Here we are again.
The Washington Capitals returned to their winning ways on Sunday evening, knocking off the Minnesota Wild inside Verizon Center by a final score of 3-0. Jason Chimera, Mathieu Perreault, and Alex Ovechkin all scored for the Capitals, who are now back in eighth place in the Eastern Conference after falling out of the playoff picture Saturday while sitting idle.
Braden Holtby was superb, as he was in his last start, making 28 saves for his third career shutout to earn the victory.
“I’m very happy,” said coach Dale 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.”
In fact, it was almost entirely due to Holtby’s play at the beginning of the game that enabled Washington to get these two points. Despite playing the night before and being out of the playoff race, the Wild completely outplayed their opponents in the first period. They were owning possession of the puck despite being one of the NHL’s worst puck possession clubs, and had the Caps on their heels.
In addition, both Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green committed egregious turnovers while exiting their own zone, forcing the second-year goalie into some very nice saves. It was the play of Holtby that kept the game scoreless after twenty minutes.
In the second period, however, the tide of the game began to turn. Minnesota would get their chances early in the frame, but by the five minute mark, it was the Capitals who were getting the majority of the opportunities to score the game’s first goal. Finally, with just under 10 minutes remaining in the period, Jason Chimera finished off a two-on-one with Alex Semin, extending his career-high goal total to 19.
“It looked like the Harlem Globetrotters out there,” joked Chimera after the game. “I didn’t know where to go.”
Soon after that goal from Chimera, the Capitals got a break when the Wild were called for delay of game after apparently shooting the puck over the glass without a deflection. Video replay showed that the puck actually deflected off Mike Knuble before going over the glass. Immediately, it looked as though the hockey gods were going to pay the Capitals back for their good fortune. The Wild got a shorthanded rush that was only prevented by a magnificent defensive play by Ovechkin (seriously), who skated all the way back and slid to stop the goal.
“It was like he was playing defense his whole life,” said Hunter.
After Ovechkin’s play, you could feel that the Caps were going to double their advantage, and in short order they did, as Mathieu Perreault converted a Troy Brouwer feed in front to give Washington some breathing room against the NHL’s lowest-scoring road team. The goal was the final marker in a ten minute section that was completely dominated by the Caps, and it gave them a chance to redeem themselves following a collapse Friday night against the Jets.
There was never much doubt in the third period, as Hunter learned his lesson from that debacle against Winnipeg, at least for one game. The Capitals continued to press, rolling their top guys, and at the head of the charge was Ovechkin, who played eight more minutes in this game than he did on Friday.
“I played him a lot; with one less forward,” Hunter said. "But I watched on the bench and he seemed fresh every time I put him on, so he had [a] good jump tonight and he showed it on the ice.”
Ovechkin added to his goal total at the 8:31 mark of the final frame, shooting through a defenseman’s legs for his ninth goal in seven games; Ovechkin is now tied for fourth in the NHL in goal scoring. The marker gave the Capitals a 3-0 lead and put the game on deep freeze; they cruised down the final eleven minutes and change to pick up two points.
Here we are again.
The Capitals have once again rebounded from a tough stretch with a convincing win at home against an undermanned, tired, and poor team missing some of their best players. Again, perspective is important. The Capitals have the biggest regular season game they’ve had in four years on Tuesday night, matching up against a Sabres team they are even with in terms of standings points but are ahead of in the standings because of a tiebreaker.
Even after that game, there’s more work to be done, regardless of the result. It’s a fact of being an NHL team, especially one with an inexperienced coach: you have to make constant adjustments and you can’t get too high.
The road is still long. But for one night at least, as been the theme lately, it’s good to enjoy a win.
Harry Hawkings is a college student who covers the Caps for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here for all your Caps needs.