After completing a five game road trip that started with a loss on New Year’s Eve against the Carolina Hurricanes and ended with an emotional comeback win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, the Washington Capitals returned to Verizon Center the very next day, Sunday January 10 to play the Ottawa Senators. After that, they had three off days and remained at home to play the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday January 14. They made a short trip to Buffalo for a game on Saturday January 16 and returned home to play the New York Rangers at home the very next day (Sunday January 17).
The players suspended for last week, Zach Sill and Marcus Johansson, returned to the lineup as their suspensions expired, with Sill returning to the lineup against the Senators and Johansson returning against Vancouver. The injured defensemen, John Carlson and Brooks Orpik, were still out with injury, but the former had skated on the road the previous week before the team’s practices, and the latter had just resumed skating again. However, neither of the two injured defensemen traveled on the brief road trip to Buffalo.
Capitals vs Ottawa Senators (January 10)
Before their game with the Caps, the Senators played the Boston Bruins at home, beating them 2-1 in Overtime. Before that, they had lost 4 out of their previous 5 games. The Senators were barely in playoff position when they came to Verizon Center to play the Caps. Meanwhile, the Caps, themselves, had come home to Verizon Center, the very next day after a very emotional win against the New York Rangers that had featured them getting a 2-0 lead, blowing that 2-0 lead during third period, falling behind by a goal, tying the game with 10 seconds to go, and finally winning the game on an Overtime goal by Alex Ovechkin to put him at 499 goals and on the cusp of the 500 goal milestone. While the Caps were on a back to back, at least their previous game was in the afternoon, unlike the Senators, who had played in the previous evening.
With Ovechkin so close to his milestone goal, Verizon Center was sold out, since all Caps fans wanted to witness the milestone goal in person. The Senators, of course, were trying to stop Ovechkin from achieving that milestone and were doing all they could to do that. But with the defensive focus on Ovechkin, other members of the Caps scored instead. The slightly more rested Caps (by about 6 hours) seemed to have more energy than the Senators from the outset. Just over 8 minutes into the period, Justin Williams opened the scoring for the Caps, with an assist from Andre Burakovsky.
Just over 2 minutes later, Bobby Ryan got a penalty for interference against T.J. Oshie, resulting in a power play for the Caps. Oshie scored on that power play less than a minute later.
The score was 2-0 at the end of the First Period, which coincidentally, had been the score after two periods during their previous game.
About 3 ½ minutes into the Second Period, Mike Hoffman, the Senators’ leading goal scorer, scored to end the shutout, giving the Senators a brief flicker of hope. However, that hope was extinguished 2 ½ minutes later when Zack Sill scored for the Caps, earning his first goal as a member of the Capitals.
Defenseman Karl Alzner had passed to Jason Chimera who had, in turn, passed to Sill who shot and scored. The carnage continued that period when Dmitry Orlov scored just 2 minutes later, making the score 4-1.
This game was shaping into the type of game where everybody seemed to be scoring goals for the Capitals, except for Ovechkin, but not for want of trying. He had several shots, either missing the net, hitting the post, or being turned back by the goalie. But then Mark Stone got a penalty at 15:20 into the period and the Caps had another power play. This time, Ovechkin scored, getting assists from both Burakovsky and Chimera. So, at last Ovechkin got his 500th goal, with a celebration ensuing. His teammates all jumped off the bench to mob him. Throughout the celebration, the camera panned through the fans, at one point focusing on the reactions of both his parents.
The Caps added two more goals during third period, one by Tom Wilson (at 8:28) and a second goal by Ovechkin (at 9:46) so he was now at 501 goals and counting. The final score of the game was 7-1, a more typical score of a lopsided baseball game.
The Caps’ casualty list seemed to mount as a result of this game. Andre Burakovsky crashed into the boards during second period and did not return for the last period as Stan Galiev took his place on the second line, as well as taking his normal fourth line shift. Michael Latta warmed up but was a late scratch for this game. There were rumors that another forward, besides Latta, was banged up prior to the game, which fans later learned was Tom Wilson.
