One Down, One To Go – Thursday night’s game against the Jets in Winnipeg was as close to a must-win game as the Caps have had thus far this season. With two games in as many nights against the Southeast Division-leading Winnipeg Jets in their own building, Washington needs a pair of regulation wins in the Thursday and Friday contests just to narrow the gap between the two teams to a more manageable five points.
The first half of that mission has been accomplished. The Caps and goaltender Braden Holtby authored a 4-0 victory over the Jets in the first of the back-to-backs on Thursday night.
Washington was hoping to channel some of the elements of its 3-0 win over Winnipeg on March 2 at MTS Centre into its efforts here tonight, and it succeeded in doing so. The Caps used a quick start to propel themselves to a 2-0 lead, then lulled the Jets through a sleepy second frame. The Caps added two more tallies in the latter half of the third to remove all doubt about the outcome.
Troy Brouwer netted his 11th goal of the season at 3:06 of the first, stripping Jets defenseman Grant Clitsome of the puck in the neutral zone and then working a bit of a give and go with linemate Brooks Laich down low in the Winnipeg end.
“[Clitsome] didn’t have a whole lot in the neutral zone, so I tried to take away his dump,” recounts Brouwer. “Then I heard Brooksie calling for it, and he made a nice little play back to me. I came out the other side of the net and I didn’t have a whole lot so I just kind of threw it at the net. It rattled around and went in.
“We needed a start like that, though, especially in a building like this.”
Late in the first, Ovechkin found Marcus Johansson parked in front of the Winnipeg net, and he fired a perfect pass to Johansson for an easy tap-in into a yawning net to up Washington’s lead to 2-0.
That 2-0 deficit marked just the second time this season the Jets found themselves in a two-goal hole at the end of the first 20 minutes of a home game. Winnipeg rebounded to take a 4-2 decision from the Penguins on Jan. 25 in the first such instance.
Holtby was brilliant when he needed to be, making a pair of stellar pad stops on Winnipeg chances that were created off the rush.
“Holts started off, made some big saves in the first couple of shifts,” says Brouwer. “We were able to move out from there and then we just continued to push forward. We were good in our own zone; guys were blocking shots. Our penalty kill was really good tonight, which is what we needed.”
The Caps got some breathing room late in the game when Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom each tallied.
“The start was everything,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “This team’s been playing well here, we traveled, [it was] a hostile environment, we came out, we scored early and it gave us a lot of life.
“The start obviously helps. You get into your game, and I thought we had a real good pace in the first period. We frustrated them. Coming out in the second, obviously between periods they’re going to get talked to by their coach, and they’re going to come a little harder. We had to be ready for that, and to match their intensity, and we did a good job of it.”
Whitewash Run – Holtby’s shutout over the Jets on Thursday extends his personal shutout streak over Winnipeg to 140 minutes and 46 seconds, dating back to a Jan. 22 game between the Caps and Jets at Verizon Center.
“The last time they just threw everything at the net and they were just hoping for a bounce or a rebound or whatnot,” says Holtby. “Today it seemed like they were more patient with it. But that’s a credit for us being in the right position and not giving them those lanes no matter where they are on the ice to shoot the puck.
“I thought we did a great job in blocking shots and getting sticks in front. We had a couple of scrambles that were probably the difference because we could tie up our guys and really battle in front of the net.”
Thursday’s shutout was Holtby’s second shutout in a span of 19 days against the Jets at MTS Centre; he blanked Winnipeg on 35 shots here on March 2.
“I don’t know what it is,” says Holtby. “I’ve always felt comfortable here for some reason and hopefully that continues. But it’s hard to put a finger on it.”
Holtby is the first Caps goalie to author two road shutouts against the same opponent in the same season since Olie Kolzig – now the Caps associate goaltending coach – turned the trick against Montreal in 1999-00. Kolzig blanked the Canadiens in Montreal on Feb. 10, 2000 by a 1-0 score and again on Feb. 26, 2010 by a 3-0 count.
