After dropping two games on the road to the Metropolitan Division bottom feeders, the Carolina Hurricanes and the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Capitals continued their long road trip this week, with stops in Boston on Tuesday January 5 to play the Boston Bruins, Brooklyn on Thursday January 7 to play the New York Islanders, and Madison Square Garden on Saturday January 9 to play the New York Rangers. The Caps entered this week in a decimated state, with John Carlson and Brooks Orpik, the top defensive pairing, still out with injury, as well as center, Jay Beagle. Hence, a tough road trip ahead that would not end until Sunday January 10, when they play the Ottawa Senators at Verizon Center.
Capitals vs Boston Bruins (January 5)
Prior to playing the Caps, the Bruins’ most recent game was the Winter Classic on January 1 where they played the Montreal Canadiens and lost by the embarrassing score of 5-1. They sat in fourth place, having been passed in the standings by the Detroit Red Wings, who had won their last two, along with already being behind Montreal and the red-hot Florida Panthers.
Similar to their last two games, the Caps took an early penalty, with Karl Alzner being assessed a penalty for interference about 1 ½ minutes into the contest. But unlike their previous game against Columbus, the Caps killed this particular penalty. About 4 ½ later, Zac Rinaldo had a hit on Tom Wilson, sending him into the boards. Jason Chimera then charged after Rinaldo in defense of Wilson and earned a 2 minute minor penalty, with no penalty called on Rinaldo. Fortunately, the Caps were able to kill this penalty also. The Caps scored first in this game, with about 5 minutes to go in the first period. Evgeny Kuznetsov made a great pass to Andre Burakovsky who buried the puck, putting the team up 1-0.
At 11:36 into the second period and less than a minute into a Caps power play, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a beautiful goal, on a pass by Nicklas Backstrom. This put the Caps ahead 2-0.
However, about 2 ½ minutes later, Loui Eriksson scored the first goal for Boston, making the score 2-1, which was the score after 2 periods. Marcus Johansson scored a little more than half way through the third period for an “insurance” goal.
As it turned out, this “insurance” was needed since Matt Niskanen was whistled for a holding penalty, putting the Bruins on a power play where they converted about 40 seconds later. In spite of pressure from Boston during the last two minutes during an “empty net” situation, Holtby turned away all the Bruins’ shots and the Caps prevailed 3-2, breaking their short losing streak.
Period 1 — 15:01 Burakovsky (4) — Assists by Kuznetsov (24), Ness (1)
Period 2 — 12:40 Kuznetsov (13) — Assists by Backstrom (24), Niskanen (15) (PPG)
Period 3 — 10:41 Johansson (10) — Orlov (11), Schmidt (6)
Capitals vs New York Islanders (January 7)
Going into their contest with the Capitals, the New York Islanders were in second place in the Metropolitan division, 12 points behind the Capitals and a single point ahead of the New York Rangers. The Islanders had won their previous game, 6-5, against the Dallas Stars, the team leading the Western Conference in points. However, they had played at a .500 winning percentage over the last two games. This was the first game where the Caps would play the Islanders at their new home in Barclay Center in Brooklyn, New York. This was also a game where Isles’ goalie, Jaroslav Halak returned to action after missing the previous 5 games, due to an upper body injury.
The Caps opened the scoring at 5:45 when Jason Chimera’s shot bounced off the stick of Isles’ defenseman, Adam Pelich, and over the shoulder of Halak. Chimera’s shot came after a pass from Marcus Johansson.
Just under three minutes later, Marcus Johansson was sent to the penalty box for two minutes for an illegal check to the head to Thomas Hickey. Fortunately, the Isles did not score on that ensuing power play. But there was discussion on whether a suspension to Johansson was warranted. Generally, Johansson is a player who is not penalized much.
Exactly 10 minutes after Chimera’s goal, Alex Ovechkin got his 22nd goal of the season, after an assist by Karl Alzner. Ovechkin’s goal was #497, putting him 3 goals behind the vaunted 500 goal level. So, now the Caps lead 2-0.
The Islanders closed the scoring gap back to 1 goal when Brock Nelson got a goal two minutes into the second period. The Caps regained their two goal lead with just under 4 minutes to go in the period. After a Caps’ penalty had expired, Nicklas Backstrom passed to Nate Schmidt who scored his second goal of the year, making the score 3-1.
During third period, the Islanders had some late offensive pressure after pulling their goalie, trapping the Caps in their defensive zone. When the Caps finally possessed the puck, Nicklas Backstrom scored an empty net goal, making the score 4-1 which was the final score. The Caps had now won their second game in a row.
Period 1 — 05:45Jason Chimera (12) — Assists by Marcus Johansson (16)
Period 1 — 15:45Alex Ovechkin (22) — Assists by Karl Alzner (10)
Period 2 — 15:54Nate Schmidt (2) — Nicklas Backstrom (25)
Period 3 — 17:18Nicklas Backstrom (12) – Unassisted (EN)
Capitals Goaltending Statistics
Braden Holtby34 Saves in 35 Chances23 Saves in 24 Chances at Even Strength
Capitals vs New York Rangers (January 9)
Going into their afternoon matinee contest with the Capitals, the New York Rangers had beaten the Dallas Stars by the decisive score of 6-2. That particular game came after a loss to the Florida Panthers. Essentially, over the last five games, the Rangers had alternated between winning and losing and, as a result, had not gained any ground in the standings. There was also recent personnel drama when Coach Alain Vigneault had healthy scratched Kevin Hayes for two consecutive games the previous week but Hayes was back in the lineup for their game against Dallas.
