A brilliantly executed stretch of penalty killing early in a 0-0 game turned out to be a key spark in Washington’s 4-2 win over the Bruins in Boston on Saturday afternoon, the Capitals’ fourth win in succession.
“It was huge,” says Caps coach Adam Oates of his team’s penalty killing effort. “Two minutes from a faceoff. [The Bruins] didn’t get that many looks during it, which was great.”
Less than a minute after the Caps failed to convert on the game’s first power play opportunity, Washington fell into a deep penalty-killing hole. Jay Beagle was fingered for holding, and while the Bruins operated with an extra skater on the delayed call, Tom Wilson committed a hi-sticking infraction. As a result, the Caps were down two men for a full two minutes, giving Boston a golden opportunity to put a chokehold on the game.
The Bruins are 28-5-1 this season when scoring the game’s first goal.
But Washington stood tall, even though its goaltender didn’t even realize the Caps were down two men until an instant before the puck was dropped to start the Boston power play.
“It was a great kill, it wasn’t a fluke,” says Caps goalie Braden Holtby. “We made a lot of huge plays. I didn’t know it was a 5-on-3 until I looked up at the face-off, I just assumed it was a 5-on-4. The guys did a great job, I think the Bruins only got one or two shots through and that’s a huge credit to our penalty kill.”
Brooks Laich, Karl Alzner and John Carlson took the ice for the Caps at the start of the clutch penalty killing mission, and Washington was in the soup right away because Laich broke his stick on the face-off immediately following the simultaneous calls. The Caps got a couple of key clears, effectively closed off passing lanes and were aggressive in pursuit of the puck, especially when the Bruins were lugging it back into the attack zone.
“It was huge,” says Alzner. “That’s a tough power play to defend against. We got some good blocks, some good bounces and Holtsy made some saves. We had great sticks; our sticks were really excellent tonight and when you have good sticks on the 5-on-3 that usually helps you pretty good. That’s good for us and it gives the PK a little confidence.”
Washington was able to weather the two-minute, two-man disadvantage, and then it was able to survive another five minutes of time in which it failed to generate as much as a shot attempt, a span it spent mostly chasing the Bruins and the puck around in the Capitals’ end of the ice.
The Caps used their own power play to get the jump on the Bruins late in the first. Jason Chimera got under the skin of Bruins forward Chris Kelly in the penultimate minute of the first frame, drawing an interference call on the latter a few area codes away from the puck. John Carlson put the puck on a tee for Alex Ovechkin who lasered it past Boston netminder Tuukka Rask at 18:39 of the first to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead.
Washington’s power play doubled the Capitals’ lead at 2:24 of the second while Boston blueliner Matt Bartkowski was cooling his heels after a tripping call. Joel Ward carried into the Bruins’ zone and passed to Marcus Johansson in the high slot. Johansson left the puck for Ovechkin, who rifled home his second power-play goal of the game to give the Caps a 2-0 lead.
Midway through the middle period, Joel Ward gave the Caps a 3-0 lead. After a center ice face-off following a television timeout, Ward fought off his check and got a stick on an intended pass from Boston blueliner Johnny Boychuk to partner Bartkowski. Ward scooped the puck up and broke in alone on Rask. He deked and went to his backhand, easily tucking the puck behind the Bruins goalie.
“It was just off the faceoff,” recounts Ward, “I just chipped to their [defense], I just tried to get in the lane of making them force a play. They tried to go D to D, it went off their stick, I intercepted it I just kind of went in I had a little bit of a break. I knew the goalie was kind of anticipating I was going to shoot, just from the angle that he was on and I just happened to pull it to my backhand and just kind of slide it home.”
Only 41 seconds after Ward’s goal, Boston made it a 3-1 game on Patrice Bergeron’s one-timer from the high slot. Bergeron’s goal came on the power play; Chimera was in the box for a cheesy tripping call on veteran Boston winger Jarome Iginla.
Late in the second period, Boston pulled to within a goal.
Caps defenseman Mike Green carried down the right side and into the Boston end, then passed laterally – and errantly – to his left. The Bruins’ fourth line carried back into Washington ice, and veteran winger Shawn Thornton fed to the middle for Gregory Campbell, just as Green was getting back. The puck glanced off Green’s stick and went high over Holtby’s left shoulder to make it a 3-2 game with 2:28 left in the second.
The Caps went into the second up by a single goal, and they came out of the frame in the same position on the scoreboard. But they let a three-goal lead dwindle to one in the second half of the second frame.
“They got a little bit of momentum,” says Alzner. “The crowd got them into it and their fourth line got them into it. Then we got to see a little bit of the Boston team and the way they’ve played all season long, and that’s a tough team to defend against. We were happy, but we knew we had more. And we knew that we took the foot off [the gas] a little bit coming into that intermission. It was a good reset for us, and we came out good again [in the third].”
Washington was able to notch a huge insurance goal at 10:53 of the third. Chimera got to a loose puck in the Washington end, nudging out to neutral ice. Fehr beat the Boston defenders to the disc and roared in alone on Rask. The versatile forward threaded the puck through Rask’s five-hole to close out the scoring in the game.
