In their first meaningless game since last September, the Caps prevailed 5-2 over the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh on Thursday night. Having been mathematically eliminated from Stanley Cup playoff contention a night earlier, Thursday’s game had no bearing on the playoff race.
With Carolina also out of the playoff picture, the game was much like a preseason contest in April. It was a rather gentlemanly game of shinny.
That said, winning is better than losing regardless of the stakes or lack thereof.
“It still feels better winning than losing, for sure,” says Caps coach Adam Oates.
Washington jumped out to an early lead and never trailed.
Caps right wing Joel Ward staked Washington to a 1-0 advantage at 1:02 of the first frame. Jason Chimera got to the puck in the right wing corner and occupied Canes defenseman Jay Harrison while Eric Fehr collected the puck and centered it for Ward. Ward made a move that Canes goaltender Anton Khudobin bit hard on, and the Caps winger was left with an easy tap-in.
“Obviously we’ve got to go out there and give it our best game,” says Fehr. “We got off to a good start and just kind of kept it rolling from there.”
Midway through the second period, the Capitals doubled their lead. Chimera and Ward battled for the puck in the right wing corner of the Carolina end. Ward came away with the disc and dished to Fehr. By now Chimera was all alone down by the goal line, and Fehr found him and fed him. Chimera went to the net and beat Khudobin in a one-on-one situation to make it a 2-0 game.
There were only two penalties called during the game, and Carolina halved the Washington advantage while the Caps were on their only power play opportunity of the evening. Jordan Staal made a patient play and a terrific pass to set up Jiri Tlusty on a shorthanded 2-on-1 break to cut the Capitals’ lead to 2-1 with 2:44 remaining in the middle frame.
Washington needed just over two minutes to restore that two-goal cushion. The Caps lost a draw in the Carolina zone in the waning seconds of the period. Karl Alzner gloved down Hurricanes clearing attempt in at the left point, and Alzner fed Marcus Johansson near the right dot. Johansson threaded a perfect pass to Troy Brouwer at the left dot, and Brouwer blasted a one-timer past Khudobin to give Washington a 3-1 bulge at 19:24.
The Capitals went into rout mode early in the third with a pair of quick strikes in the first four minutes. Ward and Chimera did the grunt work down low in the corner, again winning the puck and feeding Fehr near the right dot. Fehr fired a shot off the far post and in for a 4-1 Washington lead.
“It’s nice that our line could get some sustained pressure and just continue what we’ve done the last month,” says Fehr, “just working teams low and not doing it the fancy way, just trying to out-cycle and outhustle guys to pucks.”
Just 62 seconds later, Tyson Strachan passed the puck from the right point down to Johansson along the right wing half wall. Johansson teed it up for Brouwer, who fired a one-timer from between the circles that beat Khudobin to make it 5-1 for the Capitals.
Veteran Canes forward Radek Dvorak scored on a rebound with less that two minutes left to account for the game’s last tally.
“It was good to get on the board and all of us get a chance to score,” says Ward of himself and his linemates, “which is a good feeling. It just sucks it doesn’t really mean anything, game-wise.
“It’s tough as pros; you come in here and you want to pay for the Stanley Cup. Now we’ve got three games – well, two now – to just salvage a couple of good games for ourselves and have our pride at stake.”
Gang Green – Washington’s Gang Green unit (they wear green jerseys in practice) figured in three of Washington’s five goals, with each member of the line scoring once and adding two assists. The line was a thorn in Carolina’s side all night, winning battles along the walls and in the corners and creating scoring chances.
“It was one of those nights where things were going well for us,” says Fehr. “You could tell when Chimmer tried the 20-foot sauce pass cross-ice and it hit Wardo in the head that he was really feeling it. So we could tell that the guys were feeling good.”
The Gang Green trio combined for nine of Washington’s total of 21 shots on net in the game.
“We try to play the right way and take pride in that and just try to get pucks in deep,” says Ward. “We are able to make some plays. I think our skills set is a little bit underestimated at times. Chimmer has been making a lot of great plays and making some great passes, and Fehrsie too. We just try to make the most of our opportunities. But the main thing is we just have fun. We just come to the rink and have a good time. It shows out there that we just go out there and play hard but have fun.”
One or more members of the Gang Green line has been on the ice for 17 of the Capitals’ last 30 five-on-five goals, dating back to the start of March.
Career Bests – Ward continues to add to his single-season career bests in all offensive categories (24 goals, 24 assists and 48 points). Brouwer added to his single-season bests in goals (25) and points (43). He is one helper shy of matching a single-season best in that department.
With his assist in Thursday’s game, Alzner has matched his single-season best in points (17). Holtby earned his 23rd victory of the season on Thursday, matching his single-season best established during the lockout-truncated 2012-13 season.
Fehr has matched his single-season career high with 18 assists.
Net Gain – Holtby has won 10 of his last 16 starts (10-4-1 during that span) while the three other goaltenders the Caps have deployed over the same time frame (Philipp Grubauer, Michal Neuvirth and Jaroslav Halak) have combined to win just seven of 22 starts (7-10-6).
Holtby has won three straight starts, posting a 1.95 GAA and a .943 save pct. in the process. He made 36 saves on the 38 shots he faced against the Hurricanes and is now 17-8-2 this season in games in which he has recorded 30 or more saves.
Second Half Heat – Brouwer has had five multiple-goal games in his last 23 contests, totaling 14 of his 25 goals on the season during that span. Since the start of February, he is Washington’s leading goal scorer with 15.
Five At Five-On-Five – Thursday’s game marked the third time this season that Washington has scored five five-on-five goals in the same game. All three of those occurrences have been on the road.
The Caps first turned that trick in a 7-0 win over the Flyers in Philadelphia on Nov. 1 and repeated it in a 5-0 victory over the Canadiens in Montreal on Jan. 25.
Road Kill – The Caps finished off the season by pulling at least a point in five of their last eight road games (5-1-2). Washington’s penalty killing outfit was successful on 26 of its last 27 missions on the road in 2013-14.
The Capitals finished the campaign with a 17-17-7 record on the road.
Solved – The Caps managed to hang a loss Khudobin for the first time since he came into the league. The Carolina netminder entered the contest with a 3-0 record along with a 1.99 GAA and a .943 save pct. in three career starts against Washington.
By The Numbers – Dmitry Orlov paced Washington with 22:56 in ice time … Chimera led the Caps with five shots on net … Tom Wilson led the Capitals with four hits and his 14:43 of ice time represents a single-game high for the rookie winger … Dustin Penner and Connor Carrick led the Caps with four blocked shots each … Ex-Cap Alexander Semin teed up a whopping 15 shots in the game to lead the Canes, getting five of them on net. Washington held Semin off the scoresheet; he is now without a point in six straight games … Carolina won 36 of 53 (68%) of the game’s face-offs … In a decidedly non-physical game, the Hurricanes were somehow credited with 40 hits to just 15 for Washington. Okay then.