Road Rebound – At this point of the 2012-13 NHL season, the Washington Capitals can’t afford to be losing games in chunks. They need to follow losses with wins. The Caps also need to start winning on the road. Coming into Saturday’s game against the Jets in Winnipeg, the Caps had won just two of their first nine games on the road this season. Finally, after digging a deep standings hole to start the season, it’s important for the Caps to keep the Southeast Division leaders from getting too far out of sight in the standings.
For all of those reasons, Saturday’s 3-0 Washington win over the Jets was hugely important, and very satisfying. The Caps were able to avoid a losing streak by rebounding after a bad loss, they won on the road, and they moved within four points of the Jets in the Southeast Division standings.
“It felt really good first and foremost to get the win,” says Caps winger Eric Fehr. “Our team needs to put a bunch of wins together, and obviously you’ve got to start with one.”
Winnipeg had won five of its previous six games, using fast starts to fuel victory in most of those contests. The Jets scored in the first five minutes of five of their previous six games, but Braden Holtby and his Caps teammates held the Jets at bay for the entire 60 minutes on Saturday.
“This rink is an entirely different building when they get a lead or when they score first,” says Fehr, who was a member of the Jets last season. “For us to be able to take the crowd out of it and just play a simple road game, that means a lot to this team. And hopefully we can keep pushing forward.”
The Caps kept the Jets from getting out to a quick start, then eked out a 1-0 lead of their own on a Matt Hendricks goal midway through the second period.
Discipline has been a problem for the Capitals at times this season, but discipline helped Washington on Saturday. The Caps were able to play nearly two full periods without taking a penalty, enabling Caps coach Adam Oates to roll four lines and keep his entire bench involved in the game.
The Caps killed off a pair of penalties, one that carried over from the second to the third period and one that began at 6:51 of the third. In between those two penalty-killing missions, the Caps scored a pair of important insurance tallies less than a minute apart. Those tallies from Troy Brouwer and Mike Ribeiro, respectively, gave Washington some necessary breathing room.
Knowing it was likely their last and best chance to cut into the three-goal Washington lead, the Jets were dogged and tenacious on the second of those power-play chances. They fired a total of 11 shots in those two minutes, getting seven of them on goal. But Holtby stood tall, with some help from the penalty-killing corps in front of him. Caps defenders blocked three Winnipeg shots during that power play.
Holtby and company kept Winnipeg at arm’s length the rest of the way to get Washington out of town with a much-needed victory.
“It was obviously good to bounce back,” says Oates, “playing a team that has been hot and in a tough barn. The guys came out and handled the pressure early. I thought we did a real good job of that. [It was a] big goal for us in the second and a 1-0 lead after two. A lot of positives.”
WhiteWashington – The Capitals have now played four games against the Jets at MTS Centre, and they’re 2-2 in those contests. Both Washington wins in the Winnipeg barn have been of the shutout variety.
Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth blanked the Jets on 26 shots in Winnipeg on Dec. 15, 2011. Alex Ovechkin supplied the game-winner in that one, scoring the only goal of the game late in the third to help the Caps to a 1-0 win.
Holtby needed to make 35 saves on Saturday to record his third shutout of the season and the sixth of his NHL career.
Turning Point – The game was scoreless midway through the second period and the Caps had enjoyed the only power play opportunity of the game to that point, a holding call on Winnipeg’s Brian Little just 41 seconds into the game.
With the puck in Winnipeg’s end, Caps defenseman John Erskine wound up for a slapshot. His heavy blast felled Jets forward Blake Wheeler, who collapsed in pain in the high slot. With a Jets player writhing on the ice, the Caps had the virtual equivalent of a delayed power play, knowing the whistle would blow as soon as a Jets player touched the puck.
Erskine skirted his way around the fallen Jet, then passed to Ribeiro, who was stationed in the right circle. Ribeiro slap-passed the puck toward the net, where Hendricks was standing above the paint.
“[Wheeler] was down and he was hurt,” recounts Erskine. “Carly gave me the pass and I had time to go wide and around him, and I could hear Ribs calling for the puck so I faked a slapshot right to him. He did the rest.”
Don’t let him kid you. Erskine’s pass was as good as Ribeiro’s.
“Great pass form Ersky to me,” says Ribeiro. “Then it was like a half power play for like 10 seconds. We were able to score and we kept pushing the pace after that.”