This particular game was the 800th game of the illustrious career of Alexander Ovechkin. It was also the 100th game for defenseman Taylor Chorney. The game was relatively uneventful for the first half of the first period. Slightly over halfway through the first period, T.J. Oshie hooked Jason Megna. Once the Caps killed off that penalty, Jespar Fast hooked Oshie and earned a penalty. Caps were unable to score on that particular power play. Then, with just under 3 minutes to go in the period, Tom Wilson earned a penalty for holding the stick. Caps killed off that penalty as well. About a half-minute after that penalty kill, the Rangers got another penalty, this time Victor Stalberg earning an interference penalty against Oshie. So now the Caps had a power play, 34 seconds before the First Intermission and the rest afterwards. However, the second portion of that power play was not needed as Rangers’ defenseman Ryan McDonagh made a turnover behind the goalie’s net in their defensive zone and Ovechkin knocked the puck in the net to score the first goal of the game and the 498th of his career, with just 15 seconds left to go in the period.
The Caps had one other great scoring opportunity in the period but were unable to bury the puck.
The Caps added their second goal just under 4 minutes into the second period when Nate Schmidt skated all the way from the defensive zone with the puck, made a pass to Justin Williams who then shot towards the net. The shot hit the post, bounced off, but eventually dribbled under Lundqvist’s leg.
The Rangers got their first goal less than six minutes into the third period when Oscar Lindberg scored a goal, on a shift where the Caps’ fourth line had been caught in the defensive zone for an extended period of time and were unable to clear the puck from the defensive zone. Kevin Hayes scored the Rangers’ second goal less than four minutes later, only seconds after exiting from the penalty box. The game was now tied at 2-2 at just under the halfway mark during third period. About 3 ½ minutes later, Viktor Stalberg scored the go ahead goal for the Rangers and things were looking bad for the Caps, as it looked like they might lose for the first time this season in regulation after leading after two periods. But in the nick of time, with six seconds remaining in the game, Nicklas Backstrom scored the tying goal, with assists by Justin Williams and Matt Niskanen.
So the game proceeded to Overtime. Over a minute into Overtime, Stalberg tried to shoot on Holtby, Nate Schmidt made a great save to prevent the puck from going past Holtby. The rebound went to Ovechkin who skated at the edge of the ice all the way from the defensive zone, cutting through the middle in front of the net, and snapping a wrist shot for what proved to be the game winner and the 499th of his career. An Ovi-time winner, for sure, in a game where he had the first goal and the last goal.
— NHL (@NHL) January 9, 2016
Period 1 — 19:45Alex Ovechkin (23) – Unassisted
Period 2 – 03:56Justin Williams (12) — Assist by Nate Schmidt (7)
Period 3 — 19:54Nicklas Backstrom (13) — Assists by Justin Williams (14), Matt Niskanen (16)
OT Period — 01:25Alex Ovechkin (24) — Assist by Nate Schmidt (8)
Capitals Goaltending Statistics
Braden Holtby23 Saves in 26 Chances18 Saves in 21 Chances at Even Strength
This week was an undefeated week for the Capitals as they beat, in succession, the Boston Bruins, the New York Islanders, and the New York Rangers, compiling a 3-0 record for the week. It was an excellent rebound for them, after losing the two previous games on their road trip at the end of last week, against two bottom feeding teams, the Carolina Hurricanes and the Columbus Blue Jackets. The wins felt satisfying, given that the Islanders and the Rangers are the two teams immediately below them in the standings and Boston is in fourth place in their division and in playoff position. As a result of their wining week, the Caps now sit 16 points ahead of both the Rangers and the Islanders.
There was one down note to this week, as both Zach Sill and Marcus Johansson each got two game suspensions for head hits. Sill did his hit against the Bruins and was not penalized for it but was still suspended. Johansson had his hit against Thomas Hickey of the New York Islanders in the very next game and was given a 2 minute minor penalty. Johansson had his hearing with the Department of Player Safety at 5:00 p.m. Friday and got suspended. Between all the injuries (to Brooks Orpik, John Carlson, and Jay Beagle), the Caps made several personnel moves. They signed Mike Richards, the former Philadelphia Flyer and Los Angeles Kings forward, to a contract. As a result, they placed John Carlson on Injured Reserve, retroactive to December 27, but would be eligible to be reactivated as soon as he was ready. Once both Sill and Johansson were suspended and given that Richards was still not in “game” shape, having not played NHL hockey all season, the Caps had only 11 forwards available. Hence, they sent Ryan Stanton down to Hershey and recalled winger Paul Carey who is a second cousin of former Caps goalie, Jim Carey.
Coach Barry Trotz has no timetable for when Richards would be ready to play with the Caps, saying that he wants to put him in a position to succeed. He emphatically denied that Richards would play against the Rangers, even if Johansson were suspended. Richards may be given a conditioning stint in Hershey.
Looking to the week ahead, the Caps return home after the Rangers’ game and play against the Ottawa Senators the very next day – Sunday January 10 at 7:00 p.m. in Verizon Center. They remain at home for a three day break and play the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday January 14, also at Verizon Center. On Saturday January 16, they travel to Buffalo for their last matchup with the Sabres, also at 7:00 pm but return home the following day to play the New York Rangers for an early evening game – 5:00 pm. All games will be televised on CSN, except for Saturday night’s game against the Sabres which will be on CSN+. Maybe during that time, Alex Ovechkin will score his 500th goal. Mike Vogel, the Caps newsman, tweeted some statistics about Ovechkin, highlighting his consistency, “Ovechkin played in his 800th NHL game today. He has scored 250 goals in 400 home games, 249 goals in 400 road games.”
Recapper’s Note: The game with the Ottawa Senators on January 10 will be included with next week’s recap.
By Diane Doyle