Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
In late-November the Capitals had a critical stretch of 10 games. Coming off a tough 6-2 loss to Colorado, the 10 games that followed were going to determine which direction the Capitals were going to go. They went up against some good hockey clubs, including the Lightning, Maple Leafs, Blue Jackets and Sharks. The Capitals went 8-2 in that stretch and it catapulted them towards the top of the Metropolitan Division standings. After defeating the Rangers last Friday to round out the 10-game stretch, they fell to the Islanders in discouraging fashion on Monday night.
The 3-1 loss to the Islanders was a contest where they were simply outplayed (at best). The next night, they had to respond in front of the hometown fans against the Avalanche. The Capitals responded, just like they’ve done all season when faced with adversity, with a 5-2 win.
“I think you have a pretty prideful group that wants to respond. We didn’t have our best game last night… I think they wanted to have a good response. I think we had a good plan going in (vs. the Avalanche) and I thought it was a real good team win,” Capitals head coach Barry Trotz told the media in his postgame press conference. “If you look at the ice times- I kept it pretty even. I thought we played with lots of pace. There wasn’t a line that I wasn’t really happy with. We had a good push, good puck possession, did a lot of good things. Over time, they (the Avalanche) wore down. We didn’t.”
Typically when the Capitals have back-to-back sets, they’ve been winning the first game and dropping the second game. That was the case in the first four sets of back-to-backs this season. That trend broke Thanksgiving weekend when they beat both the Lightning and the Maple Leafs. Last night, for the first time this season, Washington dropped the first game of a back-to-back and bounced back in the second game.
“We lost our last game, we wanted to put a good effort at home and we did that tonight,” said John Carlson, who tallied a goal in the second period.
Brett Connolly, who scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal in the third period, was also pleased with the bounce-back effort the Caps showed Tuesday night.
“Against the Islanders, we were missing passes that we don’t normally miss. The pucks were bouncing and we were just doing things that we don’t normally do,” said Connolly. “Tonight we were moving the puck well, flat, crisp and were obviously a lot better. It was a good response from our group. Overall, we were happy with the way we played tonight.”
Matt Niskanen, who also found the scoresheet in the third period Tuesday night, added, “You got to find some urgency when you lose a game. You’re going to have a hiccup now and again, during the season. If the thing you’re looking for is a response, we’ve done that a couple of times this season.”
Braden Holtby had a nightmarish outing in goal at Brooklyn. He gave up three goals and was out-of-positon on the John Tavares tally that ultimately pulled him from the game in the second period. There were some questions at the optional skate the next morning about whether it would be Holtby or backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer getting the start that night against the Avalanche. Grubuaer was excellent in the relief appearance stopping all 17 shots and he usually gets the nod at the second game of back-to-backs. The one time it was reversed and Grubauer got the start in the first game of a back-to-back was that sweep of the Lightning and Maple Leafs. In that first game against the Lightning, Grubauer get his first win of the season.
When Trotz addressed the media two hours prior to puck drop, he said that it would be Holtby that would get the start in between the pipes. How did he respond after a tough outing just 24-hours before? Holtby redeemed himself, stopping 21-of-23 shots for a .917 save percentage. He earned the win and improved his record to 17-7-0.
“We just kind of looked outworked and dead in the last game, myself included. I think we all did what we needed to do throughout the day to get ourselves ready. There were some areas in the game (vs. the Avalanche) that we really excelled at and we got some big goals,” said Holtby.
The Capitals look to keep it rolling with a brief trip up to Boston where they’ll take on the Bruins Thursday night before coming back home to take on the Ducks on Saturday.
By Michael Marzzacco