Hendricks merely needed to get a stick on the puck to redirect it, and he did so for his fourth goal of the season.
“I knew it was coming,” says Hendricks of Ribeiro’s pass. “I was thinking, ‘Should I catch it and shoot it, or just deflect it?’ I’m glad I chose the second option.”
For Hendricks, the goal was his first game-winner of the season and his first game-winning tally in nearly two years, since a 2-1 Washington win over Carolina at Verizon Center on March 11, 2011.
“I give Ribs a ton of credit for that pass to me,” says Hendricks. “Not many people can make that pass in this league.”
Misleading Margin – Winnipeg held a 15-5 lead in shots on goal at the end of the first period and 35-21 at the end of the game, but those advantages were not at all troubling to the Capitals.
“We did a great job of keeping them to the perimeter,” says Holtby of the game’s first period. “It was a lot of shots. It looked like it was Winnipeg outplaying us, but I thought we outplayed them in the first. That’s the way shots sometimes go. But I thought we played great all game.”
The Jets’ advantage in shots attempted – generally a better barometer of puck possession and territorial advantage – was not nearly as pronounced at 23-16 after 20 minutes. Most of the Winnipeg shots on net were not worrisome; only four came from the team’s top six forwards while four also came from the Jets’ blueline.
“It seemed like it was very neutral zone,” says Hendricks of the first frame. “Kind of from the top of the circles in our zone to the top of the circles in their zone. There was never really any concrete offensive zone time for either team.”
“That first period was as evident as it gets that that’s the way the system is supposed to be played,” says Holtby. “There might be some high shot totals, but it’s a lot of perimeter stuff. It frustrates other teams when they can get into the house area in the slot. You could see it was just frustrating them, and that’s what led to our second period. They started turning the puck over and we kind of dominated them.”
Washington turned that advantage around in the second, outshooting the Jets 13-4 and out-attempting them 17-13.
“I think once we got them turning and forced some turnovers, we were able to take advantage of it,” says Hendricks.
The Caps had only three shots in the third, but they scored on two of them. Ten of the Jets’ 16 shots in the third period came on the power play. Winnipeg held a slim even-strength shots on goal advantage of 21-20 at game’s end.
Evened Up – Twenty games into the 2012-13 season, the Caps have had plenty of games where special teams have played a significant role. In many of those games, a slew of penalties have been called over a relatively short span of time, resulting in a lot of special teams play and preventing the teams from establishing any flow on the ice and continuity and rhythm with the bench.
Today’s game was the opposite of that. After Little’s penalty early in the first, the two teams played nearly two full periods of five-on five hockey before Washington’s Mathieu Perreault was whistled for a goaltender interference call late in the second period.
“It was really great for our team just to get everybody going,” says Fehr. “I think at times we’ve been caught in the box too many times and it really tires out some of the [penalty-killing] guys and the power play guys. It’s just great when we can use everybody and you can feel better at the end of the game. Everyone’s a part of it.”
With very little in the way of special teams activity over the game’s first 40 minutes, Oates was able to keep all of his players active and involved in the game and it had an impact on the outcome.
“It makes a big difference,” says Oates. “We stayed out of the box, we were disciplined, our defensemen handled their pressure, we broke out, we got it behind them. [In the] second period we started to take it over, I thought we had a really good second. After that, you feel good about yourself.”
Zero Hero – Holtby’s three shutouts this season are more than Washington’s team leader had in that department in 23 of the team’s previous 37 seasons of existence.
“I just tried to relax,” says Holtby, “and I’ve always seen the puck well in this rink. I don’t know why, going back to the AHL. I was confident coming in that this was going to be a better game and I was going to be able to battle for some shots. Our team played a great game in front of me, and luckily we got the win.”
With six career shutouts, Holtby has tied Pat Riggin and Rick Tabaracci for seventh on the franchise’s all-time list. Riggin needed 143 games to get his six shutouts; Tabaracci needed 69 games. Holtby recorded his sixth shutout in his 35th career NHL game.
Divisional Dominator – All three of Holtby’s shutouts this season have come against Southeast Division opponents. Lifetime, he is 8-3 with three shutouts, a 2.54 GAA and a .923 save pct. against Southeast Division foes.
Heading into Saturday’s game against Winnipeg, Holtby was 0-2 lifetime with a 6.18 GAA and an .841 save pct. against the Thrashers/Jets.
