It’s been a few years since the Capitals have played in western Canada, so the team’s large contingent of players from that part of the world haven’t been able to play in front of the home folks for a while. On Thursday night in Edmonton, a pair of local boys made good, helping the Caps to a 4-1 win over the Oilers.
Caps goaltender Braden Holtby, who hails from somewhat nearby Lloydminster – a two that actually straddles the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan – continued his run of strong play with a 30-save effort for his fourth win of the season. Edmonton’s own Jason Chimera was crucial in creating what proved to be the game-winning goal for Washington, and he added a goal of his own to ice the Caps’ third win in succession.
“I think our line, we’ve got to get the goals five-on-five,” says Chimera, “we’ve got to get going. We’ve been doing a good job of cycling and not getting anything much of it. It’s nice to get a couple of goals tonight which helps the team out tremendously. When we get a couple of goals, I think we’ve got a pretty good chance of winning.”
Holtby was at his best when he needed to be, early in the game when the contest was scoreless and when Washington was protecting a slim 1-0 lead for most of the second period.
“It’s pretty special, obviously,” says Holtby of his first win in Edmonton. “This is the rink that I grew up watching NHL games in. It’s pretty cool to be here and playing. It’s been a while since I’ve been here. I tried not to focus on the fact that it’s ‘that rink’ and there are a lot of people here watching and whatnot and I just tried to focus on my game.”
The Caps made the Oilers pay for an icing violation late in the first frame. Nicklas Backstrom won the ensuing offensive zone draw for Washington and he nudged the puck to left wing Marcus Johansson. Johansson put it on a tee for Ovechkin, who fired high over the glove of Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk to put Washington up top 1-0 at 18:13 of the first.
It marked the second straight game in which Ovechkin has scored in that fashion, off a quick wrist shot after Washington won an offensive zone face-off.
“I talk to Backy and Jojo about it all the time,” says Ovechkin, “how different the situations can be. We have a couple of different options there. Sometimes I can go to the middle because two guys jump on me, so I can go to the middle and pass them, and be wide open. It’s working, so it’s good.”
“He’s a goal scorer,” says Caps coach Adam Oates of Ovechkin. “They’re kind of broken plays and before you know it, the release. It’s tough on goalies. But a lot has to happen for that to work. Backy has to win the draw, Jojo has to pass it to him and bump. And that was an unbelievable shot tonight.”
Holtby made some key saves on Edmonton power plays in the first and second, and showed great lateral movement to stop the Oilers’ David Perron in the middle frame on a point blank chance off a Washington giveaway in its own end. Holtby made a couple of strong stops late in the second and early in the third as well.
With less than five minutes remaining in the second, the Caps doubled their advantage. Washington winger Joel Ward chipped the puck up the wall from his own end, and linemate Jason Chimera raced into the Edmonton end after it with Oilers defenseman Justin Schultz. Schultz lost his footing, and Ward was able to keep the puck in the zone. He returned it to Chimera, who was able to get the puck to Karl Alzner at the left point. Alzner passed to partner John Carlson, and Carlson let go of a wrist shot from the right point. Chimera and Ward were both parked in front, and both deflected the puck, with Ward putting it past Dubnyk for a 2-0 Washington lead at 15:35 of the middle stanza.
“[Ward] tipped it after,” explains Chimera. “It was one of those things. It was a bang-bang play; I tipped it and he tipped it. You could hear it when it went in. He made a nice chip and it was nice to get rewarded there, for sure. Wardo went hard to the net there. [Mikhail Grabovski’s] goal was kind of his goal in Winnipeg [on Tuesday], too. He created a whole bunch of havoc in front. It was nice to get that.”
“Chimmer did a great job with his speed,” says Oates, “just on the forecheck, hounding the kid down. And then Wardo came down the wall and we got the puck in. That allowed all five guys to get in the zone. Then we’re on o-zone time, and that puts them on their heels.”
Just 84 seconds into the third period, the Caps’ top line administered the dagger to the Oilers after a dominant offensive zone shift. Ovechkin made a cross-ice pass to Johansson, who pushed it right to Backstrom at the top of the paint. All the Caps center had to do was to get a stick on it to finish a pretty tic-tac-toe play into a yawning cage.
