Two Turnover Goals Lead to Two Points – Caps coach Adam Oates’ system is designed to force turnovers in the neutral zone. On Friday night against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Caps scored two goals off such turnovers and they rode that to a 3-2 win over their former Patrick Division rivals at Verizon Center.
After spotting Philly a 1-0 lead on a Bruno Gervais goal midway through the second, the Caps drew even six minutes later. John Carlson picked a puck-carrier clean near the Washington line juts as Philly was making a wholesale line change. Caps center Nicklas Backstrom broke for the opposite blueline, and Carlson hit him in stride. Backstrom did the rest, roofing a backhander past Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to even the game at 1-1.
“First off,” says Carlson. “I was just making a defensive play first and foremost. Once I looked up at pretty much the same time as I was redirecting the puck into the middle of the ice more or less, and they got caught in a line change and Nicky made a great play.”
Washington had a golden opportunity to take a stranglehold on the game early in the third when they had a 5-on-3 power play for 1:13. But the Caps were unable to get anything going, largely because they could not enter the zone cleanly with any efficiency.
Troy Brouwer put the Caps on top by a 2-1 count at 3:57 of the third, taking a pass from Mike Green in the lower portion of the left circle. Brouwer himself was looking to make a pass somewhere, at least he was until he saw a bit of daylight short side. Eschewing the pass, he sniped the puck into the spot, a tally that gave Washington its first lead of the night.
Brouwer’s goal gave Washington its third 2-1 lead in the third period in as many games. The Caps could not successfully close out either of the first two games in which they owned that slim lead, and after those games Washington skaters lamented their inability to add to the lead and give themselves some breathing room.
Tonight, they did exactly that.
Less than three minutes after Brouwer’s goal, Washington’s Wojtek Wolski pressured Philly blueliner Luke Schenn along the left wing wall near the Flyers’ line. The blueliner bobbled the disc, and Wolski scooped up the puck, skated in and pushed it through Bryzgalov to make it a 3-1 game.
Schenn’s brother Brayden scored with 9:30 left in the third to pull Philly within one. But the Caps, playing their second game in as many night, third game in four nights and seventh game in 11, held the fort the rest of the way.
“We did really well in the neutral zone,” says Wolski. “I think the last couple of games in the third period we seemed to break down and get away from what we want to be doing in the neutral zone. I think tonight we really stuck together and reminded each other to stay wide. We did that really well, we got a lot of turnovers and pucks going the other way.”
With the win, Washington was able to exit the Eastern Conference cellar, leaving Philly there in its wake.
Tonight’s game was the fifth straight 3-2 game in which Washington has been involved. They’ve won two of them, and they really needed tonight’s game.
“It’s huge,” says Carlson of the win. “Honestly we came into this game with the mindset that we had played pretty good hockey the last two games, but not good enough. We wanted to stay confident but changes a few things to make sure that what we’re doing is the right thing for the whole game.
“And we also needed to capitalize on our chances and I think we did a better job of that today. We’ve had some big momentum swings in the past since the beginning of the season where we maybe should score and we don’t and they maybe shouldn’t and they do. Those are really tough to swallow and back to come back from.”
Back On The Beam – Backstrom is one of the team’s more honest players in terms of his own performance. During a recent chat, he told me he hadn’t been playing very well. I asked him what specific areas he needed to work on and he answered, “Everything.”
We didn’t see any vintage Backstrom performances in the season’s first seven games, but the playmaking pivot picked up his game for Friday’s game with the Flyers.
With a goal and an assist, Backstrom notched his second multiple-point game of the season and first since Jan. 22 against the Winnipeg Jets. Backstrom skated 22:29 on the night, got all five of his shot attempts on net, won 10 of 19 draws (53 percent on a night in which the Caps won only 42 percent as a team) and led all Caps forwards in ice time and even-strength ice time on the night.
In short, he turned in a vintage Nicklas Backstrom performance.
“I think our line played a little bit better,” says Backstrom. “We passed the puck a little bit better and we created more chances, too. That’s what we have to do. That’s the way we have to play and keep doing it every night.”
Even Strength – For the first time this season, the Capitals scored as many as three even-strength goals in a game.
Uh Oh – Caps defenseman John Erskine caught Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds in the head with his right elbow late in the first period. Simmonds went down in a heap, left the game and did not return. Officials did not call a penalty on the play, but it’s likely that the incident will be subject to some further review by the NHL’s player safety division.
Missing Men – Prior to the puck drop immediately after the Erskine-Simmonds incident, Philly’s Zac Rinaldo and Washington’s Matt Hendricks dropped the gloves and fought. Because they did so before the puck actually dropped, both Rinaldo and Hendricks received game misconduct penalties in addition to the five-minute fighting majors.
Losing Hendricks hurt the Caps more than losing Rinaldo hurt the Flyers. Hendricks is the Caps’ top face-off man this season, and he tallied two goals in the team’s first seven games this season. He has averaged better than 12 minutes a night since the start of last season.
Rinaldo has two goals in 70 career NHL games and he has played less than 10 minutes in 57 of those 70 games. He averaged 7:29 a night as an NHL rookie last season.
Face-Off Futility – For the fifth time in eight games, the Caps fell below break-even in the face-off circle on the night. Washington won 29 of 69 draws (42 percent), its second-lowest single-game rate on the season. The Capitals won just 41 percent of their draws on Thursday night in Toronto.
Equation Line II – Caps winger Alex Ovechkin started the game on the right side of a line with center Mike Ribeiro and left wing Wojtek Wolski. The uniform numbers of the three players are 8, 9 and 17. The sum of the first two add up to the third, hence “The Equation Line.”
Several years back, Ovechkin was part of another “Equation Line” here in DC. His linemates on that unit were center Dainius Zubrus (No. 9) and right wing Chris Clark (No. 17).
Flyer Beater – Caps goalie Braden Holtby had a strong game in goal for the Caps to earn his first win of the season. He stopped 29 of 31 shots he saw on the night to run his career record against the Flyers to 2-0-1. In three career starts against the Flyers, Holtby has a 1.62 GAA and a .940 save pct.
Holtby had a good deal of help out in front. Caps skaters combined to block 23 shots on the night, a single-game high this season. Karl Alzner and Carlson led the way with five each.
By The Numbers – The Caps are 2-2-1 when they give up the game's first goal and 0-3 when they score first ... Green skated 25:51 on the night to pace the Caps in ice time for the eighth time in as many games this season … Sixteen of the game’s 24 skaters took at least one face-off in the game … Philly’s Claude Giroux took 31 of the game’s 69 face-offs, winning 20 for a 65% efficiency rate … Fourteen of Philadelphia’s 31 shots on goal came from its defensemen.