Border Patrol – Holtby has yet to lose in his homeland of Canada. In five career starts north of the border. Holtby is 5-0 with three shutouts, a 0.60 GAA and a .978 save pct.
Southeast Slayer – Holtby now has four shutouts this season, tied for second in the NHL. All four of his shutouts have come against Southeast Division foes.
Back In The Saddle – Caps defenseman Mike Green made his way back into the Washington lineup on Thursday, seeing game action for the first time since Feb. 27 in Philadelphia.
Green skated 22:44 in his return, the most ice he has seen in a game since he logged 25:34 against the Lightning in Tampa on Feb. 14. Green originally sustained the lower body injury that sidelined him in that game against the Bolts.
Lineup Lift – On Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, the Caps got top six forward Laich and sophomore defenseman Dmitry Orlov back into the lineup for the first time this season. On Thursday in Winnipeg, the Caps got top pairing defenseman Mike Green back into the lineup after a 10-game absence.
“With Brooksie coming back, he adds a lot of depth on our PK,” says Brouwer. “He hasn’t been used on the power play yet, but I am sure he will be in the future. He’s just another gritty player, another hard-working guy that we need.
“Mike Green, there’s not many players like him out there. He’s so smooth with the puck, reads the play well, jumps into the play and just creates more offense and makes it that much harder to defend.”
Tonight’s game – Washington’s 30th of the season – marked the first time in 2012-13 that the Caps had both Laich and Green in the lineup on the same night.
Minute Management – Each of Washington’s 18 skaters played at least 11:19 and each of them logged at least 10:44 in even-strength ice time. No Caps skater exceeded the 20 minute-mark in even-strength ice time; Karl Alzner’s 19:38 was tops on the team.
John Carlson led the Caps with 23:23 in ice time on the night, a shade below his season average of 23:52 coming in.
Roster Movement – On Thursday afternoon before the game, the Caps placed forward Joey Crabb on the inactive list for the purpose of placing him on waivers at noon on Friday.
Crabb had two goals and two points in 26 games for Washington this season. With Laich returning to the Washington lineup on Tuesday in Pittsburgh, something had to give. The Caps had 15 forwards before removing Crabb from the roster, and they needed the roster spot to activate Green.
The waiver period on Crabb will expire at noon on Saturday. If he goes unclaimed, Crabb would then be re-assigned to Hershey of the AHL.
First Point – Laich picked up his first point of the season on Brouwer’s goal in the first period.
Second Scrap – Playing in his 10th NHL game, Caps defenseman Steve Oleksy dropped the gloves for the second time in his NHL career. Late in the first period, Oleksy squared off with Jets forward James Wright.
Olesky hit Wright behind the Washington net, and Wright appeared to take exception to the body blow.
“Yeah, he took a little exception,” says Oleksy. “Obviously trying to set the tone early in the game, we had a 2-0 lead and to keep that momentum going I asked him if he wanted to. And he said, ‘Yeah.’”
The scrap was a spirited one, with both players landing a few punches. Wright is four inches taller and 10 pounds heavier than Oleksy but the tilt was relatively even.
For Wright, it was his third fight of the season and the fifth of his NHL career.
Streak Stopped – Ovechkin’s third period power-play goal in the third period came against a Winnipeg club that had been dominant in the penalty-killing department over its previous 13 games.
Including a Dustin Byfuglien tripping call earlier in the third period, the Jets had successfully killed off 35 of their 37 (94.6%) previous shorthanded situations.
Winnipeg had not allowed a power-play goal on home ice since a Feb. 17 game against the Boston Bruins, killing off each of its previous 15 penalty-killing missions at MTS Centre over that span.
By The Numbers – Holtby’s win was his 11th of the season, a single-season career high … The 20 shots allowed was the fewest for the Capitals in a game this season; it was also the fewest mustered by the Jets’ attack in a game this season … Ovechkin led the Caps with five shots on net … Oleksy paced the Caps with five hits … Green led the Caps with three blocked shots … Byfuglien led Winnipeg with five shots on net … Evander Kane led the Jets with six hits.