Photo: Molly Riley/Associated Press
The Capitals got two wins over the weekend in back-to-back affairs, one on the road and one on home ice. Both were impressive. Here are my takeaways from this past weekend:
Double threat in the net: No matter who starts between the pipes for the Capitals, they can believe they have a chance to win on a nightly basis. Braden Holtby stopped 20 of 22 shot attempts to earn his 26th win of the season during Saturday’s win over the Canadiens. The next day backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer, who could honestly be a starting netminder for a number of teams in the league, stopped all 38 shots he faced for his 10th win and his third shutout of the season in the Caps’ 5-0 win over the Kings.
— NoVa Caps (@NoVa_Caps) February 5, 2017
All they do is win: Right now we’re seeing shades of last season but in my opinion, the timing of this stretch is much better than last year. A season ago, the Capitals were playing their best hockey from mid-November through the end of January. Since December 5th, the Capitals began to play their best hockey of the season and it’s still going on! Starting with that date, the Capitals have a record of 23-4-3 with 49 points. Overall, their 78 points through their first 53 games are the second-most points in NHL history during that stretch which is just behind (you guessed it) last season’s team mark of 84 points.
Penalty Kill improvement: There were some recent struggles on the PK, but not this past weekend. Shortly after the Canadiens pulled within 3-2, Andre Burakovsky was called for high sticking. The penalty killing unit went straight to work and didn’t let the Habs tie the game. John Carlson and Daniel Winnik each blocked a shot. The defensive effort was so good that Holtby only had to face one shot during those two minutes. The Capitals took seven penalties combined over the weekend but allowed zero power play goals to the opposition. Washington is ranked fourth in the NHL in PK percentage at 84.5%. The Caps already have one of the best offenses in the league but defense wins championships. Having a top five penalty killing unit with just under two and a half months of regular season left will be a big factor in this stretch run.
Slick Nick: Nicklas Backstrom had a goal on Saturday and on Sunday he assisted on T.J. Oshie’s goal.
He now has 23 points in his last 16 games and a four game point streak. It’s good to see him get this kind of production during the team’s recent run. Sadly, he doesn’t get enough recognition around the NHL. At least here in Washington, we can appreciate his talent and how he sets up his teammates to score.
Evgeny means necessary: Evgeny Kuznetsov had an assist on Marcus Johansson’s first period goal Sunday and has now earned seven points in his last five games, and 23 points in his last 17 games. Late last season and in the early parts of this season, Kuzy wasn’t looking like his old self, but now that’s changed. If he continues to produce the way he has of late, he could be a problem for opposing teams this postseason.
Third Line production: The Capitals’ third line of Brett Connolly, Lars Eller, and Andre Burakovksy had a combined six points over the weekend. Connolly’s two points on Sunday marked his second multi-point game this season and it was also the third straight game he earned a point. Eller scored the game’s first goal on Sunday.
Connolly and Eller were added during the offseason to address the third line problems and their production is vital in case the stars of the team like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, or T.J. Oshie are struggling.
MoJo gets his mo-jo back: Marcus Johansson hadn’t scored a goal since Jan. 19th but yesterday he finally lit the lamp in the first period.
The tally ended an eight game scoring drought for Johansson, but even though he was in a bit of a slump, Johansson is still on pace for a career year. He is just four goals away from tying his career-best mark of 20 goals, which he had in the 2014-15 season.
By Michael Marzzacco