Caps goaltender Braden Holtby made 27 saves to earn his fifth straight victory and the 200
th triumph of his NHL career on Friday as Washington earned a 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at Capital One Arena.
The victory is Washington’s fifth in its last seven games, and it vaults the Caps to within a point of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division standings.
Holtby earned his 200
th win in his 319
th game, becoming the second fastest goaltender in NHL history to reach that milestone. Hockey Hall of Famer Ken Dryden earned his 200
th victory in his 311
th game for the Montreal Canadiens back in the 1970s.
“It’s a cool accomplishment, I guess, but it really doesn’t mean anything in the end,” says Holtby, typically nonchalant in regards to personal achievements. “It shows that I’m getting up there in years.”
Pittsburgh came to town as a co-occupant of the top spot in the Metro standings, and Washington’s win moved it from seventh place to a tie for third in the division. A mere two points separates the top seven teams in the Metro.
“I think we were consistent,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “Special teams were huge. We had a little bit of a game plan and we stayed with it. As I said, the special teams were really, really, really huge in this game. Holts got his 200
th win; I thought he was big at the big moments, and he made some big saves.”
Almost a month to the day after the Pens came to the District and took a 3-2 win over the Caps on the strength of three power-play goals, Washington turned the special teams tables on Pittsburgh. The Capitals killed off all four Penguins power plays without incident, including a pair of kills early in the third period when Washington owned a one-goal lead.
The Caps went 2-for-6 on the power play, taking a first-period lead on John Carlson’s extra-man tally and scoring what would prove to be the game-winner on a power play late in the second, a T.J. Oshie tip of a Carlson point shot.
Washington was able to jump out in front of the Pens after Evgeni Malkin was boxed for an offensive zone tripping call on Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov late in the first. Caps captain Alex Ovechkin found a seam and threaded the puck from west to east for Evgeny Kuznetsov. Spotting Carlson creeping in from the point, Kuznetsov put the puck on a tee for the blueliner, and Carlson’s one-time blast clicked off Pens penalty killer Tom Kuhnhackl and behind Pittsburgh netminder Matt Murray for a 1-0 Washington lead at 14:09 of the first.
Holtby denied Conor Sheary’s breakaway bid less than a minute after Carlson’s goal, keeping the Caps’ lead intact. He also thwarted the Pens’ Greg McKegg from in tight early in the second, but the Pens did break through and tie the game near the midpoint of the middle frame.
Pittsburgh executed a zone entry and snapped the puck around with precision. From the left circle, Phil Kessel aimed a pass toward Malkin at the back door post. The puck never quite arrived, nicking Orlov’s stick and going behind Holtby to make it 1-1 at 8:26 of the second.
Late in the second, Pens defenseman Kris Letang was incarcerated for a pair of minor penalties on the same sequence – a hi-sticking call and a cross-checking call – both against Oshie.
Pittsburgh came within a second of killing off that four-minute sequence, but a Oshie got a stick on Carlson’s shot from the right point, deflecting it over the left shoulder of Pens goalie Matt Murray at 18:09 of the third, with one second remaining on the man advantage.
Oshie’s goal was the difference between taking a lead into the third and not doing so, and it vacuumed away any momentum the Pens might have been able to gain had they completed the kill successfully.
“It’s tough,” admits Pens coach Mike Sullivan. “There is one second left on the kill, and for the most part, they really didn’t get much. The killers were doing a really good job. That was one of those goals that stung a little bit.”
Early in the third, the Caps were faced with a pair of critical shorthanded situations, and they were able to navigate their way through each of them successfully.
“We had our opportunities,” rues Pens captain Sidney Crosby. “Those power plays early in the third were probably our biggest opportunities to get back into the game, and we weren’t able to do that.”
With 6:18 left in the third, the Caps manufactured a critical insurance goal on a strong offensive zone shift. Alex Chiasson moved the puck from low to high, going to Taylor Chorney at the right point. Chorney put the puck back around behind the Pens cage, where Nicklas Backstrom got to it. The Caps pivot put a perfect backhand feed to the high slot for Chandler Stephenson, who buried it to push the Caps’ advantage to 3-1.
Jakub Vrana notched an empty-net goal with 2:42 remaining to account for the 4-1 final, sealing the win for Washington and for Holtby.
“Special teams [were] clearly the difference,” says Sullivan. “They get two power-play goals, and we don’t. Five-on-five, the scoring chances were fairly even. It was a pretty even hockey game. It was one of those nights.”
As it was for the Caps the last time the Pens were in town.
“I thought we had a little more of a forecheck,” says Trotz. “We were able to sustain a little bit more time with the puck. It was a good win for us.
“I just thought we stayed with it. We bent a couple of times, but we didn’t break. That’s what you have to do against the Penguins sometimes.”