Leading Men – For the first time in nine games and a span of 23 days, the Washington Capitals scored the game’s first goal and took a lead to the locker room after the game’s first 20 minutes.
The end result was positive as the Caps skated away with a 2-1 win over the Islanders in New York.
Heading into tonight’s game with the Islanders, the Capitals had held a lead in only three of their previous seven games, and never for longer than 12 minutes in any one contest.
Of the 426 minutes and 52 seconds of hockey they played in their prior seven games, the Capitals held a lead for just 21 minutes and 18 seconds.
“It was a different situation where we didn’t have to come from behind,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, “but people will complain that we only got two goals and we didn’t go for offense anyway. But I thought it was a great shutdown third period. We knew we would have to score on their turnovers or something else but I think when you kill six penalties and you keep doing the right things of getting it deep, getting it deep and all of those things and you end up successful. You get one or two good saves and you’re going to be good. I’m really proud of the way we held the fort today.”
Jason Chimera’s goal at 3:41 of the first period gave the Capitals a first-period lead for just the second time in the team’s last nine games. Nicklas Backstrom skated the puck through neutral ice, then juked a defender at the New York line. He left a pass for Alex Ovechkin, who continued into the zone and looked toward the net where Chimera was parked at the top of the paint.
A perfect slap-pass later, the Caps owned a 1-0 lead.
“I just went to the net,” says Chimera. “Ovi made a great pass. It was right on my tape and I just kind of directed it in.”
Washington killed off a pair of first-period power plays to take that 1-0 lead into the middle frame.
Backstrom scored at 3:38 of the second to double the Caps’ lead. He set up Ovechkin, who drove the net and fired a shot that Isles goalie Rick DiPietro kicked out with his pad. Backstrom pounced on the rebound to make it 2-0.
Less than two minutes later, New York’s Michael Grabner used his considerable speed to dart down the left wing and carve toward the cage. He beat Washington goaltender Braden Holtby high to the glove side to make it 2-1.
The Caps had to kill two more New York power plays in the second and another pair in the third.
When it mattered the most, the Caps limited the Isles to four even-strength shots on goal in the final frame.
Holtby, who was recalled from AHL Hershey on Thursday when Michal Neuvirth was sent back to Washington because of a lower body injury, made 24 stops to earn his third win. In his first NHL start since Nov. 22, Holtby was solid. His prior two starts both resulted in 5-0 losses for Washington.
“Obviously, I wanted to get back here and make a statement that that’s not usually how I play those last two games when I was up here,” says Holtby. “It happens pretty quick. When you’re down in Hershey you’re hoping for that break sometime to redeem yourself, but then two days later all of a sudden it’s there. You’ve got to be ready and I had luck on my side tonight, that’s for sure. I’m just happy to get the win.”
Having a lead helped Holtby as much as it did the Capitals on Thursday. Coming into Thursday’s game with the Islanders, Holtby had played 203 minutes between the pipes for Washington this season. The Capitals held the lead for exactly eight minutes and 42 seconds
“It really shows mental toughness,” says Boudreau, “because he’s coming off two games – the 5-0 Jersey game and the 5-0 Atlanta game – and then you go back to the minors and you say, ‘Geez, am I ever going to be able to play again?’ And he comes in here and confidence-wise, he looks at that and he goes, ‘Oh great, I know I can play in the NHL again.’ Because it happens all the time where you doubt yourself when you leave on a bad note. It was a great moment for him.”
Water In The Desert – Backstrom’s second-period goal was his 12th of the season and first in 22 games. His previous tally came on Dec. 1 in St. Louis when he struck twice in a 4-1 win over the Blues.
The scoring drought was the longest of Backstrom’s career, exceeding a 20-game drought from Jan. 19 through March 1, 2008.
Lettermen Line – The Caps’ top forward unit tonight was comprised of captain Alex Ovechkin and road alternate captains Backstrom and Chimera.
“I thought in the first period and a half when they were going they were going,” says Boudreau. “And I thought Nicky was going, especially. He was handling the puck and he was moving through the middle. And he not only won face-offs against a good face-off team, he was in good position all the time. That’s Nick Backstrom: two points, solid defense, plus-2. And Ovi [had] two assists, which was great and Chimera’s looking pretty good on that line.”
Helping Hands – Ovechkin had his sixth multiple-assist game of the season in Thursday’s game, and his first since Nov. 26 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Shots Down – The Caps were limited to fewer than 30 shots on goal for the fifth straight night. This marks the first time since before the lockout that Washington has gone as many as five straight games without reaching 30 shots on goal.
Washington went 10 straight games with fewer than 30 shots on goal from March 13-April 3, 2004.
Road Killers – The Caps killed off half a dozen New York power plays on the night. The Islanders had eight shots on net during their 12 minutes with the man advantage, and three of those came on their first extra-man chance of the evening.
“It was a bit different than what I’m used to,” says Holtby of facing half a dozen NHL power plays in a game. “In the AHL, it’s more just get it, shoot it and hope for a rebound or something. It’s pretty nice to see some good movement on that power play and playing against it makes it a lot of fun. Luckily, we had a bunch of huge blocks tonight and I think that was probably the reason why we won in the end.”
Washington blocked 20 shots on the night including nine in the third period and six while New York was on the power play. The Fishermen managed just 17 even-strength shots on goal for the game.
Newmarket Ties – As is the case with so many of the league’s head coaches, the newest one has a past history with Boudreau. Islanders bench boss Jack Capuano and Boudreau were minor league teammates with the AHL’s Newmarket Saints in 1988-89.
Boudreau, who turned 34 in the middle of that campaign, started the ’88-89 season with the Springfield Indians before coming over to Newmarket for the stretch run.
Capuano, who was a fifth-round draft choice (74th overall) of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft, played his collegiate hockey at the University of Maine was a first-year pro defenseman in 1988-89.
Capuano is one of three former Maine Black Bears who are now part of the Islanders braintrust. General manager Garth Snow was a Black Bears netminder from 1988-93 and Islanders’ goaltending coach Mike Dunham overlapped Snow’s tenure in Maine, playing there from 1990-93.
Super Soph – New York’s John Tavares leads the club with 18 goals, but he’s never netted one against Washington. The Caps are the only Eastern Conference club against which Tavares has yet to score.
By The Numbers – The Caps have now gone a dozen straight games without scoring more than three goals … Mike Green led the Caps with seven blocked shots and John Erskine, whose presence in the lineup was doubtful right up until game time, blocked four shots … Green also led all skaters on both sides with 27:40 in ice time … Matt Hendricks led the way with four hits, Blake Comeau led the Islanders with five hits … For the second straight game, Chimera fired half a dozen shots to lead the team. Only one other Cap (Green) had as many as three … Boyd Gordon won 12 of 14 face-offs (86%) … Gordon led all Washington forwards with 5:07 in shorthanded ice time. Jeff Schultz led all Caps defensemen with 5:14 in shorthanded ice time … New York’s Kyle Okposo skated 18:05 in his first game of the season. He was rusty shooting the puck; he got one shot on net while five were blocked and two more whistled wide.
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