Not every game has to be a masterpiece. That probably goes without saying when the Toronto Maple Leafs are involved, and even the Washington Capitals have struggled putting together pretty performances.
But Sunday didn’t have to be pretty. It was the second half of a travel-filled back-to-back for both teams, and the Capitals managed to pick up a couple of valuable points with a 2-0 victory at Verizon Center.
“We didn’t really give them anything. They had a few chances but nothing crazy, and I think we got them to the outside a lot, and we took their speed away,” center Mathieu Perreault said. “They’ve got a lot of speed, and we took that away from them tonight, and I thought we played a good, solid team effort tonight.”
Washington stayed one point back of the Southeast Division lead because the Florida Panthers also won. But most importantly, this one solidified the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference just a little bit more.
Coach Dale Hunter didn’t even know for sure that Florida had won, and players didn’t seem to pay it much mind.
“You just win. Who cares who’s playing; you just win your own games, and you’ll be fine. That’s the way I look at it,” right wing Joel Ward said. “Win your own games and you’ll be in. That’s the bottom line.”
That’s what Washington needed right now: Points by any means necessary. The means Sunday came in beating up on a hapless Maple Leafs group that has just two victories in its past 16 games.
A coaching change from Ron Wilson to Randy Carlyle hasn’t been enough to offset a tailspin caused by porous goaltending, injuries and ill-timed turnovers.
But it’s not the Capitals’ job to apologize for beating a bad team. This was a team just taking care of business.
“They always battle hard. … It’s a good team,” Ward said. “Any given night, anything can happen and we’re fortunate just get two points today and just taking pride in a couple areas to help win this game.
And they did so not by dominating but by being opportunistic.
When the Maple Leafs tried a drop pass that Brooks Laich anticipated, he turned it into just Washington’s third short-handed goal of the year. He said he saw Toronto do it against Philadelphia on Saturday night, and assistant coaches Dean Evason and Blaine Forsythe put that into the team’s pre-scouting video.
Then, after clinging to a one-goal lead for a long stretch, Perreault was the beneficiary of Alexander Semin’s nifty moves. The rebound goal gave the Capitals more than enough wiggle room.
Victories like this might be all the insurance they need to get into the playoffs. Washington has a four-point lead on the field for the eighth spot; it has the same number of games as the Winnipeg Jets and Buffalo Sabres and has 76 points to those teams’ 72.
“It’s huge. We don’t really want to look at other teams. We’d rather focus on what on what we do,” Perreault said. “For sure, we’ve got to look at it a little bit, but if we keep winning games like that, we don’t have to worry about anything, really, just to get into the playoffs. We worry about ourselves more than anything else.”
With five consecutive road games looming, and not easy ones, it didn’t matter that this victory wasn’t the picture of efficiency. It was better than that because it was necessary.
“We came out strong, and we played consistent for the entire game,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “Extremely disciplined, which was nice. And we just played a simple game.”