Chimera netted a goal of his own at 13:23. Grabovski neatly picked the pocket of Edmonton forward Jordan Eberle at the Washington line and broke back toward Edmonton ice with Chimera in a 2-on-2. After gaining the zone. Grabovski fed a perfect pass through Oilers defenseman Jeff Petry to Chimera, and the winger did the rest, flipping a wrister over Dubnyk’s glove hand to make it 4-0.
“It’s just a great pass by Grabo.” says Chimera. “It’s one of those things, he sees my speed, he got behind the defenseman and just slid it through. I tried to make a shot, and sometimes they go where you put it. It was nice it went in.”
Minutes away from a second career shutout against the Oilers, Holtby’s bid for a whitewash was scuttled when Schultz scored to account for the 4-1 final with just 2:04 left in the third period.
“Holts again gave us confidence,” says Ovechkin. “He made big saves in the first. We scored first and it gave us a little bit of room. Second goal was huge. We feel we have to play simple. They’re still going to give us some chances because they have to.”
“First period, I think they kind of took the play to us,” says Chimera of the Oilers. “They were coming pretty hard. In the second period, we did a better job of slowing them down and not turning the puck over as much, and I think that helped us out a whole bunch. When you turn the puck over, these guys have got some dynamic players who can hurt you. We did a good job of slowing them down in the neutral zone.”
Ten In Ten – Ovechkin’s goal gives him 10 goals in as many games at the start of the season, and he now has 32 goals in his last 31 games, dating back to last season. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Ovechkin is the first player since Hockey Hall of Famer Pavel Bure to have 30 goals in as many games. Bure achieved the feat in a 30-game span bridging the end of the 2000-01 season and the beginning of 2001-02.
Holting His Own – Holtby faced 30 or more shots for the sixth straight start. He is now 4-3 with a 2.14 GAA and a .937 save pct. in his last seven starts.
Holtby had a stretch of nine straight starts last season in which he was tested with 30 or more shots on goal.
Killing It – The Caps have gone five straight games without allowing a power play goal for the first time since late in the 2011-12 season. Washington killed off every shorthanded mission it faced in a six-game stretch from March 22-31, 2012, a span that included just 11 shorthanded situations.
During the team’s current run, the Caps have been disciplined, taking exactly three shorthanded situations in each of the five games. Washington has killed off 16 straight shorthanded situations, dating back to its Oct. 12 game against Colorado at Verizon Center.
Washington’s power play tops the NHL with a 29.7% success rate, but the Caps are now running second in the league in shorthanded prowess with a kill rate of 88.2%.
Leader Board – Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals (10) and shots (67) and is tied for the league lead in power-play goals (four). With 15 points, he is tied for second in the NHL scoring race, two points behind Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.
Backstrom and Johansson each have 10 assists on the season, tied for second in the NHL in that department.
With 12 points on the season, Backstrom is tied for fifth in the league’s scoring chase. With 10 points, Johansson is tied for 22nd.
Evens – The Caps struggled at even strength early in the season, but Washington has outscored its foes by a combined 9-6 at even strength during the life of its current three-game winning streak.
Washington has climbed from 28th in the NHL in ratio of five-on-five goals for/against to 21st in the circuit at 0.81.
Speaking of “evens,” the Caps are now 5-5 on the season. They’re 3-3 at home and 2-2 on the road. They’ve scored 30 goals and allowed 30, at least if you’re using the NHL’s bogus accounting system which credits teams that win shootouts with a phantom “goal.” In actuality, the Caps have scored 28 goals and have surrendered 30.
Four Score – Chimera, an Edmonton native and former Oiler, has continued to have good success at Rexall Place even after shedding the copper and blue sweater. In nine games at his original NHL home barn since the Oilers traded him away, Chimera now has three goals and five points.
He has a four-game scoring streak (three goals, one assist) at Rexall dating back to the 2007-08 season when he was a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets. His goal here tonight came near the four-year anniversary of his previous one in this barn, on Oct. 22, 2009 with the Jackets.
