Eleven-twelfths of the 2012-13 season is in the books for the Washington Capitals, leaving just four games to be played. The Caps’ early season struggles have been well-documented, but the team’s finishing push has been a strong one that has put it in control of its own destiny as far as a Stanley Cup playoff berth is concerned.
A pair of points tonight in Montreal in their final road game of the regular season will enable the Caps to maintain control of that postseason destiny, regardless of what the Winnipeg Jets do this afternoon at home against the New York Islanders.
“Every game is important,” says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. “We lost the last game and we want to bounce back right away. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready for tonight; it’s going to be a tough game. Montreal’s a good team.”
Washington has put together an impressive 14-4-1 run over its last 19 games, a run that has lifted it into the top perch in the Southeast Division standings. But the Jets have won five straight, and are chasing the Caps as relentlessly as that bunch of guys on the horses chased Newman and Redford in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
“We know exactly what situation we’re in,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner, “what the scenarios need to be, the games we need to win. It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be entertaining. We’re happy we put ourselves in the position where we can control it; you hate when you have to watch the other games and see how everyone else is doing. The only unfortunate thing is that Winnipeg keeps winning games, too. It makes for a good final push, but we are happy with where we are.”
Washington will be attempting to rebound from a rare lackluster performance in a 3-1 loss to the Senators on Thursday night. The Caps haven’t suffered consecutive setbacks since March 9-12 when they dropped three straight.
Tonight’s game features four of the league’s top power play performers, two from each side. Montreal’s P.K. Subban leads the NHL with 25 power play points. Washington’s Mike Ribeiro (24) and Alex Ovechkin (23) are second and third, respectively. The Habs’ Andrei Markov is fourth at 22.
Ovechkin leads the NHL with 15 power play goals. Markov is tied for fifth with eight and Subban is tied for 13th with seven.
Both the Caps and the Habs boast of robust power play units this season. The Caps lead the NHL in power play efficiency with a 25.3% success rate on the season while Montreal ranks fourth at 21.7%. The Caps have had more than one power play goal in nine of their 44 games this season while the Canadiens have achieved that feat 11 times in 44 games.
Washington has not gone more than 12 power-play opportunities without scoring a goal this season, a claim no other team can make. The Caps are not only prolific with the extra man, they’re also consistent.
“You can only cover so many options,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer. “With [Mike Green] up at the top, he’s not necessarily looked at to score as many goals from up there because he’s got a long way to shoot it. But most of the time when Ovi gets his chances, they’re pretty good looks from the back door or coming across the top. And he’s got a great shot.
“For me, I get to shoot right from the slot which any player would dream of doing. We’re in good positions to have success there, and with the players who are feeding us the puck, they can find lanes in the smallest areas – they’re able to fit pucks through skates and sticks. They’re really good at it.”
The guys who are “really good at it” are Ribeiro and Backstrom. Ribeiro’s 18 power play assists are tied for second in the NHL and Backstrom’s 15 are tied for fifth.
“I think altogether, we’re working good,” says Backstrom. “We’re moving the puck well. For me as the half wall guy, it makes it easier to get the puck to all the other guys. We’ve got to continue working on this. I think it’s going to be real important, especially the last four games here. We have to put the puck in the net here.”
Montreal’s power play is somewhat different in that it offers two significant threats from the point in Subban and Markov.
“Normally they have their shooter and they go to their shooter,” says Alzner, “so you can sort of key on that guy a little bit more. With them shooting from both sides as well as from the half-wall at times, you have to make sure you’re making good reads because you have to get in that lane as quick as you can. That’s no secret.
“Those two guys have been scoring a ton of goals because [Subban’s] got that heavy shot and they look for him. And when they key on him, then Markov puts it in. You’ve got to find a good way to kill that. Sometimes that means giving up a shot from the half-wall to a guy you might not think is as dangerous. But regardless you have to get the blocks, you have to get the saves and clear the rebounds. That’s why they’re so dangerous.”
The Habs scored two power play goals against Washington in their 4-1 win over the Caps on Jan. 24. Montreal was 0-for-1 with the extra man in the Caps’ 3-2 win here on April 9. Washington is 0-for-5 on the power play against the Canadiens this season.
Along with Boston and Ottawa, Montreal is one of only three teams against which Washington has not scored a power play goal this season. Three of the Caps’ last four games this season are against those three clubs, starting tonight.