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POSTGAME NOTEBOOK: Caps 4, Blues 3 (OT)

January 8, 2018
Working Overtime – Overtime has become virtually routine for the Capitals of late. On Sunday afternoon at Capital One Arena, the Caps once again needed more than 60 minutes to settle the score with the visiting St. Louis Blues, the seventh time in the last nine games the Caps have played extra hockey. 

Washington has thrived beyond the 60-minute mark this season, and it again came away with the two points on Sunday, taking a 4-3 victory on Nicklas Backstrom’s goal at 4:17 of the extra session.

The Caps’ extra session formula has been a familiar one; they get a great save (or two) from Braden Holtby, and someone finds a way to light the lamp at the opposite end a minute or so later. If not for those Holtby saves in overtime, the Caps might be three or four points lighter in the standings at the moment. 

Washington sits atop the Metropolitan Division, holding a three-point lead over second-place New Jersey. The three points separating the Caps and the Devils are the biggest gap between any two teams in the Metro, and a grand total of nine points separates the eight teams in the division. The Caps have earned nine of their 26 wins this season beyond the 60-minute mark, taking six wins in overtime and three in the shootout. 

Those extra points have been critical to the Caps’ success this season.

“Just look at the Metro,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “At the end of the year, four or five points [can mean the difference between being] either in or out in this tough division. Anytime you can get points, it’s going to be a battle right to the end. 

“I’m looking at the standings every day, and I’m like, ‘I have no idea who is in or out.’ You have a good streak and you’re right in the mix. If you have two bad days or two bad games, and you find yourself dropping three or four spots. I think it’s pretty crazy, so we’ve got to stay with it.” 

The Capitals are now 6-2 in games decided in overtime and they’re 3-1 in games decided in the shootout this season. With a dozen of their first 42 games going to extra time, the Caps are unlikely to threaten the franchise mark of 28 overtime/shootout contests, established in 2013-14. But with nine victories beyond the 60-minute mark, they could take a run at the single-season franchise mark for wins beyond 60. The 2010-11 Capitals claimed 14 wins after the 60-minute mark, a total matched by the 2013-14 Caps. 

Climbing The Ladder – Backstrom’s game-winner is the 197 th goal of his NHL career, moving him ahead of Bengt Gustafsson and into a tie for fifth place with Alexander Semin on the Caps’ all-time goals list.

Backstrom’s overtime goal on Sunday is the seventh of his NHL career, placing him one behind Mike Green (8) for second place on Washington’s all-time list for game-winning overtime goals. Alex Ovechkin leads with 22.

Cooking At Home – The Caps’ three-game home losing streak from October is a distant memory now, as Washington has won 15 of its 17 games at Capital One Arena since that short home slide in the season’s first month.

Sunday’s victory over St. Louis is Washington’s ninth straight triumph at Capital One; the Caps have not tasted defeat in the District since a 5-2 loss to Los Angeles on Nov. 30. 

Powering Up – Two of Washington’s pre-overtime goals in Sunday’s game came on the power play, with Brett Connolly notching his third power-play goal and ninth goal of the season in the first period, and Ovechkin netting his 27 th goal of the season on the man advantage in the third.

Both goals originated from Ovechkin’s office in the left circle; the first of those power-play goals on Sunday came when an Ovechkin blast hit Connolly’s stick and redirected into the St. Louis cage, behind netminder Carter Hutton.

Was it a slap pass, and did Ovechkin take a little off the shot?

“No, no way,” says Connolly. “It hit my stick really hard. It’s just an instinct play, just a quick instinct play and I was fortunate to get my stick on it.” 

With his third power-play goal of the season, Connolly has established a single-season career high.

Sunday’s game marks the first time since a 4-1 win over San Jose on Dec. 4 that the Caps have scored more than one power-play goal in a game. Washington is 6-0-1 this season in games in which it manages more than one power-play goal. 

Beating The Break – Not only did the Caps defeat the Blues on Sunday, they also overcame a four-day break that preceded the contest. Over the last four seasons, breaks of three or more days between games have proven to be problematic for Washington. Sunday’s win lifts the Caps to 7-10-5 in games immediately following breaks of three or more days between games, dating back to the start of the 2014-15 season.

Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears finished off a strong weekend of home ice hockey against the Charlotte Checkers on Sunday, blanking the visitors by a 3-0 count on Sunday afternoon at Giant Center. A night earlier, the Bears put a 5-1 hurting on the Checkers at the same venue. 

Hershey’s Riley Barber supplied his team with all of the offense it would require in the second minute of Sunday’s contest. Barber notched his 11 th goal of the season at 1:25 of the first period – an unassisted tally – to stake the Bears to an early 1-0 lead.

Later in the first, Tyler Graovac scored his fifth goal of the season with help from Nathan Walker and Barber. That goal came at 14:44 of the first, doubling Hershey’s advantage.

Midway through the third. Travis Boyd netted his ninth goal of the season on a Hershey power play, getting help from Mathias Bau and Chris Bourque at 9:32 of the final frame.

Hershey goaltender Vitek Vanecek was perfect in the Hershey nets, stopping all 29 shots that came his way. The shutout was Vanecek’s second of the season, and it raises his record to 6-4-1 in 2017-18. 

The 17-16-1-3 Bears are off until Wednesday when they host the Springfield Thunderbirds at Giant Center. 

By The Numbers – Dmitry Orlov led the Capitals with 26:34 in ice time and with four hits on Sunday … Connolly led the Caps with five shots on net … Connolly, Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie led the way with seven shot attempts each … Orlov and John Carlson each blocked two shots to lead the Caps … Jay Beagle won nine of 14 draws (64%).

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