Period 1 — 08:07 Williams (13) — Assists by Burakovsky (7)
Period 1 — 10:58 Oshie (15) — Assists by Kuznetsov (25), ackstrom (26) (PPG)
Period 2 — 06:01 Sill (1) — Assists by Chimera (11), Alzner (11)
Period 2 — 07:55 Orlov (4) — Assists by Schmidt (9), Backstrom (27)
Period 2 — 16:19 Ovechkin (25) — Assists by Chimera (12), Burakovsky (8) (PPG)
Period 3 — 08:28 Tom Wilson (3) — Assists by Jason Chimera (13), Aaron Ness (2)
Period 3 — 09:46 Ovechkin (26) — Assists by Backstrom (28), Oshie (12)
Capitals Goaltending Statistics
Philipp Grubauer – 32 Saves in 33 Chances 25 Saves in 26 Chances at Even Strength
Capitals vs Vancouver Canucks (January 14)
Coming into their contest with the Capitals, the Vancouver Canucks were tied with the San Jose Sharks for third place in the Pacific Division in points, but San Jose was considered to be ahead of the Canucks since they had played less games. Ryan Miller, their Number 1 goalie, was returning to the lineup after missing 8 games due to injury. In the game immediately prior to playing the Caps, Daniel Sedin had scored 2 goals in a 3-2 Overtime win against the Panthers and tied the Canuck’s club record that was held by Markus Naslund. In an oddity, 6 of the 10 most recent games for the Canucks were not settled in regulation but proceeded to Overtime or even to a shootout. The Canucks had won 4 out of those 6.
Before the game, the Caps honored Ovechkin by presenting him with a gold stick in honor of this 500th goal that he had scored in the previous game. They played a video tribute where several of the NHL players who had scored 500 goals congratulated him for his milestone. Ovi’s parents and fiancée were all on the ice when Ted Leonsis presented Ovi with the engraved golden stick.
The first period of the game was relatively uneventful, in the sense that there were no goals and no penalties for either team. The Caps outshot Vancouver 13-8 but Ryan Miller was able save all shots directed at his net. Just under 4 minutes into the period, Alexander Edler of Vancouver was sent to the penalty box for tripping T.J. Oshie. The Caps were unable to score on the resulting power play. Edler exited the penalty box and soon gained possession of the puck. But Dmitry Orlov stripped him of the puck, began rushing down the ice towards the goal, passed to Kuznetsov, who then deked and shot it to the net to open up the scoring for the Capitals at 1-0.
The Caps earned another power play at about 8 ½ minutes into the period when Linden Vey was whistled for a high sticking penalty. Just 11 seconds later, Nicklas Backstrom was penalized for interference but Edler was also penalized at the same time – for embellishment, so the power play continued. But, once again, the Caps were not able to convert. But about 30 seconds after those penalties had expired, Andre Burakovsky possessed the puck when Canucks winger, Sven Baertsch, hit him up high. When no penalty was called on Baertsch, Matt Niskanen retaliated and knocked down Baertsch and was not penalized, either. Meanwhile, Burakovsky maintained possession of the puck, with assistance from Justin Williams and passed to a wide open Karl Alzner who shot at the net and scored the Caps’ second goal. For the fourth consecutive game, they had opened up a 2-0 lead.
The Caps scored their third goal just over 1 ½ minutes into the third period. Burakovsky and Kuznetsov had gained possession of the puck, when Kuznetsov saw Tom Wilson coming into the zone and made a really nice pass to him and Wilson shot the puck and scored.
This game was following a different script than the previous 5 games as this time the Caps scored their first 3 goals before the opposition scored their first. In the most recent four games, the Caps would score 2 goals and then give up a goal to the opposition before going on to win. But, even with a 3-0 lead, it still was not an “easy” win. Marcus Johansson got penalized for holding against Alexandre Burrows at 9:10 so the Caps had to go on penalty kill. But 45 minutes later, Brooks Laich earned a penalty for a high stick against Burrows so now the Caps had to kill a 5 on 3 power play for Vancouver and if Vancouver could convert on two goals, the game would have a much different timbre for the rest of the way. Vancouver scored on a goal by Radim Vrbata just 1 second before the first penalty had expired. So the situation still looked scary for the Caps – up 3-1 but still having 45 seconds of another penalty to kill. Fortunately, the Caps were able to kill off the second penalty. The final score was 4-1, with Evgeny Kuznetsov adding his second goal of the night – an empty netter with just 1 second to go in the game. The Caps had now won their fifth game in succession. This was a great game for the second line, with Kuznetsov scoring 2 goals and Burakovsky having 2 assists, and Justin Williams contributing an assist. Braden Holtby, in making 29 saves in 30 shots, had now pulled ahead of Don Beapre to second place in the Caps’ All Time Career Wins by a goalie, with his 129th win.
