Making The Points – Washington has been underwhelming on home ice of late. Coming into Sunday’s game against the lowly Minnesota Wild, the Capitals had won just six of their last 14 games (6-5-3) at Verizon Center despite the fact that nine of those last 14 visitors had been below the Caps in the standings when they got to the District.
But with time running out on the season, the Caps sitting in ninth place to start the day, and the Wild playing their second game in as many nights, Sunday’s game was one that Washington simply had to have. And the Caps got it.
Goaltender Braden Holtby made 28 saves to notch his first NHL shutout of the season and the third of his NHL career, and Washington got goals from Jason Chimera, Mathieu Perreault and Alex Ovechkin. It all added up to a 3-0 win the slid the Caps back into an eighth-place tie with the Buffalo Sabres and sets up a huge game between Washington and Buffalo at Verizon Center on Tuesday.
After the two teams skated through a rather listless first period, Chimera took a sublime feed from Alexander Semin on a 2-on-1 break and tapped it past Wild goaltender Matt Hackett to give Holtby and the Caps all the offense they’d require on this night.
Perreault scored on a power play later in the second and Ovechkin kept his hot streak going with an insurance marker in the third.
Hot Hands – Ovechkin’s goal was his 36th of the season and his ninth in the last seven games. He is now tied for fourth in the NHL in goals. Ovechkin also added an assist on Perreault’s goal, and he is one point away from cracking the NHL’s top 30 in scoring.
Riding The Horse – Ovechkin skated just 18:51 in Friday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets but with just 11 forwards (and seven defensemen) dressed for Sunday’s game, Ovechkin was frequently double-shifted. He logged 18:48 in the first two periods against the Wild, including 10:01 in a first period that included two Washington power plays.
Ovechkin finished the night with a team-high of 26:19 in ice time, his second-highest single-game total of the 2011-12 season. He skated 26:45 in a 5-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks at Verizon Center on Feb. 13.
Ovechkin logged 5:49 more than any other forward on either club in Sunday’s game. Minnesota’s Mikko Koivu skated 20:30, tops among all Wild forwards.
“I played him a lot tonight with one less forward [in the lineup],” says Caps coach Dale Hunter. “I watch on the bench and he seemed fresh every time I put him on. He had good jump tonight, and he showed it on the ice.”
Ovechkin accounted for 14 of Washington’s 49 shot attempts on the night. The Caps captain paced his team with five shots on net. He also had six shots blocked and missed the net three times.
The Caps’ captain also made a great backcheck on a 2-on-1 against while Washington was on the power play to thwart a prime Minnesota scoring chance.
Holding Up His End – Holtby was recalled from AHL Hershey a week ago, after Tomas Vokoun came up with a lower body injury from his last start in Winnipeg on March 16. In starting three of Washington’s four games this week, Holtby helped the Caps earn five of a possible six points. We was 2-0-1 in his three starts, posting a 1.30 GAA and a .955 save pct. in the process. The Caps have been in need of some stellar goaltending during their drive for the playoffs, and Holtby has delivered.
“If I get the opportunity, I want to play hard and win games,” says Holtby. “And obviously this time of year, with the way the standings are, it doesn’t matter who is in goal; it doesn’t matter the reasons. We need wins and we got one tonight.”
“I’m really happy with him,” says Hunter of Holtby. “He’s a battler. You see him handle the puck; I think he really helps our [defense] a lot in making decisions. It’s always a risk/reward thing when goalies leave their net, and he does it very well.”
Career Year – Chimera added to his single-season career high in tallying for the 19th time this season, and he took over second place on the club in goals behind Ovechkin.
The goal was Chimera’s 37th point of the season, one more than his previous single-season career best of 36 established in 2006-07 when he was a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
PPG For Matty P. – Perreault’s goal on Sunday came while Washington was on the power play, courtesy a strong set-up from Troy Brouwer. It was Perreault’s second straight power-play goal; his last tally came while the Caps had the extra-man in Winnipeg on March 16. That power play goal against the Jets’ was Perreault’s first extra-man strike in more than a year (since Dec. 19, 2010), and his second of this season, a single-season career high in the NHL.
Three Of A Kind – Holtby joins Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth as the third Washington goaltender to notch a shutout this season. It’s the fifth time in Washington’s 37-season NHL history – and the second season in a row – in which the Caps have gotten shutouts from three different netminders.
Flawless Firsts – Obviously, the Caps held the Wild without a goal in the first period of today’s game, marking the fourth straight game in which Washington has shutout the opposition in the first period, matching a season high.
The only other time the Caps went four straight games without allowing a goal in the first frame was from Dec 30-Jan. 7.
National Disaster No More – Sunday’s game was the 13th time this season the Caps were featured on national television. The win in front of a national television audience was the team’s first since Jan. 11, ending an eight-game losing streak.
The Caps are now 5-6-2 on national television this season. They won four straight to start the season, and were on an 0-6-2 skid before tonight.
Bad Math – With tonight’s loss in Washington, the Wild were mathematically eliminated from all hope of reaching the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears won a 3-2 shootout decision over the Charlotte Checkers at Giant Center on Sunday night.
Hershey got goals from Ryan Potulny and Cody Eakin to rebound from a 2-0 second-period deficit. Bears goaltender Dany Sabourin stopped 35 of 37 shots in regulation and three of five in the shootout to help Hershey to victory.
The surging Bears are now 6-0-0-1 in their last seven games, and they’ve pulled to within a single point of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the Eastern Conference standings. The Bears have a game in hand on the Baby Pens, who currently occupy fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
By The Numbers –Dennis Wideman led all Caps defensemen with 23:53 in ice time … Matt Hendricks paced the team with seven hits … Mike Knuble and Roman Hamrlik led the Caps with four blocked shots each … Perreault won seven of 10 (70%) draws … John Carlson skated just 11:17 on the night, his lowest ice time total in nearly two years. He did pick up an assist on Ovechkin’s goal, his first point in nine games … The Capitals were charged with 20 giveaways to just five for Minnesota … Washington finished the season with an 8-10 mark against Western Conference opponents.