Washington ran its winning streak to four straight games with a 4-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks at Verizon Center on Friday night. The penultimate game of the season for both teams was a meaningless one for both teams. Several of Chicago’s top stars sat out Friday night’s contest, and the Caps were able to match their longest winning streak of the season.
Jay Beagle scored twice and goaltender Jaroslav Halak made his first start in a week for Washington, stopping all 34 shots sent in his direction to earn his first shutout in a Capitals sweater.
“It was great to see,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “The crowd knew he had two goals. We were hoping for him every time he got that chance, and you know what, he played great. Obviously we’re very happy for him because he’s a very well liked guy on our team. He works so hard, and it’s his first time he’s had two goals. He’s never had it before. We’re all very excited for him.”
A holding call on Chicago forward Marcus Kruger at 1:03 of the first period gave the Capitals an early power play opportunity, and they didn’t waste it. Washington defenseman John Carlson wound up for a bomb from center point, but shanked the shot off the heel of his stick, and it slid to Alex Ovechkin. From his office near the left dot, Ovechkin pushed the puck back to Carlson, who then teed one up for the Caps’ captain. Ovechkin’s blast of a one-timer beat Chicago netminder Corey Crawford on the short side to stake Washington to a 1-0 lead at 2:04 of the first period.
Washington’s fourth line turned in a solid shift midway through the first frame, and their toil led to a tally that doubled the home team’s advantage. Evgeny Kuznetsov showed good patience, carrying the puck around the back of the Chicago cage and back out front while surveying his options. He fed Dmitry Orlov at the left point, and Orlov wisely cruised in from there, taking the space the Hawks gave him. Orlov slid the puck to Beagle, who tapped it home from the top of the paint to give the Caps a 2-0 lead at 9:22 of the first.
Nicklas Backstrom netted his 18th goal of the season at 1:19 of the second, getting help from Alex Ovechkin and Karl Alzner. Backstrom’s shot came from down near the goal line and the wall on the left side; it caromed into the short side of the cage off Crawford to extend Washington’s lead to 3-0.
Late in the middle frame, Beagle netted his second of the game to give the Caps a commanding 4-0 lead. Joel Ward and Jason Chimera played catch behind the Chicago net, and Chimera put a perfect pass to the front where Beagle had crept into scoring position. He fired and scored his fourth of the season, doubling his goal total for the campaign in the process.
From then on, the Caps were gunning to get Beagle a hat trick and Halak a shutout. They succeeded only in the latter mission.
For one of the team’s least heralded and most respected foot soldiers, it was a memorable night.
“Orlov made a great pass to me on that first one and then Chimmer made a great backhand pass to me,” relates Beagle. “It almost surprised me in the slot, that it came out to me that fast and that crisp.
“Trying for the third one, the guys were hitting me no matter where I was. It was a fun game to be a part of.”
Chicago’s own four-game winning streak came to an end on Friday. The Hawks are locked into the third-place spot in the NHL’s Central Division, so the game was chiefly about staying healthy and getting a day closer to the start of the playoffs.
Three of Chicago’s top stars – Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews – sat out Friday’s game, but the Hawks were still harsh in assessing their performance against the Capitals.
“It doesn’t matter what’s on the line;” says Hawks forward Patrick Sharp, “it’s important that we show up and play, wearing the Hawks jersey. It doesn’t matter who’s playing or who’s not playing, you want to go out there and work your hardest and play your best. Tonight we clearly didn’t do that.”
“We’ll throw this in the garbage can and learn a little bit from it,” says Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. “Certainly we’re not happy about the way it was played out, but it was one of those games.”
Whitewashington – Halak’s shutout was his fifth of the season and first as a Capital. Each of Washington’s previous eight shutouts came from Braden Holtby, the Caps’ longest run of consecutive shutouts by one goaltender since Olie Kolzig had 15 straight shutouts from Nov. 24, 2000 to April 1, 2003.
