devils 4-0 in the third period, their most dominant 20 minutes of the season. Once Alex Ovechkin scored his second of three, his teammates upped the ante instead of letting down.
“It’s easier to play with the lead,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “I mean we showed our desperation, I think. And we really needed this win, and Ovi gave us the lead there again. So that was big for us. And then we just kept playing from that in the third period.”
The end result was a blowout victory, and this time not just against the lowly Florida Panthers. The Devils are the defending conference champions and led the Atlantic Division until Saturday.
That the Caps were able to pile up goals and pull away should help from a confidence standpoint.
“I don’t think it’s more the 5-1. I think it’s more the way we played and the way we stick with the game plan and didn’t deviate from it and just stayed with it,” Ribeiro said. “Even when they scored the goal at the end of the period we didn’t come out flat. We just chip it out, chip it in, that’s the name of the game now. And I think if you create less turnovers, you have a better chance to win.”
Talk to Caps players and they’ll tell you they’ve been on the right track for several games now.
“We’ve been there since last seven games,” Ovechkin said. “We get results, three game winning streak and we lose two. We get the lead and after that we just stop playing and make stupid decisions. We have to be focused whole 60 minutes it’s going to take us 60 minutes to win the game.”
This is the same Devils team that the Caps had a good chance to beat Thursday night. So, what was the difference Saturday?
“We stayed out of the box. We stayed out of the box,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “We had a couple penalties where we flipped the puck over the glass that we might need to tidy up a little bit but we stayed out of the box, we gave ourselves an opportunity to win that way.”
Four minor penalties, including two more delay of game calls for flipping the puck over the glass, weren’t great, but it was a far cry from five in less than eight minutes Thursday.
Plus, the penalty kill has been good, making opponents come up empty on 21 of the past 23 power plays.
It also doesn’t hurt when the power play is clicking like this. Two-for-three Saturday and 8 for the past 17.
“It feels good. We’re moving the puck good,” Backstrom said. “We have a lot of options. And obviously we’ve got three real good snipers.”
Ovechkin sets the tone there, too, even if only one of his three goals came on the power play. He also set up Brouwer for his fourth point of the afternoon.
“We need our specialty teams to score and he’s our best player and when he’s leading the charge on that, it gives us all a boost,” forward Eric Fehr said.
Fehr’s short-handed goal in the third period gave the Caps a big boost, too. Playing on the penalty kill for the past five games, the big 27-year-old has taken to the new role.
But this was the first shorty of his career. He took advantage of Devils goaltender Johan Hedberg’s puck-handling blunder behind the net and put the puck into an empty net.
The goal made it 3-1.
“We needed an extra insurance goal there,” Fehr said. “We’ve had a little bit of trouble holding leads in the last couple games, so that was big for us to get a bigger lead and we can keep playing the way we needed to play.”
Coach Adam Oates said it was big partially because it was unexpected.
“Great move by him, and he’s been playing well and that’s why he’s out there,” Oates said. “He makes a big play for us. Obviously a two-goal cushion is big.”
Sometimes the net could be an ocean and the puck wouldn’t go in from the beach. That was Wojtek Wolski on Saturday, as he missed a wide-open net from the crease.
Wolski hasn’t scored a goal since Feb. 1 vs the Philadelphia Flyers, 10 games ago.
“You feel for everybody. I went through it. Every guy goes through it,” Oates said. “It’s tough. He knows the score. He was in the right spot. It bounced off him right perfect. Its just one of those, I’m sure he’s gonna have a little nightmare tonight. But he’s doing good things and it’ll come.”
Oates demoted Wolski to the third line for Saturday’s game. It almost paid dividends.
“I would have looked like a genius if that went in though, right?” Oates said.