Washington Capitals Weekly Recap – 12/28/15 – 01/02/16

General Recap
After a very successful week, as in an undefeated week, where the Christmas holiday break sandwiched in between, the Washington Capitals played a home and home series against Buffalo, with the road portion on Monday December 28 and the home portion at Verizon Center on Wednesday December 30. The Caps would immediately fly to Raleigh, North Carolina to play the Carolina Hurricanes on December 31 to end the Year 2015.  This was the second time this month where they played the Hurricanes as the second game in a back to back pair of contests, with the last one occurring 10 days earlier. After that would be a road trip to start off the New Year, with a game in Columbus, Ohio on January 2. The Caps will not be returning home until Sunday January 10, when they play the Ottawa Senators.

Capitals vs Buffalo Sabres (December 28)
Prior to playing the Capitals, the Buffalo Sabres were sitting in seventh place, barely ahead of the last place Toronto Maple Leafs but the team has played at a much more respectable pace this year than the previous year. They already had 15 wins, which is already more than 2/3 of their previous year’s total, which was only 23. The addition of #2 overall pick, Jack Eichel, along with other new additions to the team, such as Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane, and new Head Coach, Don Bylsma, have helped to make the team much more competitive this season.

The pre-game suspense for the Caps was whether defenseman, John Carlson, who had a consecutive games played streak at 412 games, would play or not. He had been given a “maintenance day” and missed the previous day’s practice. He had skated briefly just before the morning skate but left practice early. Hence, the Caps’ practice strategy was to prepare for life without Carlson, by substituting Niskanen for him in the first power play unit and substituting Connor Carrick for Niskanen in the second power play unit. But after practice, Karl Alzner said that Carlson would definitely play. Coach Barry Trotz, meanwhile, said it would be a game time decision. Carlson did take the pre-game warmup and even the media believed he would play. However, when the game started, Carlson was scratched and the defensive pairings were adjusted accordingly.

Neither team scored during the first period. There was one Caps power play, on which they could not score. However, just 19 seconds into the second period, Alex Ovechkin scored his 18th goal of the year, with assists from Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie.

For most of the first half of the period, Buffalo outshot Washington by a lot but Braden Holtby turned them all back. At 8:09, Nick Deslaurier of the Sabres made a hit on Justin Williams which ended up with his stick getting into Williams’ face, drawing blood. Hence, Williams had to leave the ice, to get medical treatment. No penalty was called on the play. Hence, Michael Latta retaliated against Delauriers about three minutes later and a fight broke out between them.

Deslauriers “won” the fight, as Latta ended up injured during the course of it. With around 7 minutes to go in the period, Jay Beagle added another goal, with an assist by Tom Wilson.

The score remained 2-0 after that period, in spite of the fact that Buffalo had outshot the Caps during second period, with 12 shots to the Caps’ 7. The Caps were also “down” two forwards for much of that period, with Williams getting repairs in the locker room and Latta in the box for the fight but unable to return to the game, after that. Williams did return before the end of the period.

The third period was also scoreless but it featured Braden Holtby making a highlight reel save on Evander Kane, with about a minute to go in the game. That period also featured two “goals” for Buffalo that were waved off. One of those shots had hit the post and got caught in the netting but the goal light and siren went off, but it was waved off by the officials. Another shot involved Tyler Ennis pushing both the puck and Braden Holtby into the back of the net but that was also waved off, with the subsequent review confirming the call on the field. The final score remained 2-0, in favor of the Caps, with Braden Holtby having 31 saves.

Capitals Goals
Period 2 — 00:19​Alex Ovechkin (17) — Assists by Nicklas Backstrom (22), T.J. Oshie (10)
Period 2 — 12:55​Jay Beagle (6) — Assists by Tom Wilson (9)

Capitals Goaltending Statistics
Braden Holtby​​31 Saves in 31 Chances​​29 Saves in 29 Chances at Even Strength

Capitals vs Buffalo Sabres (December 30)
After playing the Sabres in Buffalo, the Capitals returned home to Verizon Center to play the same team there two days later. With the injury to Michael Latta after his fight with Deslauries, the Capitals called up Zach Sill from Hershey – to play the fourth line center role and to prevent Buffalo from taking any “liberties with Caps’ players. For this game, the Caps used Braden Holtby in goal while the Sabres countered with Chad Johnson, their own Number One goalie, having used backup goalie, Linus Ullmark, in the previous game. John Carlson, whose consecutive game streak was broken in the previous game, was still unable to play, so the same defensive lineup as last game was used.

