After a very successful homestand, the Capitals traveled to New York City, where they played the New York Rangers in Madison Square Gardens on Sunday December 20. After that game, they immediately flew to Raleigh, North Carolina to play the Carolina Hurricanes the very next day (Monday December 21).
Those two back to back games would be their last games before the league mandated Christmas break, which began on December 23 and goes through Christmas Day. This year, the game against the Hurricanes on December 21 would be the last game for the Caps before Christmas, giving them a four-day break before their next contest. They resumed play at home on December 26, with a game against the Montreal Canadians.
Capitals vs New York Rangers (December 20)
Coming into the game, the New York Rangers had won only three of its previous thirteen games and had yielded first place to the Capitals. This game was a rematch for the two teams, who had earlier met at Madison Square Garden in November, with the Rangers winning that one 5-2. Neither team scored during the opening period of this game, until, with just over 12 minutes into the game, Justin Williams got a goal, giving the Caps an initial 1-0.
Alas, the lead did not last long as the Rangers scored the equalizer less than two minutes later. The Rangers followed up with another goal about two minutes later after that and then got a power play goal slightly over two minutes after that. Hence, the score was 3-1 in favor of the Rangers when the period ended. With three unanswered goals scored against them in less than six minutes, Caps fans could not help but wonder if goalie Braden Holtby would be taken out of the game, like he had in his previous appearance against Tampa Bay. Trotz considered the possibility but, in the end, let Holtby continue in the game.
The second period was much better for the Caps. At just over five minutes into the period and very soon after a successful penalty kill (of a penalty to Tom Wilson), Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the Caps second goal and decreased the Caps’ deficit to one goal.
Less than two minutes after that, T.J. Oshie scored, getting the equalizer so the score was now tied at 3 goals apiece.
Nearly eleven minutes into the period, Alex Ovechkin scored on a power play, putting the Caps ahead for the first time since the first period. Justin Williams scored another power play goal for the Caps a minute before the period ended. The score was 5-3 at second intermission.
The Rangers switched goalies for the third period, replacing Henrik Lundqvist at goal with Magnus Hellberg, who was making his NHL debut. However, things went no better for him in goal than it had for Lundqvist. With Ovechkin in the penalty box, Jason Chimera got a breakaway and scored a short-handed goal, putting the score at 6-3.
Marcus Johansson scored nearly 2 minutes later, making the score 7-3, which ended up being the final. The game was, in many ways, reminiscent of a game they played against the Rangers back on December 23, 2008, where they had fallen behind 4-0, after giving up three goals in the first period but came back to tie in the third and win it in Overtime, the game known as the “Miracle on 32nd Street”, especially given the time of year and the fact that Madison Square Garden is so close to that iconic Macy’s store.
Period 1 — 12:03 Williams (9) — Assists by Chorney (4), Carlson (20)
Period 2 – 05:25 Kuznetsov (10) — Assists by Orlov (8), Williams (13)
Period 2 — 07:01 Oshie (13) — Assists by Backstrom (19), Orlov (9)
Period 2 — 11:03 Ovechkin (17) — Assists by Johansson (11), Backstrom (20) (PPG)
Period 2 — 19:00 Williams (10) — Assists by Johansson (12), Backstrom (21) (PPG)
Period 3 — 02:26 Chimera (8) — Assists by Wilson (6) (SHG)
Period 3 — 04:36 Johansson (7) — Assist by Kuznetsov (20)
Capitals vs Carolina Hurricanes (December 21)
After their game in New York City, the Capitals traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina for their game with the Carolina Hurricanes. Going into the game, the Canes were in seventh place and out of playoff position. But the team has generally been good in puck possession and has many promising young defenders, including Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin, Brett Pesce, and Jaccob Slavin. This game promised to be a “trap game”, given that it was against a team significantly lower in the standings the very day after an emotional win against one of their principal rivals. For this game, the Caps started backup goaltender, Philipp Grubauer.
The score remained scoreless through much of the first period but the Caps were the ones to draw first blood with just over four minutes to go, with Michael Latta scoring, after getting a nice pass from Andre Burakovsky.
Despite the lead, the Canes had outshot the Caps in that period 12 to 7. The Caps maintained their one goal lead throughout most of the period but added on a second goal nearly thirteen minutes into the period when Jason Chimera potted one.
The score remained that way through the end of period two. Carolina put more pressure on the Capitals during third period. They halved the Caps’ lead to 2-1 when Kris Versteeg scored just over two minutes into the period. For the remainder of the period, the Canes kept getting opportunities to score but Grubauer would save them. The Caps appeared to be feeling the effects of being on the second game of a back to back and had “tired” legs. The game became especially stressful when the Caps were called for a “too many men on the ice” penalty with a minute and a half to go in the game. This meant a 6 on 4 situation as the Hurricanes had pulled their goalie in favor of an extra attacker in hopes of tying up the game. However, the Caps and Grubauer turned back all chances. T.J. Oshie, who had gotten injured in the previous game and was a “game time decision” prior to the game, contributed some key blocks of Canes’ shots. Hence, the final score remained 2-1 in favor of the Caps who won their sixth game in succession and were going into the Christmas holiday on a winning note.