Period 2 — 06:12 Evgeny Kuznetsov (14) — Assists by Dmitry Orlov (12)
Period 2 — 12:03 Alzner (3) — Assists by Burakovsky (9), Williams (15)
Period 3 — 01:37 Wilson (4) — Assists by Kuznetsov (26), Burakovsky (10)
Period 3 — 19:59 Evgeny Kuznetsov (15) – Unassisted (EN)
Capitals vs Buffalo Sabres (January 16)
Going into their game with the Caps, the Buffalo Sabres sat in last place in the Atlantic Division, a single point below the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Sabres had not been playing well, winning only 3 games in their last 10 contests. Injured goalie, Robin Regehr, was finally returning to the lineup. However, they have now lost Zemgus Girgensons as he left the previous night’s game against the Boston Bruins with an upper body injury. For this game, Mike Richards made his debut with the Caps, while Brooks Laich was a healthy scratch for the Caps for, likely, the first time since the Ned Hanlon era. The Caps wore red jerseys of this game, rather than their typical white road jerseys, since Buffalo opted to wear an alternate white jersey. It almost seemed like reverse jersey night.
The game started off in sleepy fashion, with relatively few shots on goal for both teams during the first period. Buffalo scored first, just after the midpoint at 10:30, on a goal by Philip Varone who had recently been called up from the minors and had not scored an NHL goal since March 6, 2015. Less than two minutes later, the Caps got a power play when Mark Pysyk elbowed Zach Sill. However, the Caps were unable to convert on that one. Soon after the expiration of this power play, Buffalo got another penalty, this time by Jack Eichel who tripped Dmitry Orlov. However, instead of the Caps mustering offense on this power play, they allowed a break away to Tim Schaller after a turnover who scored a short-handed goal for Buffalo about 1 ½ minutes into the power play (at 16:00), increasing their lead to 2-0. It was Schaller’s first goal since Dec 14, 2014, as in more than a year between goals. The Caps went into the dressing room after first period with that score.
The Caps’ fortunes did not improve during second period. At 7:14, Evander Kane scored a goal that just got by Holtby’s arm that he slowed down but it trickled past his arm into the net to open up a 3-0 lead. At that point, Coach Barry Trotz removed Holtby from the game and replaced him with Philipp Grubauer. Buffalo added one more goal that period – on a power play goal by Cody Franson who had not scored a goal since December 19th.
The Caps broke the shutout early in the Third Period when Jason Chimera got the puck at the wall, passed to Marcus Johansson who shot with his backhand and scored at 2:54. But, in spite of having twice as many shots as Buffalo during that period, were unable to score any more. The final score was 4-1. The game seemed to fall into the category of “games you were going to lose no matter what”. The reverse jerseys seemed to symbolize that it truly was a “backwards” day, with Buffalo, who was last in their division, outplaying the Caps who were first in theirs (and first overall). Two Sabres scored their first goal in a long time. Ovi’s stick broke on one occasion where he attempted his typical “one timer” shot towards the net. The Caps’ passing was not crisp. The game was a penalty fest, with Buffalo earning 7 minor penalties and the Caps earning 6 and both teams having 1 major penalty apiece, on the fight between Tom Wilson and Marcus Foligno. Coach Barry Trotz had praise for the play of Mike Richards in his debut with the Caps, also saying that most of the other guys were “passengers”.
Period 3 — 02:54 Marcus Johansson (11) — Assists by Jason Chimera (14)
Capitals Goaltending Statistics
Braden Holtby – 13 Saves in 16 Chances 7 Saves in 9 Chances at Even Strength
5 Saves in 5 Chances on Opponents’ Power Play, 1 Save in 2 chances in Opponents’ Short handed
Phillip Grubauer – 12 saves in 13 Chances, 3 saves in 3 chances at Even Strength
This week was 2-1 overall, with wins against the Senators and the Canucks at home but ending with a loss in Buffalo. The most important event of the week was the fact that Alexander Ovechkin scored the 500th goal of his illustrious career in the game against the Senators and added another goal for good measure. The team honored him prior to the following game and played a tribute video which included praise from many NHL players who had achieved the 500 goal milestone before he had. Both the wins featured great goaltending performances, even if not shutouts. The last game was notable for the debut of Mike Richards with the Caps.
Looking to the week ahead, the Caps return home to play the New York Rangers the very next day – Sunday January 17 at 5:00 p.m. After that, they travel to Columbus to play the Blue Jackets for a 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday January 19. After that, they return to Verizon Center for a home stand, with games against the Anaheim Ducks on Friday January 22 at 7:00 p.m. and the Pittsburgh Penguins at 12:30 p.m. for a nationally televised matinee on NBC. Except for the Penguins game, the rest of the games will be televised on CSN.
Recapper’s Note: The game with the New York Rangers on January 17 will be included with next week’s recap.
By Diane Doyle