Prior to Halak’s shutout on Friday, Michal Neuvirth recorded Washington’s last non-Holtby shutout on March 11, 2012 against Toronto.
Shoot ’Em Up – For the third straight game, Washington scored four or more goals with 27 or fewer shots. In those three games, the Caps have totaled 13 goals on just 70 shots on goal for a torrid 18.6% shooting success rate.
Their current spree of 13 goals in three games (and 16 goals in their last four games) is the Caps’ most prolific offensive outburst since they netted 17 in the first four games coming out of the NHL’s Olympic break.
The A,B,C’s Of Career Bests – Alzner earned his 16th assist and 18th point of the season on Backstrom’s goal. Both are single-season career highs for the Caps’ defenseman.
Beagle’s four goals in 2013-14 match his single-season best and his nine points exceeds his previous best of eight, established last season.
Carlson established a single-season career standard with 10 goals earlier in 2013-14. With his assist on Ovechkin’s goal, Carlson matched his single-season high of 37 points.
Climbing The Ladder – Ovechkin’s assist on Backstrom’s goal gives the Caps’ captain 392 helpers for his career, tied with Mike Gartner for second on Washington’s all-time franchise ledger. Ovechkin needed 678 games to record those assists while Gartner required 758.
Only Michal Pivonka (418) has more assists in a Capitals sweater than Ovechkin.
Ovechkin's goal was his 51st of the season and his 24th on the power play; he paces the circuit in both categories. Ovechkin also received credit for his 10th game-winning goal this season, second only to Montreal's Max Pacioretty (11) in the NHL this season.
With 69 career game-winning goals, Ovechkin trails only Peter Bondra (73) on Washington's all-time list.
Westward, Ho – For the NHL’s next round of gerrymandering, the Caps may need to apply for a transfer to the Western Conference. Washington has now earned a point in 12 of its last 13 games (8-1-4) against the opposite conference.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears are on the road for the first part of this weekend; they spent Friday night in Binghamton facing the Senators. Trailing 3-1 in the second period, Hershey managed to salvage a point with a 5-4 overtime loss to the Baby Sens.
Nate Schmidt (his second of the season), Dane Byers (his 14th), Michael Latta (his 13th) and Casey Wellman (his 19th) scored for the Bears. Wellman’s goal actually gave the Bears a very brief 4-3 lead early in the third period of the contest.
Ryan Potulny and David Kolomatis had two assists each for the Bears.
Playing in his 200th career AHL game, Bears goaltender David Leggio made 26 saves on the 31 shots he faced. Leggio now stands at 22-18-5-3 on the season.
With the point, Hershey was able to hold onto the eighth spot in the AHL’s Eastern Conference standings.
The Bears travel to Springfield to face the Falcons on Saturday night and return home to host Binghamton on Sunday afternoon at Giant Center.
Down a level, the defending Kelly Cup champion Reading Royals are in the Sunshine State this weekend for their final two games of the 2013-14 regular season. On Friday night in Estero, the Royals fell 3-2 to the Florida Everblades.
Reading got goals from Jesse Todd and Michal Cajkovsky. Brandon Anderson stopped 37 of the 40 shots he faced in the Reading crease.
The 45-22-2-2 Royals conclude the season on Saturday night against the Solar Bears in Orlando. Reading has already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the 2014 Kelly Cup playoffs.
By The Numbers – Carlson led the Capitals with 21:43 in ice time … Backstrom and Mikhail Grabovski had five shots on net each and Ovechkin teed up eight shots to lead Washington … Tyson Strachan and Connor Carrick led the Caps with three hits each and Carrick and Alzner led them with four blocked shots … Backstrom (eight of 10, 80%), Eric Fehr (eight of 12, 67%) and Beagle (seven of 11, 64%) each won at least 64% of his draws … Each of Chicago’s 18 skaters racked up at least one shot on goal.