The game started off on the wrong foot for the Caps, as Alex Ovechkin was penalized for roughing less than 30 seconds into the contest, while in the offensive zone. The Caps successfully killed that penalty but were still playing “on their heels”, so to speak, as a result. Buffalo opened the scoring less than six minutes into the game when Brian Gionta of Buffalo scored, after a defensive breakdown by the Caps. Near the end of the period, the two teams were involved in a scrum, which resulted in Brian Gionta getting a 2 minute penalty and Tom Wilson getting a double minor penalty. The Caps were able to kill that penalty successfully, too. At the end of the first period, the Caps were down 1-0, despite outshooting Buffalo, having 14 shots to 11 shots.

The Caps had several shots throughout second period but Chad Johnson kept saving them. They finally broke through and tied the score with about 6 minutes to go in the period when Chad Johnson accidentally backhanded the puck to Justin Williams who shot and scored.

Unfortunately, the Caps iced the puck with just under two minutes to go, Buffalo won the faceoff, and Jack Eichel passed to Zemgus Girgensons who scored the go ahead goal. Once again the Caps had outshot Buffalo in this period, 14 to 8, but were still behind in the score.

The second period was a costly one for the Caps from an injury standpoint. Jay Beagle injured his hand/wrist and left the game during the period. Nicklas Backstrom had finished the period but did not return for the third period.

Hence, the lines had to be juggled, as a result. The “new” first line was now Evgeny Kuznetsov centering T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin. This new line combination proved successful early, as Alex Ovechkin scored the game tying goal, with assists from both Kuznetsov and Oshie.

Soon after that was a series of penalties on both teams. First, Marcus Johansson earned a boarding penalty, putting the Caps on back on penalty kill. Before his penalty expired, Evander Kane tripped Tom Wilson, creating a 4 on 4 situation. But that didn’t last long as Ovechkin earned a high sticking penalty, putting the Caps in a 4 on 3 penalty kill situation, which the Caps killed, resulting in a 4 on 4 and then a left over 5 on 4. Almost as soon as those earlier penalties were killed, Evander Kane earned another penalty, putting the Caps on a power play. This time, the Caps’ power play scored for the first time for a week and a half, as Marcus Johansson scored the go ahead goal, with assists from Kuznetsov and Matt Niskanen about 8 ½ minutes into the period.

The Caps now lead 3-2. They added another goal 1 ½ minutes later when Andre Burakovsky scored, after an assist by Johansson.

Their final goal was an empty net by Alex Ovechkin with 1 ½ minutes left to go. The final score was 5-2, with the Caps having dominated possession, throughout the game. This was the Caps ninth win in a row but it was a costly win, as both Backstrom and Beagle left the game with injury. Buffalo ended up with one injury during this game, when Tyler Ennis had to leave the game, after being hit by Ovechkin. After the game, Coach Barry Trotz announced that Jay Beagle would need surgery for his injury and would be out for a while. He also announced that Backstrom and Latta could probably play in their next game against the Carolina Hurricanes and that they were coming on the road trip. Defenseman John Carlson would still miss a few games but his absence was still not expected to be long-term but another defenseman would be called up from Hershey. Due to the injuries that occurred in this game, along with the existing injuries to both Carlson and Orpik, this game had the feel of a pyrrhic victory.

Capitals Goals
Period 2 – 14:08​Justin Williams (11) – Unassisted
Period 3 — 01:24​Alex Ovechkin (19) — Assists by Evgeny Kuznetsov (21), T.J. Oshie (11)
Period 3 — 08:32​Marcus Johansson (8) — Assists by Evgeny Kuznetsov (22), Matt Niskanen (12) (PP)
Period 3 — 09:56​Andre Burakovsky (3) — Assists by Marcus Johansson (14)
Period 3 — 18:47​Alex Ovechkin (20) – Unassisted (EN)

Capitals Goaltending Statistics
Braden Holtby​​27 Saves in 27 Chances​​18 Saves in 20 Chances at Even Strength

Capitals vs Carolina Hurricanes (December 31)
After two games with the Sabres, the first one away and the second one at home, the Capitals would play the Hurricanes in Carolina to close out 2015. Just like 10 days ago, the Caps played Carolina as the second game of a back to back and decided to use their backup goaltender, Philipp Grubauer. The Caps also were going into this game, minus defenseman, John Carlson, and minus third line center, Jay Beagle. At least, Michael Latta who had missed the last game due to injury and Nicklas Backstrom, who left the previous game due to injury, were able to return.

