There is a minor temptation on the part of your faithful Caps correspondent to dig out the game story from Sunday’s 5-0 win over the Kings (or even the Dec. 23 game or the Jan. 5 game or the Jan. 13 game or the Jan. 15 game; you get the idea), and do a little search and replace mission, replace one opponent’s mentions with another, and call it a night.
Not to worry, kid. We won’t do that, tempting though it may be.
The Capitals authored their second 5-0 shutout in as many games on Tuesday night, taking it to the Carolina Hurricanes in the final of four meetings between the two teams this season.
Five different Capitals found the back of the net, and for the 15
th time in Washington’s last 22 games, members of at least three different lines scored.
Washington now owns a 10-game home winning streak during which the Caps have outgunned the opposition by a combined 50-12 with five of the victories coming via the shutout route.
“We’ve got it going,” says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen, whose two assists on Tuesday give him 27 for the season, matching his total from the entirety of each of the previous two seasons. “And throughout the lineup, too. It seems like it’s been different guys a lot, different lines. Sometimes it’s the [defense] chipping in.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence right now, obviously. Things are going well. I like our team. We’ve got some good depth. Up and down the lineup, guys can hurt you. We’re playing well and having fun.”
As lopsided as the final score may look, this one was in doubt for more than 40 minutes. But special teams were special; the Caps scored the first and last goals of the game on the power play – doing so against the top penalty-killing unit in the league – and Washington’s penalty killing outfit snuffed out all three Carolina power play chances without as much as a shot on net during those six minutes.
“We put their power play on the ice three times and they scored twice, right?” says Canes coach Bill Peters. “And we had three [power play] opportunities, and I don’t know if we generated a scoring chance. We didn’t generate a shot, I don’t think.
“That’s a big difference in the game. If you’re going to stay with them, you’ve got to keep up. If you’re going to lose the special teams battle in this game, you’re probably going to lose the game.”
After a somewhat sluggish start to the contest, the Caps came alive in the latter half of the first frame. A Ron Hainsey hooking call aided the Capitals’ cause, putting Washington on the power play just ahead of the midpoint of the first.
Caps captain Alex Ovechkin scored from his office on that power play, exploiting rusty Canes goaltender Eddie Lack. Seeing his first NHL action since a 28-second stint on Nov. 10 and making his first start since Nov. 6, Lack’s attempt to make a glove save on Ovechkin’s shot resulted in the puck glancing off his catching glove and bounding into the net behind him at 10:23.
Just over three minutes later, the Capitals doubled their lead. Andre Burakovsky gained the Carolina line and left the puck for linemate Brett Connolly. Connolly carried to the slot and pump faked, then continued to his right before unloading a shot that beat Lack high to the short side for a 2-0 lead at 13:47.
The two sides skated to a scoreless second period, during which Washington executed a pair of perfect penalty kills. The Canes weren’t able to muster as much as a shot on net during their four minutes with the man advantage in the second period.
As well as the Caps have been playing for the last two-plus months, there is no such thing as a perfect game in hockey. And Washington’s second period wasn’t quite up to par.
“I didn’t like our second period,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “There was just too much risk in our game. We were giving up odd-man rushes. Just sloppy and not really securing the puck. They had a couple guys in front of our net and [our defensemen] were gone; leaving the zone before we really had the puck secured.”
Early in the third, the Caps killed off yet another Canes power play. Once again, they did so without permitting any shots on net, but it wasn’t as easy as that sounds. They were hemmed in their own end for the better part of the two minutes, and yet they managed to get a clear after Jay Beagle blocked a hard point shot and limped to the bench.
With the kill complete, the Caps set about adding to their lead.
Lars Eller blasted a rocket of a shot past Lack off the rush at 6:10 of the third, becoming the 10
th Caps player to reach the 10-goal plateau on the season.
Twenty-seven seconds later, Evgeny Kuznetsov beat Lack to make it 4-0, removing any doubt as to whether the Caps would keep their home winning streak going.
“The turning point for me is that long, extended penalty kill, actually,” says Trotz. “All the guys out there were exhausted, but they just sort of battled through it. Beags and [Daniel Winnik] blocking shots and being in lanes and just hanging in there.
“And then we kill that off, and what do we do right after? We score two goals, and then the power play got the last one. To me, that was the defining moment. If [the Canes] get a [goal] there in a 2-0 game, it might be a lot different.”
When Marcus Johansson scored on a power play late in the third, it marked the ninth straight home game in which Washington has scored at least five goals, adding to what was already a franchise record.
“I didn’t mind us in the second, and I didn’t mind our start,” says Peters. “So it was 2-0. We had a breakaway there, we had a couple looks and we had guys alone at the net front. We didn’t capitalize there, and then they got there third one. We hesitated a little bit, and they scored on the bump-up shift to make it 4-0, and that’s the game.”
Holtby made 23 saves to earn his seventh shutout of the season, tied for tops in the league. Tuesday’s whitewashing of the Hurricanes is the Capitals’ team record 10
th shutout of the season. They had nine in 1995-96 and again in 2014-15.
The Caps still have 28 games remaining with which to add to that total.