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POSTGAME NOTEBOOK: Caps 5, Avs 2

December 13, 2017
Bounce Back – The Caps came into to Tuesday’s game with the Colorado Avalanche smarting on two fronts. Washington played poorly in a 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders in Brooklyn a night earlier, a divisional loss that halted the Caps’ four-game winning streak. And in their previous meeting with Colorado in Denver last month, the Avs carved the Caps up, 6-2. 

Washington responded well in Tuesday’s game, earning a 5-2 win over the Avs. Five different Capitals supplied lamplighters, and Braden Holtby stopped 22 of 24 shots to earn his 17 th win of the season, doing so a night after he was pulled early in the second period of that loss to the Isles.

“It was not a good game for us,” Caps winger Brett Connolly says of Monday’s loss to the Islanders. “It was a really, really ugly game. But we put it behind us, and we were playing good hockey before that game. We came in here and we played a structured game. We didn’t give [the Avs] a whole lot, got some timely goals and got a win. It was a good bounce back game. We definitely needed that for sure after the last game.”

The Caps haven’t lost consecutive games since the middle of last month, and they’ve now taken eight wins in their last 10 games.

“I thought we looked – or just kind of were – dead last game,” says Holtby, “myself included. We all did what we needed to do today throughout the day to get ourselves ready. There were areas of the game where we really excelled, and we got some big goals at some big times.”

Holtby was excellent when he needed to be, making a great stop on a Colin Wilson breakaway in the second period when the game was tied at 1-1. Washington has not trailed at any point in its last five home games, but it was in danger of falling behind at that moment.

“Holts made a big save on the breakaway,” says Connolly. “It seems like he is always there to bail us out when we need him, and that’s why he is our best player. I thought he was good again tonight; a great bounce-back game for him, too.”

Double Teamed – When the Caps suffered that 6-2 drubbing at the hands of the Avs in Denver last month, it was Colorado’s top forward trio of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen that did most of the damage. Each of the three Colorado forwards scored; Landeskog had a hat trick, MacKinnon had a five-point game, and the trio combined for five goals and a dozen points in the win over Washington. 

In Tuesday’s rematch, the Caps used both the Nicklas Backstrom line and the Jay Beagle line to keep the Avs top line in check. Because Colorado dressed only 11 forwards and went with seven defensemen, the Avs did some double-shifting and some mixing and matching, making deployment a bit tricky for the Caps in terms of matching at times. 

“Well, it’s a little bit of a challenge,” admits Caps coach Barry Trotz. “You sort of put a Plan A and Plan B, whatever it is. I started Backy against them, and Beags was always the alternate plan. I said, ‘You’re going to gang up on MacKinnon a little bit here. Both of your lines are going to get a lot of responsibility against him.’ 

“I knew that he was going to move around because they didn’t have the full 12 forwards, so he was going to get some double shifts and that. So I sort of kept them apart, and I’d wait a little bit for that. It was good that both lines took the challenge and did a real good job with it.”

The Caps limited the MacKinnon unit to six harmless shots on net and 11 shot attempts. MacKinnon and Landeskog both finished the night pointless and at minus-3 while Rantanen picked up a helper and was minus-2.

“We had Beags’ line and Backy’s line going against MacKinnon,” says Connolly. “Last time we were in Colorado, they picked us apart pretty good. I thought those two lines did a great job against those guys. I didn’t think [MacKinnon] was as dynamic as he was in the game we played against them in Colorado. He’s a very good player. He’s got tons of speed. He’s shifty, and off the rush he can really beat you one-on-one. He’ll challenge you, so those guys did a great job. I thought our [defense] did well.”

Washington limited the Avs to a total of 24 shots on the night, the third fewest shots the Capitals have permitted in any of their 32 games to date this season.

“We definitely took away a lot of their in-zone shots from up high,” says Holtby. “They didn’t get too many through. There were times in the game where we were at least committed to pressuring back. I think they probably had three three-on-ones that went offside, and a couple of things like that. 

“You look at those as mistakes on their part, but also because we’re pressuring them and making them feel uncomfortable, they feel like they need to go faster than they have to. I think our guys did a great job of that, of making those plays happen. They’re a pretty good rush team when you give it to them, and we made them feel uncomfortable on the rush. I think that was a big part.” 

After the Avs’ Tyson Jost scored to make it a 4-2 game with 63 seconds left, Colorado pulled goaltender Semyon Varlamov. With help from his linemates, Smith-Pelly collected a well-earned point for the three of them with a long distance empty-netter in the final minute.

Offense From The Defense – Blueliners John Carlson and Matt Niskanen each found the back of the net on Tuesday against the Avs, and defenseman Madison Bowey chipped in with a pair of assists, including a pretty primary helper on Connolly’s game-winning goal. 

With the two goals and four points on Tuesday, Washington blueliners have now totaled 23 points (four goals, 19 assists) in the team’s last 10 games. The Caps have also gotten a goal from the blueline in each of the last three contests.

For the season, Caps blueliners have contributed just under two points a game. They’ve totaled 11 goals and 62 points in 32 games to date, for an average of 1.94 points per tilt.

Hot Hands – Jakub Vrana scored Washington’s first goal on Tuesday and Connolly netted the game-winner. Both players have been heating up of late. Vrana has five goals in his last 10 games, and Connolly has four goals in his last six. 

“We have to replace those goals that we lost last year,” says Trotz, “from [Marcus Johansson] or [Justin Williams] or some of those guys that were in the top nine last year. We have to replace those goals. Jakub was drafted to be an offensive player. Obviously, he shoots the puck extremely well. We were hoping that we could replace a lot of those goals and he is doing that.”

Century City – Caps winger Andre Burakovsky recorded the 100 th point of his NHL career with an assist on Niskanen’s third-period goal. Burakovsky made a strong play to force a turnover high in the Colorado zone, and then Evgeny Kuznetsov supplied the sublime primary setup for Niskanen’s goal.

By The Numbers – Niskanen paced the Caps with 25:05 in ice time … Beagle led the Caps with four shots on net … Carlson led the way for Washington with seven shot attempts … Smith-Pelly led the Caps with four hits … Lars Eller won eight of 12 draws (67%) … Caps defensemen supplied one third (nine of 27) of the team’s shots on net and nearly half (27 of 55) of Washington’s shot attempts in the game. 

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