Unlike the previous game where the Caps drew first blood and went on to win 2-0, this time it was the Hurricanes who scored at the 7:58 mark in the second period when Philip DiGuiseppe scored. Nearly two minutes later, Nicklas Backstrom evened up the score, getting at goal with assists from the two defensemen on the ice with him, Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen. The score remained that way through the end of the second period.

But less than a minute into the third period, Eric Staal scored a goal to put the Canes ahead again. And just over 5 minutes into the period, Jeff Skinner added an insurance goal for the home team, putting the Canes ahead 3-1. At the 14:16 mark, Alex Ovechkin put the Caps within one goal of tying, giving hope to the Caps’ faithful who had traveled down to Raleigh to see the game (or were watching on TV).

However, Andrej Nestrasil scored an empty net goal with 20 seconds to go, giving the Canes a 4-2 which was the final score.

Capitals Goals
Period 2 — 09:49​Nicklas Backstrom (11) — Assists by Karl Alzner (8), Matt Niskanen (13)​​
Period 3 — 14:16​Alex Ovechkin (21) — Assists by Brooks Laich (4)

Capitals Goaltending Statistics
Philipp Grubauer​33 Saves in 36 Chances​​26 Saves in 29 Chances at Even Strength

Capitals vs Columbus Blue Jackets (January 2, 2016)
The Capitals traveled to Columbus after their New Year’s Eve game. Columbus has spent most of the season in the Metropolitan Division cellar but in their game immediately prior to playing the Caps, they had beaten the Dallas Stars, the team with the best record in the Western Conference, 6-3. Their Number 1 goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, had been out with injury. They were hoping he could come back against the Caps but he still was not ready. Hence, the backup goalie, Curtis McElhinney, would play.

Just like their game against Carolina, the Caps took an early penalty, this time a slashing call against Dmitry Orlov, about 1 ½ minutes into the game. Just 10 seconds later, Columbus got a power play goal from Jack Johnson. The Caps tied up the game at 7:12 when T.J. Oshie scored on a power play goal, with assists by both Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom.

However, in just over a half a minute later, the Blue Jackets scored again, to pull ahead 2-1, on a goal by Brandon Saad. The Caps tied it up on another power play goal at 11:47, this time by Jason Chimera, with assists from Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen.

About 2 ½ minutes into the second period, the Caps got a power play on a penalty to David Clarkson for high sticking Tom Wilson. It only earned a single minor penalty even though it appeared that Wilson was bleeding. During that power play, it appeared that Columbus had scored a short-handed goal. However, it was overturned after Coach Barry Trotz requested a review and the Blue Jackets were ruled off sides. The Caps pulled ahead, with just under 4 minutes left in the period, when Marcus Johansson scored, on an assist from Tom Wilson.

The score remained 4-3 when the second period ended. But at just over 4 minutes into the third period, T.J. Oshie sent a puck out of play and, once again, the Caps’ penalty killers failed and the Blue Jackets tied up the game at 3-3. The Caps took the lead again, less than a minutes when Karl Alzner passed to Tom Wilson who then passed to Evgeny Kuznetsov who scored.

The score remained 4-3 until Brandan Saad got his second goal of the night, with just over a minute into left in the game and an empty net situation for the Blue Jackets. There was no scoring in the Overtime period, despite the fact that Blue Jackets goalie appeared to injure his knee and was replaced by Anton Forsberg. With Forsberg in goal, the Caps got a power play but were unable to convert. So the game proceeded to the shootout. Oshie scored for the Caps with a beautiful goal to open the shootout. But between Holtby not seeming sharp in the shootout at all and giving up two goals to the Columbus shooters and the fact that none of the other Caps could score, they lost.

