And, Break – The Capitals roared into their five-day bye week with a thrill-ride of a 6-4 victory over the Anaheim Ducks at Verizon Center on Saturday night. After flying out to a 3-0 lead in the first and owning a 4-1 cushion late in the second, the Caps stumbled a bit. Anaheim scored three unanswered goals in less than 15 minutes of playing time to even the score at 4-4 with 8:12 remaining in regulation.
Often when there’s such a sweeping shift in momentum within a game, it’s difficult to turn those tides back. Washington was able to affect another shift in momentum, and it regained the lead on Zach Sanford’s first NHL goal with 2:39 remaining. Throw in a Marcus Johansson empty-netter in the game’s final minute, and the Caps were able to turn back the Ducks and keep the good times rolling on F St.
The Capitals haven’t faced much in the way of adversity of late – especially at home – and they managed to keep it together even after the Ducks tied it up.
“It was probably good for us to be in a game where we felt uncomfortable for a while,” notes Caps coach Barry Trotz. “We haven’t had any games at home here lately where we’ve really felt uncomfortable. I felt like the outcome was always in our favor and I knew it was going to be in our favor, but this one started sliding the wrong way. It had a little doubt there for a bit; [the Ducks] were coming back and they were getting momentum and they kept coming. But at the same time, I thought we were really resilient. And when the game was on the line, we got it done. That says a lot about our group.”
That group will now enjoy the next five days off before reconvening for a three-game road trip next weekend, starting with their final visit ever to Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena on Saturday.
A Memorable First – Sanford scored his first NHL goal in his 22
nd game in the league, nearly four months after making his debut with the Caps on opening night last Oct. 13. The 22-year-old New Hampshire native has played well and was denied on some strong scoring chances early in the season, but he picked a fine time for his first.
The play started with a long stretch pass from behind the Caps’ own net; Matt Niskanen hit Brett Connolly at the Anaheim line along the left wing wall. Connolly gained the zone and fed Sanford in the slot. Sanford fired high, and Ducks goalie John Gibson got a piece of it, but it fell to the ice behind him and slowly dribbled over the goal line.
“That was like slow motion for me,” says Sanford. “I was like, come on, get going, get going! But it made it, which is good.”
Sanford was seeing his first NHL action since Dec. 17, filling in for Andre Burakovsky, who suffered a hand injury while blocking a shot in Washington’s 6-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday. Sanford was plugged into the right side of a line with Connolly and Eller, the same spot Burakovsky has occupied for the last month-plus.
“I think he was okay,” says Trotz of Sanford’s overall performance on Saturday. “I think he was a little tentative. This was a pretty heavy game for the most part. You could still see that he needs to work on some strength issues and all that. But the more he is up here, the more he gets comfortable and all that.
“He may go back and forth [between Washington and AHL Hershey] a few more times, but I do know this: every time he comes up here he looks more and more comfortable, and that’s what you’re looking for from all your young guys. That’s one of the reasons we get a good peek at him. We want to get him in the lineup.
“Nothing better than getting your first goal – the game-winner – in front of mom and dad. They’re probably jumping up and down, so it’s all good.”
Streaks Sustained – The Caps extended a trio of streaks with Saturday night’s triumph over the Ducks. First and most impressively, they scored five or more goals for the 11
th straight home game, matching an NHL record that stood alone for 46 years. The 1970-71 Boston Bruins actually scored six or more goals in 11 straight home tilts at the old Boston Garden.
Washington pushed its overall home winning streak to 12 straight games, matching its longest home winning streak of last season. The only longer home winning spree in franchise history is a 13-game run in 2009-10, and the Caps will have a chance to match that mark on Feb. 24 against Edmonton when they play their only remaining home game this month.
Finally, the Caps won their sixth straight game overall. The Capitals have had three winning streaks of at least half a dozen games in length this season, the longest of which was a nine-game run from Dec. 31-Jan. 15.
Four Score – All four Washington forward lines were heard from in Saturday’s game, marking the 17
th time in the Caps’ last 24 games that three or more lines have chipped in with lamp-lighters.
