Money Men – On Monday, Caps defenseman John Erskine and Washington goaltender Braden Holtby signed two-year contract extensions. On Tuesday, both men got work on showing why the Caps were happy to get their signatures on those pacts.
Erskine scored a key goal and helped increase Washington’s breathing room with a gritty third-period shift and Holtby made 33 saves to record his second shutout of the season in an important 3-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center.
Holtby stopped ex-Cap Alexander Semin on a 2-on-0 shorthanded break less than three minutes in the first period when the game was still scoreless. It was the fourth of his 33 saves on the night, and possibly the biggest. A goal from Semin – playing in his first game against his old team – might have been deflating for the Capitals.
The Caps scored on their next power play, with Nicklas Backstrom finishing the play to give Washington a 1-0 lead. Erskine scored on a sublime setup from Backstrom in the first minute of the second period to give the Caps a bit of breathing room, but Carolina goaltender Cam Ward was excellent in his own right, preventing Washington from blowing the lid off the contest.
Washington killed off an Erskine carryover tripping minor late in the second and at the beginning of the third, and the Canes started to spend a lot more time in the Washington end of the ice in the early minutes of the third.
By this stage of the game, it was evident to all that the next goal was going to be a huge one. Just before the midpoint of the final frame, Erskine blocked a Jeremy Welsh shot with his foot. He went down, but got back up. Seconds later, he was on the receiving end of a Tim Wallace boarding call in the corner of the Caps’ zone. Erskine did not retaliate, and the Capitals got a much-needed power play.
Erskine headed down the tunnel and into the Caps dressing room to have his foot looked at, but he was back on the ice when the power play concluded. Washington was able to keep the pressure on in the Carolina end, and Erskine’s partner John Carlson scored to give the Caps some exhaling room at 3-0.
The Erskine shift near the midpoint of the third gave the Caps a chance to get out of their end of the ice and add to their lead, and the team took full advantage of it to seal the victory.
Holtby is now 5-2 with two shutouts, a 2.01 GAA and a .937 save pct. in his last seven starts.
“He’s playing very well,” says Caps coach Adam Oates of Holtby. [The Hurricanes] had a few extra shots, but chances-wise they didn’t have a lot of chances tonight. A lot of those shots he sees from a long way out. I think he’s feeling really good. He’s on a little roll, so we’re riding him.”
Expect to See Holtby in net again on Wednesday against the Flyers.
Four-Pointer – Tuesday’s win coupled with Tampa Bay’s loss to the Sabres enabled the Caps to pull within four points of the lead in the Southeast Division. Even though Washington is still tied for the bottom spot in the Eastern Conference standings, the Caps have put themselves in position for some upward movement by winning five of their last seven games. Had they lost Tuesday's game in regulation, the Caps would have woke up Wednesday morning eight points behind the Hurricanes.
With a win against the Flyers in Philadelphia on Wednesday, Washington could draw within two points of the divisional lead.
Powering Up – Playing in their 18th game of the season on Tuesday, the Caps grabbed an early 1-0 lead with their 18th power-play goal of the season. Backstrom did the honors, with help from Mike Ribeiro and Alex Ovechkin.
Ribeiro has now had a hand in 13 of Washington’s 18 power-play goals this season (five goals, eight assists). He is second in the NHL in power-play scoring, just one point behind Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin. Ribeiro is now just two power-play points shy of matching his total (15) from last season when he led the Dallas Stars in that department.
For Backstrom, the power-play marker was his first since Dec. 9, 2011 when he scored an extra-man tally in a second consecutive game against the Toronto Maple Leafs in a 4-2 Washington win at Verizon Center.
Washington is now 13-for-30 (43.1%) on the power play in its last 10 games. The Caps are second in the league with a 28.6% power-play success rate on the season.
Score, Four – Erskine has now scored 10 regular season goals as a member of the Capitals, and Washington is 10-0 in those contests. His goal at the 31-second mark of the second period is the fastest goal by a Capital at the start of any frame this season.
First Strike – Washington scored the game’s first goal for the eighth consecutive game. The Caps are 5-3 in those games and they are now 5-6 on the season when they score the game’s first goal.
The last time the Caps scored the first goal in nine straight games was Oct. 29-Nov. 14, 2009.
Washington has now gone four straight games without surrendering a goal in the first period.
Multiple Man – Backstrom notched his fourth multiple-point game of the 2012-13 season on Tuesday, and the 104th of his NHL career.
Comeback Canes – Coming into Tuesday’s tilt, the Caps were the league’s worst team when leading after 40 minutes of play at 3-3. Carolina was sixth in the NHL with a 2-4-1 record when trailing after two periods.
Century City – Caps center Jay Beagle played in the 100th game of his NHL career on Tuesday night against Carolina.
Historical Perspective – The last time the NHL had a 48-game season was in 1994-95 when a lockout shortened the schedule. The ’94-95 Caps struggled to a 3-10-5 (11 points) start in their first 18 games, but turned on the jets to finish 19-8-3 in their last 30 games. That furious finish lifted the Caps to sixth in the Eastern Conference standings and gave them a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
This year’s model is four points ahead of that 1994-95 outfit (15 to 11) after 18 games.
Green On The Blueline – With top four defensemen Tim Gleason and Joni Pitkanen sidelined because of injury, the Canes iced a patchwork group of defensemen for Tuesday’s game.
With 656 career regular season games worth of NHL experience, ex-Caps defenseman Joe Corvo was Carolina’s most experienced rearguard in the game. He has more NHL experience than the other five blueliners combined. Carolina's half-dozen blueliners combined for just 1,054 games worth of NHL experience going into Tuesday's tilt.
Washington forechecked the inexperienced group hard, particularly in the first half of the game. Only Ward’s sound netminding kept the Caps from routing the Canes.
“This is a tough place to play,” says Corvo of Verizon Center. “[The Capitals] are all over you the whole time. They don’t give you much time. They’re anticipating in our defensive zone where we are going to move the puck, so they don’t think about it – they’re just all over the puck. And we didn’t do a good job of getting clean outs.”
Jay Harrison (219) games was the only other Hurricanes defender with more than 82 games worth of NHL experience. Justin Faulk (82), Marc-Andre Gragnani (73), Bobby Sanguinetti (21) and Ryan Murphy (three) filled out the Carolina defense for Tuesday’s game.
By The Numbers – Washington registered a season high 40 shots on net … Carlson led the Caps with 22:30 in ice time … Jason Chimera led the Capitals with seven shots on net … Ovechkin led the Caps with four hits … Ribeiro paced the Capitals with five blocked shots … Harrison led all skaters on both sides with 25:47 in ice time … Corvo led the Canes with four blocked shots.