Other notes on this game: During the game, a Columbus player seemed to high stick Holtby in goal, knocking off his helmet but no penalty was called. The Blue Jackets had a 67% conversion rate on power plays, even including their late power play in Overtime as contrasted with the Caps 33% conversion rate. Forsberg, the relief goalie, was the first goalie in NHL history to earn a win when entering a game in an Overtime period. Yes, once again, the Caps were on the wrong side of history.

Capitals Goals
Period 1 — 07:12​T.J. Oshie (14) — Assists by Marcus Johansson (15), Nicklas Backstrom (23) (PPG)
Period 1 — 11:47​Jason Chimera (11) — Assists by Evgeny Kuznetsov (23), Matt Niskanen (14) (PPG)
Period 2 — 16:07​Marcus Johansson (9) — Assists by Tom Wilson (10)
Period 3 — 05:27​​Evgeny Kuznetsov (12) — Assists by Tom Wilson (11), Karl Alzner (9)

Capitals Goaltending Statistics
Braden Holtby​​25 Saves in 29 Chances​​25 Saves in 27 Chances at Even Strength

CaptureThe Capitals started off this week by winning their home and home series against the Buffalo Sabres and increasing their winning streak to nine games, for the third longest winning streak in franchise history. They were not able to keep the winning streak going in Carolina so that was the end of the streak. They lost the next game as well, to the Columbus Blue Jackets, in a shootout, as well. In other words, they have lost two consecutive games to bottom feeding teams, so that is a bad trend, as well. The record for the week is 2-1-1, which is a disappointment, especially after such a great beginning and also losing to the worst teams in their division. But with the absence of both Carlson and Orpik from the lineup, the team defense has gotten significantly worse, as the former second pairing of Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen is now the first pairing, the former third pairing of Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov is now the second pairing, and the current third pairing is now a depth defenseman and an AHL call up. The absence of Jay Beagle has compounded the team’s struggles.

It was also the end of John Carlson’s consecutive games played streak. He had gotten injured during the Montreal game on Dec 26 but took a “maintenance day” the following day. He took the warmup prior to the game of Dec 28 but was unable to play in the game that day, ending the streak at 412 consecutive games played. He had an MRI the next game and it was announced that he would not make the trip to Carolina. Then, it was announced that he would return for the Boston game. Now it sounds like he’s a maybe for the Bruins game. It appears that the nature of his injury was gravely understated.

Looking to the week ahead, the Caps continue their road trip playing the Boston Bruins on Tuesday January 5, the New York Islanders on Thursday January 7, and then the New York Rangers on Saturday January 9. They finally return home on Sunday January 10 against the Ottawa Senators. It’s a tough road ahead, especially with the absent players, given that the Rangers and Islanders are in playoff position for the Metropolitan, the Bruins are currently in a wild card slot and the Senators close to a wild card slot. The games against the Bruins and Islanders will be at 7:00 p.m. The game against the Rangers is a 1:00 p.m. matinee game. The game against the Senators will be at 7:00 p.m. This game will be at 7:00 pm, with all games being televised on CSN.

On the non-playing front, Ovechkin, Orlov, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Stanislav Galiev posted the same Instagram selfie of themselves at their hotel in Columbus, Ohio on New Year’s Eve. Kusnetsov posted a picture of himself, Orlov, and a friend in Washington, DC. Kuznetsov also wrote an article for “The Players Tribune”, titling it “How We Play Hockey In Russia” and sharing many details about himself growing up as a hockey player in Russia. John Carlson posted a picture of himself holding his baby son, Lucca, on New Year’s Eve as he could not go on the road trip. Brooks Laich posted an Instagram of himself in Columbus with the children of former Capitals’ player, Chris Clark.

Brooks Orpik has been out since Nov 12 and is currently on Injured Reserve
John Carlson was absent from the game on 12/28 snapping his consecutive games played streak at 412 and has been out ever since
Michael Latta was injured in the game on 12/28, missed the game on 12/30, and returned on 12/31/2015
Jay Beagle was injured in the game on 12/30 and has been placed on Injured Reserve. He underwent hand surgery on 1/2
Nicklas Backstrom left the game on 12/30 but returned on 12/31

Alex Ovechkin moved ahead of Mike Bossy, into 23rd place, in career Game Winning Goals, with 83 (12/28)

By Diane Doyle

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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