Washington entered the first of their back-to-back tilts in Winnipeg sitting 14th in the East with 25 points, while Winnipeg held the division lead with 34 points. It was more or less known that in order to jumpstart an improbable run to the playoffs, Washington would need to win the overwhelming majority of their remaining road games, including these two in Winnipeg. The Caps came out skating like their season was on the line, and it paid off early. A 4-0 shutout in a division road game has the potential to be a catapult for this team, assuming there isn’t a big letdown tomorrow night.
Five thoughts on tonight’s affair:
Nothing was more important than getting off to a strong start at the hostile MTS Centre, and Troy Brouwer made sure the Caps did just that. 3:06 into the first period, Brouwer, a right handed shot, skated behind the goal from Ondrej Pavelec’s left to right, curled to the inside hash and let a wicked wrister fly, beating Pavelec to the short side. Brouwer’s goal set the tone for the rest of the first period, during which Washington seemingly dominated all aspects of the game.
Almost equally as important, Washington has too often scored the first goal of a game this season, only to surrender the next one. 16:22 into the period, Alex Ovechkin found himself on the right wing side, and made a very pretty pass through some bodies to a stationary Marcus Johansson. MoJo impressively managed to track Ovi’s pass and tap it past Pavelec on the far side. The two goal lead set the tons for Washington for the rest of the period, and their energy would carry over into the second period. Ovechkin would continue his big night, finishing the game with three points.
Unless named Dominik Hasek, goalie’s are typically at their best then they appear to hardly move to make a save. Tonight, Braden Holtby things largely look routine. Holtby’s 19 saves, including three ‘A’ quality stops, gave the Caps the opportunity to hold onto their lead for the final 56:54 of the game. After this performance, accompanied with a similar one in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, I would be shocked if Holtby were not back in the net again tomorrow.
Brooks Laich made a move to the second line tonight, skating alongside Mike Ribeiro and Troy Brouwer. Of course, this only being his second game of the season, tonight was another opportunity to work some rust off and get his legs back under him.. Laich skated 14:11 on the night, and found himself on a shorthanded breakaway roughly 30 seconds into a penalty kill early in the third period, on which Ondrej Pavelec made a great save to deny Laich his first goal of the season. Overall, Laich certainly still has a ways to go to get back to top form. But seeing a guy who improves this team drastically both on the ice and in the locker room play more minutes without suffering any sort of setback is a great sight for Caps fans alike.
With 5:54 remaining in the game and the Caps up two since late in the first period, Washington got an abbreviated power play when, in a panic, Ondrej Pavelec took the rare delay of game penalty for playing the puck in the restricted trapazoid area. On the ensuing power play, the Caps had the opportunity to put the game away, and they wasted no time in doing so. Nicklas Backstrom slotted the puck from the right corner into the adjacent hash area to Alex Ovechkin with a typical Backstrom type of pass. Ovechkin made no mistake with the puck, burying a one timer over the glove of Pavelec, all but icing the game and a critical two points in a division road game. It was a rare sight to see a Caps team finish their opponent when they had the chance to do so, but a welcome sight after some of the lost leads we have seen this season.
The Caps need these two games to keep their chances at a division title, or consequently, any possible playoff birth. And while they took the first game of the series in convincing fashion, one would expect Winnipeg to use tonight’s game as motivation for tomorrow night’s tilt. Hopefully the Caps are prepared to match the Jets intensity, and do what it takes to make the best of a desperate situation.