All 18 Washington skaters recorded at least one shot on net in Saturday’s game and 10 different players recorded at least one point.
Saturday’s game marked the fourth time this season the Capitals scored six or more goals with all of the tallies coming from different players.
Biting The Hand – Caps winger Daniel Winnik was one of many who had a strong game. He had a goal and an assist, and also dropped the gloves with former Ducks teammate Corey Perry in the first period. The officials’ decision to give Winnik and Perry two for roughing rather than five for fighting is all that stood between Winnik and a Gordie Howe Hat Trick.
Winnik expertly fed Tom Wilson to set up the latter’s fourth goal of the year late in the first period, and he scored a shorthanded goal of his own in the second.
“That’s always nice,” says Winnik of scoring against his former employer. “If I scored against every one of my old teams, I’d probably have a lot more goals. But yeah, it’s nice.
“I thought I had some success there. They drafted very well; they’ve got a great pipeline of talent and it’s one of the reasons why I wasn’t brought back.
Milestone Men – The Caps’ first goal of the game was a power-play strike from T.J. Oshie in the first period. Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom picked up the helpers on that goal, and both Oshie and Backstrom reached milestones in the process.
Oshie recorded his 400
th career point in the league and Backstrom notched his 700
th NHL point. Backstrom recorded his 700
th point in his 708
th game and – according to Elias Sports Bureau – he is the eighth fastest active player to reach 700.
Johansson and Oshie both reached 40 points for the season on Saturday night, joining Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov in attaining that plateau. The Capitals are the only team in the league with as many as five players with 40 or more points.
Hot Hands – Backstrom added a goal and an assist for his second consecutive three-point game. He has picked up at least a point in seven straight games and in 17 of the Caps’ last 19 games, and has totaled 30 points (eight goals, 22 assists) over those last 19 contests. He is now tied for second in the league in scoring with 60 points (17 goals, 43 assists) and is just one point behind Edmonton’s Connor McDavid (61).
Oshie has picked up 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in his last 20 games.
Johansson picked up a pair of points in each of the four games on Washington’s just-completed homestand; he has four goals and eight points over that stretch.
Connolly picked up a point for the sixth straight game, matching his career high scoring streak. He has four goals and eight points in those six games.
Ovechkin earned an assist on Backstrom’s goal, and the Caps’ captain has accumulated 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) in his last 17 games.
Finally, Niskanen has 14 points (two goals, 12 assists) in his last 14 games.
Shorty Wanna Ride With Me – Winnik’s shorthanded goal was the Capitals’ fifth of the season, Winnik’s second of the season, and the seventh of his NHL career. The last time the Capitals had more than five shorthanded goals in a season was in 2010-11 when they totaled seven.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears earned a 4-2 win over the Hartford Wolf Pack on Saturday night at Giant Center.
Travis Boyd got the scoring started for Hershey with his 11
th goal of the season, an unassisted marker at 7:57 of the first. Christian Djoos’ seventh of the season came with help from Chris Bourque and Chandler Stephenson at 18:11 of the first, doubling the Bears’ advantage.
The Wolf Pack halved that lead just ahead of the midpoint of the second, but Paul Carey’s 16
th goal of the season restored that two-goal cushion just ahead of the second intermission, Stanislav Galiev and Brad Malone assisting.
The Pack scored early in the third to tighten the game again, but Riley Barber’s empty-netter – his fifth of the season – removed any remaining drama with 61 seconds remaining. Hubert Labrie picked up the lone assist on Barber’s goal.
Parker Milner made 23 saves in the Hershey nets to earn his third win in as many AHL decisions this season.
Hershey is back in action on Sunday afternoon when it visits the Sound Tigers in Bridgeport.
By The Numbers – Niskanen led the Caps with 22:40 in ice time … Backstrom and Winnik led the Caps with four shots on net each, and Backstrom paced Washington with six shot attempts … Ovechkin and Tom Wilson led the Caps with four hits each … Brooks Orpik led the Capitals with seven blocked shots.