Taking Down The Top Dog – Since opening the season with seven straight wins, the Washington Capitals have been in one-step-forward, one-and-a-half-steps-backward mode. With their 4-1 win over the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers at Verizon Center on Wednesday night, the Caps have taken another of those steps forward.
On the heels of a bad beat in Buffalo on Monday, the Caps came out with verve on Wednesday against the Blueshirts, who hauled a five-game winning streak with them into the District.
Washington was down 1-0 in the first minute of play, 2-0 before it registered its first shot on net, and down 4-0 after the game’s first 20 minutes on Monday against the Sabres.
The Caps struck first against New York, going up 1-0 when Marcus Johansson tapped home a rebound for his first goal since Nov. 11 at 8:18 of the first.
Washington’s penalty kill kept things even at 1-1 until Troy Brouwer tallied his 10th of the season midway through the second, a goal that proved to be the game-winner. Alexander Semin scored one in the second and another in the third to salt the game away.
“Getting the first goal and getting the lead is huge in this league,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter. “We came out playing the right way and the guys put together a good 60 minutes.”
Making his first start since Dec. 13, Tomas Vokoun was stellar from the start. He stopped 31 of the 32 shots he faced and has now stopped 47 of the last 49 shots (.959 save pct.) he has faced, including a relief effort in Buffalo on Monday.
“It was a very important game for us,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “[Vokoun] did an unbelievable job today. He kept us in the game in the first period. All of us did a good job offensively and in the neutral zone too.”
Fast start, check. Great goaltending, check. Tenacious defense, check. Consistent forecheck, check. Physicality, check. All-around team effort and involvement, check. Best players playing very well, check.
The Caps might want to bottle this formula and use it more than occasionally over the season’s final 47 games and even into the playoffs. It worked against one of the beasts of the East, and a team that had Washington’s number for the last 12 months, at least during the regular season. It might work on some of those other NHL clubs out there, too.
“It is nice to get a win,” says Vokoun. “We played with a lot of emotion today and guys battled back hard, especially on the penalty kill and all around. We executed the game plan we had; we wanted to be physical and play simple hockey. We did that for the most part. When we do that, we are usually successful.”
Home Killing – The Capitals’ penalty-killing corps was top notch tonight, successfully snuffing all five New York power plays. The Rangers had eight of their 32 shots on goal for the game during the 10 minutes in which they enjoyed the man advantage.
“It’s just commitment by the guys, blocking shots,” says Hunter. “You saw the blocked shots out there. The puck does hurt and they committed to it and that’s why we killed two off late. They had a good power play and good players on it, but you saw guys going down and blocking shots and that’s commitment to win.”
Tonight’s game was the seventh straight home game in which Washington was perfect on the penalty kill. The Caps have not allowed a power play goal at Verizon Center in more than a month, since the Rangers went 1-for-5 with the extra man here in a 6-3 win on Nov. 25.
Water In The Desert – With two assists tonight, Ovechkin notched his first multiple-point game since Nov. 4 at Carolina. He had gone 23 straight games without recording more than one point, the longest such streak of his seven-year NHL career. Ovechkin had streaks of 13 games without multiple points in both 2006-07 and 2010-11.
No Six Pack – The Rangers poured 15 of their 32 shots on goal for the game at Vokoun in the game’s third period. Until then, it looked as though the Caps were headed for a sixth straight game in which both teams had fewer than 30 shots on goal. As it was, the streak was halted at five. It’s the first time the Caps had played five straight games where both teams were limited to fewer than 30 shots on net since Feb. 27-March 7, 2004.
Not Up In Here – The Rangers had won four straight games against Washington, outscoring the Capitals by a combined 20-4 in the process. Since Washington entered the NHL as an expansion team in 1974-75, the Rangers had never won as many as five straight games against the Capitals.
They still haven’t.
Laying Out – The two teams combined for 38 blocked shots on the night, 20 for the Capitals and 18 for the Rangers. Eight different Capitals and a dozen different Rangers were credited with at least one blocked shot in the contest.
Roman Hamrlik led the way for Washington with five; Karl Alzner had four for the Capitals.
New York captain Ryan Callahan led his team with four blocked shots, all of them in the first period. One of Callahan’s blocks fueled a 2-on-1 breakout with Ryan Dubinsky coming down the left side and John Mitchell cruising down the right. Dubinsky elected to shoot, and he sniped one past Vokoun for what proved to be the Blueshirts’ only tally of the night.
Helping Hands – Alzner picked up his 10th assist of the season on Semin’s third-period goal. Alzner had a career-high 10 assists last season in 82 games; he has matched that in just 35 contests in 2011-12.
Down On The Farm – A night after the AHL Hershey Bears pounded the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 6-0 in their own barn, the two clubs reconvened at Giant Center in Hershey on Wednesday night. Hershey came up on the short end of that one, 6-5 in the skills competition.
The Bears led 2-1 in the second and 5-3 midway through the third, but were unable to close the deal. Ryan Potulny had a goal and two assists and Keith Aucoin had three helpers for Hershey. Cody Eakin and Chris Bourque each had a goal and an assist. Graham Mink and Tomas Kundratek supplied the other strikes for Hershey.
The Bears’ lethal power play accounted for four goals on the night, but also permitted a shorthanded strike from the Baby Pens.
Dany Sabourin stopped 30 of the 35 shots he faced in the Hershey nets.
At 18-8-3-3, the Bears occupy the top spot in the AHL’s East Division, three points ahead of Norfolk and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays took to the road for a second straight night. The Rays dropped a 2-0 decision in Greenville on Tuesday, and they headed for Gwinnett on Wednesday. For the second straight night, the Stingrays found themselves on the short end of a shutout loss, this one a 3-0 decision.
Philipp Grubauer stopped 34 of the 37 shots he faced in the South Carolina nets. The 15-14-1-1 Stingrays have dropped to a third-place tie with Florida in the ECHL’s South Division, seven points behind front-running Gwinnett.
By The Numbers – Dennis Wideman led the Caps with 25:47 in ice time. Nicklas Backstrom led all Caps forwards with 22:19 … Semin led the Caps with four shots on net … Ovechkin and Matt Hendricks led the Capitals with four hits each. Hendricks accomplished his body work in just 6:44 of ice time on the night … Ten different Rangers took at least one face-off on the night … Ryan McDonagh paced the Blueshirts with 25:17 in ice time … Callahan led the Rangers with five hits.