Since leaving the employ of the Oilers, Chimera has scored against three different Edmonton netminders: Mathieu Garon, Nikolai Khabibulin and Dubnyk.
“It’s fun anytime you get a lot of friends and family in the stands and your parents are here,” says Chimera. “It’s always fun to play here.”
Minutes Managing – Washington’s six defensemen all skated at least 18:13 on the night, and Mike Green’s 22:40 led the blueline, leaving a tight spread of just 4:27 between the six defenders.
The Capitals’ forwards were similarly spread with their ice time.
For the first time in the 2013-14 season, all 12 forwards logged at least 10 minutes.
Fourth-line left wing Aaron Volpatti skated 10:01 on the night at the low end of the spectrum, and Chimera’s 17:26 led all Washington forwards.
With 15:42 on the night, Ovechkin skated less than 20 minutes for just the second time this season. The last time Ovechkin had less ice time in a regular season NHL game was on Dec. 20, 2011 in a 4-1 win over Nashville at Verizon Center, a game noteworthy because it was Mike Knuble’s 1,000th game in the NHL. Ovechkin skated 15;05 that night.
House Of Horrors – Going into Thursday night’s game with the Oilers in Edmonton, the Caps had gone 1-8 in their previous nine visits to the Oilers’ home. Washington had been outscored by a combined total of 39-16 in those nine games.
The Caps defeated the Oilers on Oct. 14 at Verizon Center, and this season now marks the first time since 1995-96 that the Caps have swept the season series from Edmonton in a campaign in which that season series consisted of multiple games.
For Real? – Washington was mere minutes away from a 4-0 shutout in Thursday’s game, a situation in which it would be virtually impossible to envision any of the Oilers earning any of the three stars of the game.
As we know, Edmonton managed a token tally late in the game to avoid the ignominy of a shutout but that hardly seems like enough reason to award one of the three stars to an Oiler.
According to the official game sheet, Sportsnet is responsible for the choosing of the three stars. And according to Sportsnet, Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was the third best of the 40 players on both sides that suited up for this game.
Nugent-Hopkins played 22:32 to lead all Oilers forwards. He was also credited with six shots on net and three takeaways, and both of those totals tied for the Edmonton team lead in the game. And Nugent-Hopkins won nine of 14 draws for a solid 64% success rate in the circle on the night.
Nugent-Hopkins did not figure in the scoring of the Edmonton goal, and was not on the ice when it was scored. He was, however, on the ice when Washington scored.
All four times.
So yeah, a guy who went dash-four in a game his team lost going away was actually dubbed the game’s third star. That’s some serious home cooking.
Look, we know plus/minus is a skewed and faulty stat. We know Nugent-Hopkins played a decent game and is a really good player who is only going to get better. And we know the whole three stars thing is watered down and really doesn’t have the luster it once had. But no way was the Oilers pivot better in this game or more impactful than Alzner, Backstrom, Chimera or Johansson. Or even Schultz or the Oilers’ David Perron.
The selection of Nugent-Hopkins as the game’s third star is evidence as to why the concept of the three stars is becoming more and more irrelevant.
Back Home After Long Trip – Edmonton stopped home just long enough to face the Capitals after enduring a six-game road trip of its own. The Oilers are back out on the road on Friday, headed out west for a weekend in which they’ll play back-to-back games in Phoenix and Los Angeles.
“It’s tough,” notes Ward, of that first game back home after a long road trip. “They call them trap games when you’ve been on the road for a little bit and you come back home. At times you can get a little complacent.
“We’ve been through that too, ourselves. But for us, we’re on the road a long 10-day [trip] and we’re just day by day. We want to hunker down and win hockey games and do the little things to make us better. I think on the road you get a chance to really gel with one another on and off the ice and make things happen. That was us the last couple of days, honing down our details and just working hard and that’s what we’ve got to do.”
By The Numbers – Backstrom won only two of 11 face-offs on the night, but one of them was the one that helped create the first goal of the game … Alzner led Washington with 3:26 in shorthanded ice time ... Ovechkin led Washington with six shots on net and 11 attempted … Troy Brouwer and Steve Oleksy led the way for the Caps with six hits each … Grabovski paced the Caps with three blocked shots.