Holtby made 36 saves on the afternoon to record his 19th win of the season. In his last seven starts, he is 6-1 with two shutouts, a 2.42 GAA and a .919 save pct.
Keeping the Bruins from scoring on the two-man advantage gave the Caps a window to get the first goal of the game themselves, and they took advantage of the opportunity with their fourth straight win.
“I don’t know if it hurt us because I don’t think we lost momentum,” says Bruins coach Claude Julien of his team’s early 5-on-3 opportunity, “but it certainly wasn’t a power play that brought much. I don’t know if it’s from not having any and then all of a sudden — I think it’s the first time we’ve had a two-minute 5-on-3 power play this year so might have been a shock to the system, but certainly wasn’t a good one. And we had some blocked shots, puck wasn’t moving quickly and you know, we gave them time to set up again. But I don’t think it deflated us, but at the same time, I think it would’ve done us a lot of good to get that first goal.
Four In A Row – With Saturday’s win over the Bruins, the Caps have won four straight games and are now 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. The Caps have matched their longest winning streak of the season, a four-game spree from Nov. 1-7.
Powering Up – The Caps have scored two power-play goals in each of their two games since the conclusion of the NHL’s Olympic break. The last time Washington managed to net multiple power-play goals in consecutive contests was in the first two games of the 2013-14 season, at Chicago and at home against Calgary on Oct. 1-3.
It’s All Right – All four Washington goals came from right wingers in Saturday’s game. Troy Brouwer was the only Caps right wing not to score against the Bruins, and he was robbed twice in the third period.
Eight Hundo – Ovechkin’s second goal of the game was also the 800th point of his NHL career. He ranks second on Washington’s all-time scoring list, trailing only Peter Bondra (825).
A Saturday In March – Holtby has been strong on Saturdays and money in March during his NHL career, and he was very good on this first of five Saturdays in March.
Holtby is now 17-4-3 with five shutouts, a 2.08 GAA and a .931 save pct. in 24 career starts on Saturdays during his NHL career.
In 24 March appearances (23 starts), Holtby is now 17-5-2 with five shutouts, a 1.92 GAA and a .936 save pct.
Century City – Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov appeared in the 100th game of his NHL career on Saturday afternoon in Boston.
Ward’s assist on Ovechkin’s second power-play goal of the afternoon was the 100th helper of the right wing’s NHL career.
Career Best – With 18 goals, Ward has established a single-season career standard for himself. He has 17 goals for Nashville in 2008-09, his first full season in the NHL.
Double Digits – Fehr’s goal was his 10th of the season, the most he has notched in a season since he tallied 10 times in 2010-11 with Washington. Fehr’s single-season career high is 21 goals in 2009-10.
Fehr is the eighth member of the Capitals to reach the double-digit plateau in goals scored this season.
Who Knows Where The Time Goes? – Saturday marked the 17th anniversary of a blockbuster deal between the Bruins and the Capitals, a six-player swap that sent Oates from Boston to Washington along with goaltender Bill Ranford and forward Rick Tocchet for goaltender Jim Carey and forwards Jason Allison and Anson Carter.
The Bruins were buried in the basement of the Northeast Division standings that season, and the deal was designed to bring them some young talent in exchange for a trio of proven but aging players.
For the Capitals, the trade represented then-general manager David Poile’s effort to extend Washington’s string of successive playoff appearances to 15. But the deal wasn’t quite enough to squeak the Capitals into the Stanley Cup playoffs that spring. The Caps finished in ninth place in the Eastern Conference standings with 75 points, two fewer than eighth-place Montreal.
Shortly after the conclusion of that season, Poile was relieved of his duties after a long tenure as Washington’s GM, and coach Jim Schoenfeld was also given a pink slip.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears suffered a fifth straight setback on Saturday night, a 4-1 loss to the Charlotte Checkers at Giant Center in Hershey.
Ryan Stoa scored the Bears’ lone goal – his 11th of the season – with help from linemates Jeff Taffe and Dustin Gazley.
After allowing four goals on 19 shots, Hershey netminder Philipp Grubauer was pulled in favor of David Leggio with 1:58 remaining in the second period. Leggio was perfect on 13 shots the rest of the way.
The Bears have fallen from the top eight in the AHL’s Eastern Conference standings; Hershey has 65 points and trails eighth-place Albany by a single point.
Hershey hosts Charlotte again on Sunday afternoon at Giant Center.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals earned a 4-1 road victory over the Nailers in Wheeling on Saturday.
Domenic Monardo, Josh Brittain, Ethan Cox and Matt Campanale scored to support the 27-save efforts of goaltender Riley Gill in the Reading nets.
Saturday’s win finishes off a perfect weekend for the Royals, who whitewashed the South Carolina Stingrays at Santander Arena in Reading on Friday night.
The victory expands Reading’s Atlantic Division cushion to six points over second place Wheeling, and the Royals also have two games in hand on the Nailers.
By The Numbers – Carlson’s 24:46 of ice time led the Caps and Ovechkin paced Washington with nine shots on net … Chimera and Erskine led the way with three hits each … Eighteen of Boston’s 38 shots came from its defensemen; blueliner Torey Krug paced the B’s with six shots on net in the game … Bergeron won 14 of 21 draws (67%) in the game.