Period 1 — 15:52 Latta (3) — Assists by Burakovsky (6), Orlov (10)
Period 2 – 12:49 Chimera (9) — Assists by Carlson (21), Beagle (6)
Capitals vs Montreal Canadiens (December 26)
After Christmas break, the Capitals played at home against the Montreal Canadiens who, going into this game, had lost their last 5 in a row and 10 out of their last 11. Their once substantial lead in the Atlantic Division lead had eroded to a single point lead.
The Capitals drew first blood in this game, with a goal by Evgeny Kuznetsov at the 6:45 mark, with assists by Marcus Johansson and Nate Schmidt. For the rest of the period, the Caps outshot Montreal, aided by two power plays, but could not get anything else past Mike Condon in goal.
The second period began with the Caps killing off a left over penalty in the first. In spite of looking sloppy early in that period, the Caps added to their lead at 1:30 on a goal by Jay Beagle on an assist by Tom Wilson.
But the Canadiens responded almost immediately with a goal of their own just 14 seconds later, halving the lead to 2-1. The Caps had numerous other chances during that period but Condon continually stopped them. The Caps finally scored an insurance goal a little more than half way through the third period when Jason Chimera scored, after an assist from Tom Wilson. The final score ended up 3-1.
Other notable things about the game: Tom Wilson and Jarred Tinordi fighting during first period. Backstrom being penalized for a “slash” on P.K. Subban when Subban fell on the iceand the fans displeased by that call. For the rest of the night, the fans would boo Subban any time he ever had the puck. Alex Ovechkin appeared to be injured with about 6 minutes to go in the game, falling down, and then leaving the ice clutching his shoulder. However, Ovi returned to the ice for at least two shifts after that.
Period 1 — 06:45 Kuznetsov (11) — Assists by Schmidt (4), Johansson (13)
Period 1 — 01:30 Beagle (5) — Assists by Wilson (7), Chimera (10)
Period 3 — 11:15 Chimera (10) — Assists by Wilson (8), Schmidt (5)
This week, the Capitals were 3-0, which included two wins before Christmas break and one win afterwards and increased their winning streak to seven games. The week featured one relatively high scoring game featuring wild swings in fortune for the teams in the contest and two relatively low scoring, grind it out affairs, even though the Caps did earn an insurance goal in the second of those. The overall Corsi For and Fenwick For statistics for the Caps this week were not positive, with only one player finishing with an overall positive Corsi Plus/Minus and that was Jason Chimera who also had the best week on the scoring front, as well. The only players with positive Fenwick For Plus/Minus were Chimera and Jay Beagle. Admittedly, much of the negative Corsi and Fenwick For stats were caused by poor performances during the game against Carolina. There were also many negative Corsi and Fenwick For statistics in the New York Rangers game as well, a game where the Caps fell behind early but pulled out the win on the strength of power play goals.
There was no morning skate in NY due to the fact that there was a basketball game going on at Madison Square Garden in the afternoon before the evening’s hockey game. With no morning skate, the Caps walked around the city of New York and saw the sites, including the Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center. Brooks Laich posted an Instagram picture of himself, Karl Alzner, John Carlson, and Nick Backstrom posing at the Rockefeller Center near the Christmas tree. Ovechkin, meanwhile, posted an Instagram picture of himself and his linemates, T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom on the bus with the caption, “Lineys on the ice and Lineys on the bus.” The lack of the morning skate before the games with Tampa Bay last Friday and the New York Rangers this Sunday prompted some people to worry about whether the slow starts leading to giving up so many goals against was a possible consequence of that.
During the four day Christmas break, the Caps still kept busy. The Swedes on the team, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, and Andre Burakovsky, along with Coach Barry Trotz, represented the Caps for the Monumental Entertainment toy delivery on December 23 to needy families, along with members of the Wizards’ and Mystics basketball teams. Brooks Laich traveled to California to be with his fiancée, Julianne Hough. Alex Ovechkin and his fiancé traveled to South Beach, Florida. Both TJ Oshie and John Carlson brought their children to skate on the Capitals’ rink at Kettler. Oshie and his wife traveled back home to Minnesota. Oshie cut a cake which was pink on the inside and that was how he announced that they were having a second daughter. Stan Galiev and his wife skated at Kettler, also. While Dmitry Orlov and his girlfriend, Varvara, traveled to St Louis to visit his old friend, Vladimir Tarasenko and his wife, where they were joined by Sergei Bobrovsky and his wife.
Even after their Christmas break, they continued their winning ways against slumping Montreal.
Looking to the week ahead, the Caps have a home and home series with the Buffalo Sabres, playing them in Buffalo on Monday December 28 and returning home to play them on Wednesday December 30. Both games against the Sabres are at 7:00 pm, with the first one being televised on CSN Plus and the second one on CSN. They immediately travel to Carolina to play the Hurricanes on December 31. Yes, déjà vu all over again, with playing Carolina on the second game of a back to back. This particular game will have a different start time – 6:00 pm. After that, they travel to Columbus to play the Blue Jackets on January 2 for the first game during the New Year of 2016. This game will be at 7:00 pm and televised on CSN.
By Diane Doyle