Washington hung three first-period goals on one of the best teams in the NHL and maintained that multi-goal lead the rest of the way as it earned a 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues on Sunday night at Verizon Center.
Caps captain Alex Ovechkin scored the game’s first two goals and Nicklas Backstrom had three assists to support the stalwart netminding of Caps goalie Braden Holtby, who made a career high 46 saves.
On Sunday morning, Caps coach Adam Oates remarked that he thought his team would need to play a patient, grinding game, and that it would need to erode the Blues over the full 60 minutes to earn the win. Instead, the Caps jumped out to an early lead and quickly added to it.
“I think we got rewarded by doing the right things,” says Oates. “Sometimes that’s going to happen and sometimes it’s not. Tonight, they went in. As a team we did the right things.”
Ovechkin got the Caps on the board shortly after the game’s first television timeout.
Blues forward Chris Stewart turned the puck over from near his own blueline, putting it off the wall indirectly, but right onto the tape of Caps defenseman Steve Oleksy along the far wall at the opposite blueline. Oleksy pushed the puck to Backstrom in neutral ice. Backstrom bumped to puck onto Ovechkin’s stick, and the winger blazed into the St. Louis zone with speed and teed up a rocket that beat Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak to give the Caps a 1-0 lead at 7:17 of the first period.
Just over five minutes later, Ovechkin struck again. Marcus Johansson kept a clearing attempt in at the right point, and nudged the puck down to Backstrom at the right half wall. Backstrom fed Karl Alzner, who lurched in from the left point and put a shot on Halak. Ovechkin went to the net, collected the rebound and roofed a backhander high over Halak’s left shoulder for a 2-0 Washington advantage at the 12:34 mark of the first frame.
A shade over three minutes later, the Caps drove Halak to the bench with their third tally on just six shots. With Mikhail Grabovski going to the net with speed, Jason Chimera took a shot from above the left circle. Halak made the stop, but Grabovski displayed some brilliant hand/eye coordination in batting the rebound out of midair and tucking it behind Halak.
Stung by their unusually sluggish start, the Blues came out strong in the second. With Washington’s Martin Erat off for hooking, St. Louis’ Vladimir Sobotka struck on the power play to put the Blues on the board and make it a 3-1 game.
Within three minutes of his goal, Sobotka was sitting in the penalty box for hooking. That’s when Washington regained its three-goal advantage.
Johansson and Backstrom exchanged the puck and places along the right wing wall down low, and Backstrom slid a backhand pass to John Carlson at center point. Carlson one-timed the puck past Blues’ bullpen goaltender Brian Elliott to finish off the night’s scoring at 4-1.
The Caps got into a spell of penalty trouble midway through the third, giving the Blues a two-man advantage for 1:19. But Blues captain David Backes short-circuited the advantage just 23 seconds later when he interfered with Backstrom high in the Washington end of the ice.
St. Louis outshot the Caps 18-3 in the second period and 19-8 in the third, but Holtby had the answer for every shot sent in his direction. Washington’s relatively inexperienced defense – with a grand total of just 628 games of NHL experience to its credit – did a good job of keeping most of the chances to the outside and clearing any loose change left lying in front of Holtby.
Considering that the Washington defense was comprised of four players who weren’t in the team’s opening night lineup, and that those four players entered Sunday’s game with a combined total of 211 games in the league against the league’s most prolific offensive club, it was an impressive performance.
Washington is now 10-3-1 in its last 14 games.
“We’re really happy about this one,” says Backstrom. “We knew they were a great team, and obviously they played last night and had a long flight. We were aware of that and we wanted to come out hard. We’re a little lucky to score on our chances at the beginning and we just followed our game plan from there.”
Even It Up – Each of Washington’s three first-period goals on Sunday was scored at even strength, as were all three of its goals in Friday’s 4-3 shootout win against the Red Wings in Detroit.
When Carlson scored on a Washington power play in the second period of Sunday’s game against the Blues, it ended a streak of eight straight even-strength goals for the Capitals, dating back to Joel Ward’s shorthanded goal in the third period of Tuesday’s win over Columbus.
The Caps have now outscored their foes by a combined total of 21-12 at even strength in their last nine games.
Six Pack – The Caps’ win over St. Louis is their sixth straight on home ice, the team’s longest home ice winning streak since it won seven successive contests on the Verizon Center sheet from Dec. 20, 2011 through Jan. 15, 2012.
Dating back to last season, the Capitals are now 15-3-1 in their last 19 home games.
Rare Achievements – The Capitals are the first team to hold St. Louis to fewer than two goals in a game this season. The Blues’ streak (dating back to last season) of 25 straight games with at least two goals came to a halt on Sunday night.
The Blues entered Sunday’s game with an average of 3.5 goals per game, tied for tops in the NHL. The Caps were the first team to shutout the Blues at even-strength this season; the lone St. Louis goal in Sunday’s loss came on the power play.
Washington also became the first team in nearly a month – a span of a dozen games – to score as many as three even-strength goals against the Blues.
Fast First – Washington scored three goals in the first period, its first multiple-goal first period on home ice this season. The Caps’ previous multiple-goal first period at Verizon Center came last April 23 when they scored twice in the first frame in their 5-3 Southeast Division-clinching win over the Winnipeg Jets.