Saturday Night Special – Holtby has recorded three of his six career shutouts in Saturday games. He is now 6-1-1 in eight career Saturday starts with a 1.49 GAA and a .949 save pct.
New Standard – Fehr skated 19:26 in Saturday’s game against his former Jets teammates, the highest single-game ice time total of his NHL career. Prior to today, Fehr’s single-game best in that department was 17:20 in a Dec. 5, 2009 game against the Flyers in Philadelphia.
Gone Green – With defenseman Mike Green and his average of 25:59 in nightly ice time sitting Saturday’s game out with a lower body injury, rookie Tomas Kundratek stepped into fill the void.
Playing in just the 19th game of his NHL career, Kundratek turned in a very tidy 22:27 of work on Saturday, much higher than his average of 14:54 per game this season. Kundratek was poised in his own end and sharp with his passes, and his strong play helped the Caps overcome the absence of Green.
Kundratek’s ice time total today was his second highest of the season and just 17 seconds behind John Carlson for the lead among all Caps’ skaters in today’s game.
Capital Venture – Left wing Aaron Volpatti made his debut in a Capitals sweater on Saturday, two days after Washington claimed him off waivers from Vancouver. Volpatti got into a first-period fight with Winnipeg’s Anthony Peluso (who is three inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than Volpatti), and the newest Capital skated seven shifts totaling 5:24 in ice time on the afternoon. Volpatti also registered one shot on goal and one hit for the afternoon’s work.
The Ladder – Going into Saturday’s game, the Capitals trailed Winnipeg and Carolina – the co-leaders in the Southeast Division – by six points. Saturday’s win pulled the Caps to within four of the Jets, but Carolina maintained its six-point lead over Washington with a 6-2 home ice win over Florida on Saturday night.
“It’s a divisional opponent, so we’ve got to catch them,” says Erskine. “I think we were like six points behind coming in. For the guys to step up and play a 60-minute solid game, it was huge.”
The Caps have pulled even with the Panthers at 17 points, Washington trails Tampa Bay by two points. Washington is 5-2 against Southeast Division foes this season and it is 3-9-1 against the remainder of the Eastern Conference.
Two-Man Disadvantage – The Jets lost the services of two forwards during Saturday’s game. Winger Anthony Peluso won his fight with Volpatti, but suffered a hand injury that kept him out of the lineup the rest of the way.
Seconds before Hendricks scored the game’s first goal, Wheeler took the full force of an Erskine slapshot to his lower body. Between the game’s second and third periods, the Jets announced that Wheeler would not return to action because of a lower body injury.
But desperate times call for desperate measures, and with Winnipeg trailing in the third, Wheeler was on the ice gamely trying to help his team get back into the game.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears were in action on Saturday night against the Norfolk Admirals at Giant Center. Things didn’t look so rosy for the home team late; the Bears trailed Norfolk 2-1 with less than three minutes remaining in the third period.
Ryan Stoa scored his 11th of the season to even the game at 1-1 with 2:33 left. That set the stage for Ryan Potulny’s game-winning goal – his 12th of the season – with 45.1 seconds left in regulation.
Garrett Mitchell scored Hershey’s first goal, his 11th of the season. Mitchell and Stoa each had two points on the night as did defenseman Cameron Schilling (two assists). Philipp Grubauer made 19 saves to run his record to 7-4-2-1 on the season.
The 27-21-3-5 Bears are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings, one point behind Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and five points behind Portland.
Hershey hosts Syracuse on Sunday at 5 p.m.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals put an 8-3 thumping on the Solar Bears in Orlando on Saturday. Yannick Tifu had a hat trick (and five points) and Stanislav Galiev had two goals to pace the Reading attack. Brock Shelgren, Joel Champagne and Ethan Cox added single tallies to support the goaltending of Riley Gill (16 saves).
The 37-17-3-3 Royals are tied with Cincinnati for the top spot in the ECHL’s Eastern Conference standings.
By The Numbers – Nicklas Backstrom led Caps forwards with 22:16 in ice time … Ovechkin and Brouwer led the Capitals with four shots on net each … Erskine led the way with five blocked shots … Evander Kane and Dustin Byfuglien led the Jets with six shots on net each … Eric Tangradi led Winnipeg with six hits despite skating just 9:40 on the afternoon.