After the opening home stand of the 2015-16 season, where the Washington Capitals had gone 4-1, the Caps faced a road trip to the Western Canadian cities of the NHL: Calgary, Vancouver, and Edmonton. In recent years, road trips to that particular part of North America have not been kind to the Caps, especially considering that both Edmonton and Calgary have generally struggled in recent years, although Calgary had made the playoffs last season. Moreover, the Caps have generally performed poorly in second games of back-to-back games.
The schedule started with the team going to Calgary on Tuesday Oct 20. After that, they played Vancouver on Oct 22 and concluded with Edmonton on Oct 23. This sounded like a brutal schedule, traveling to the Mountain Time Zone, then to the Pacific Time Zone, and back to the Mountain Time Zone. Fortunately for the Caps, this road trip proved more fruitful than past road trips through the region.
On the first day of the series (Oct 20), the Capitals played Calgary. Calgary got the opening goal about halfway through the first period. However, Andre Burakovsky scored the equalizer, with just under four minutes to go in the period. During the second period, the Caps took command of the game by scoring three goals. Early in the period, Alex Ovechkin scored to put the Caps ahead. Nicklas Backstrom and TJ Oshie both got goals in the middle of that same period, as the Caps opened up a 4-1 lead, and starting goalie Karri Ramo was removed from the game, in favor of Jonas Hiller. The final score ended up 6-2, with Backstrom having his second goal of the game and Jason Chimera adding one of his own. As of result of this lopsided loss, Calgary placed Karri Ramo on waivers and sent him to the minor leagues when he cleared. Admittedly, Ramo had not performed well in multiple games and Calgary already had a crowd in the goaltenders’ crease, with three goalies on their roster.
Two days later (Oct 22), the Capitals played in Vancouver, where they had not won since February 14, 2001. The game started off favorably for the Caps, with Jason Chimera opening the scoring, with assistance from Jay Beagle. The second period did not go well for the Caps, as Radim Vrbata tied up the game early in the period, breaking a personal goal scoring drought that had lasted since March of the previous season. Later in the period, Henrik Sedin scored a power play goal for the Canucks, with assists from his twin brother, Daniel, and Vrbata. Hence, the Canucks closed the period, with a 2-1 lead. The third period was much better for the Capitals. Jay Beagle scored the game tying goal, with assists from Marcus Johansson and John Carlson. With under five minutes to go in the game, Alex Ovechkin, who had had some great shots stopped by Canucks’ goalie, Ryan Miller earlier in the game, scored the go ahead goal, which proved to be the game winner and was the 81st game winning goal of his career. It was also his fifth goal of the year and the fifth goal he scored in a winning effort for the Capitals this season.
On the following day (Oct 23), the Capitals played the Edmonton Oilers, a team that has not made the playoffs during the last several years but had won their previous three games in a row. This would be the first game where Connor McDavid, the first pick overall in the 2015 NHL Entry draft who is expected to become a superstar, would play against Alex Ovechkin. Possibly because both teams were using their backup goalies in the contest or due to more deflections than normal, the game evoked memories of the “go go” high scoring era of hockey during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Some could refer to it as a “defense and goaltenders optional” type game. The scoring opened with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring a goal. The Oilers answered with a goal from Benoit Pouliot, the third member of the line to which McDavid and Nail Yakupov belong. The Capitals then got a power play goal from Nicklas Backstrom to pull ahead. It was answered by an Edmonton goal. But the Caps got a third goal at the end of the period – from Marcus Johansson. So, the Caps lead 3-2 after one period. The second period continued the “shoot ‘em up” heroics that had taken place during the first period. Edmonton got a goal to equalize the score at 3-3. But then Kuznetsov got his second goal of the evening and Andre Burakovsky and Justin Williams followed with goals for the Caps to take a 6-3 lead. Vancouver got one goal that period to make it 6-4. The third period proved different than the initial two. It was scoreless most of the way, until Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a late power play goal and earned a hat trick. Caps ended up winning 7-4. Grubauer admitted he was rusty after not having played for a long time so it took longer than normal to find his groove. While having plenty of assists, Kuznetsov had not scored a goal of his own, until his hat trick against Edmonton. Justin Williams also earned his first goal of the year. Until then, while racking up assists, he had been shooting in bad luck.
So the Capitals ended up sweeping the road trip to Western Canada, a welcome and unexpected development, considering the Caps’ lack of success in that department in previous years. They won one low scoring game, against Vancouver and two high scoring games, against both Calgary and Edmonton. They play their next two games at home, playing Pittsburgh on Oct 28 and Columbus on Oct 30.
By Diane Doyle