The last time the Caps had three or more goals in the first was on April 13 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Washington scored three in the first that night, but needed overtime to come away with a 6-5 win over the Lightning.
Holting His Own – Holtby is now 10-3 in his last 13 starts, with a shutout, a 2.25 GAA and a .937 save pct. over that span. He stopped all 37 shots he saw in the game’s final 40 minutes.
“They threw a lot of pucks at the net,” notes Holtby of the Blues. “Their game plan is to get traffic, rebounds. Every game is different. Some games you get 20 shots and a lot of them are scoring chances, and games that you are just looking through traffic all night. We had a good night.”
With 10 wins on the season, Holtby is tied for sixth among all NHL netminders.
Helping Hands – Backstrom’s three-assist game was his 24th since coming into the league at the start of the 2007-08 season, the most in the NHL from then until now.
Forty – Ovechkin now has scored 40 goals and has registered 60 points in his last 42 regular season games played, dating back to last season.
Backstrom has 40 assists and 50 points in his last 42 regular season games played, again dating back to last season.
Running Down A Steen – Ovechkin came into Sunday’s game trailing Blues’ top sniper Alexander Steen for the NHL’s lead in goals. Steen, whose single-season career best is 24 goals, entered Sunday’s game with a league-leading total of 17 goals in 18 games.
Ovechkin started the day with 15 goals in 18 games, but managed to catch Steen before the end of the first period.
Although Washington halted his 13-game scoring streak on Sunday, Steen is still running first in the NHL’s scoring race with 26 points on the season. Ovechkin and Backstrom are tied for fourth with 24 points each.
With 18 points each, Grabovski and Johansson both rank among the league’s top 40 scorers.
Hot Stick – Carlson continued his recent clip of torrid offensive play, notching his fifth goal in the last eight games. He has accounted for five of Washington’s seven goals from the backline this season, and is tied for fourth among all NHL blueliners in lamplighters.
Carlson’s strong play hasn’t been limited to the offensive zone. He has been the Caps’ top penalty-killing defenseman this season, and his average of 4:17 per night in shorthanded ice time is second among all defensemen in the circuit; only Ottawa’s Chris Phillips (4:25) has assumed a greater shorthanded burden for his team on a nightly basis.
Two nights after logging a single-game career high of 32:26 in ice time against the Red Wings in Detroit, Carlson eased his way down to 25:01 on Sunday. That figure still led all Caps defensemen on the night, as did his four blocked shots.
Carlson was on the ice for 4:35 of the Capitals’ 5:32 of power play time in Sunday’s game, and he and Alzner were both on the clock for a whopping 5:44 of the 7:24 during which St. Louis had the man advantage in Sunday’s game.
That’s A Match – Chimera’s assist on Grabovski’s goal was his 14th point (five goals, nine assists) of the season and it came in his 21st game of the 2013-14 campaign. That point total matches Chimera’s total from last season (three goals, 11 assists), achieved in 47 games.
Call Of The West – The Capitals have played 13 games against Western Conference foes thus far this season, the most of any club in the Eastern Conference and nearly half (13 of 28) of the total they’ll play vs. Western opponents all season.
Washington is now 6-6-1 against Western clubs this season; among all Eastern Conference clubs only the Tampa Bay Lightning (7-1) has more victories over teams from the opposite conference.
Eastern teams have combined for a 49-64-19 mark against the Western clubs thus far this season.
Roster Moves – Before the game against the Blues, the Caps placed defenseman Mike Green (lower body) on injured reserve and recalled defenseman Dmitry Orlov from AHL Hershey. Orlov arrived in time for the game but did not dress; he watched the game from the press box.
Green and injured defenseman John Erskine are both eligible to be activated for Wednesday’s game against the Penguins.
Not Tonight – St. Louis had scored the game’s first goal in each of its previous 10 games, a span during which the Blues rolled up an 8-1-1 record.
The Caps scored first in Sunday’s game, marking just the fourth time in 19 games this season that the Blues did not find the back of the net first.
The Blues are 12-1-2 when they notch the game’s first goal and 1-2-1 when they do not.
Rare Loss – The Capitals joined San Jose and Tampa Bay as the only teams to hand St. Louis a regulation setback this season. The Blues’ Sunday night loss ended a streak of six straight games with at least a point (5-0-1) for St. Louis and it was the team’s first regulation loss in more than two weeks.
Down On The Farm – The ECHL Reading Royals earned a 5-4 road win on Sunday over the Walleyes in Toledo.
Stanislav Galiev scored twice and Domenic Monardo, Ned Lukacevic and Dustin Gazley added solo markers to support Riley Gill’s 17-save efforts in the Reading nets. Louie Caporusso had three assists for Reading.
The 7-4 Royals stand atop the ECHL’s Atlantic Division.
By The Numbers – Both teams entered the game with 6-1-1 marks in the month of November … St. Louis had 85 shot attempts to 49 for Washington on the night … Ovechkin led the Caps with five shots on net. He teed up 14 pucks on the night … Ovechkin and Aaron Volpatti led the Caps with four hits each … Sobotka had nine shots on net to lead the Blues … Ryan Reaves paced the Blues with five hits on the night … Alex Pietrangelo paced St. Louis with six blocked shots in the game.