WASHINGTON – For one night, at least, the Washington Capitals looked like the team everyone knows they can be. Alexander Semin scored two goals for the first time this season, Alex Ovechkin recorded two points in a game for the first time in 23 contests, and Tomas Vokoun made 31 saves in his first start in over two weeks, as the Caps romped to a 4-1 win inside Verizon Center. ”It was a very important game for us, especially after losing like that in Buffalo,” said captain Alex Ovechkin. ”I think everybody was concentrated and we just did an unbelievably good job. All lines, offensively and in the neutral zone too.” Funny, how that works. Play a complete game, you might just win a few of them.
New York owned most of the opportunities early, occupying the Washington zone for long stretches through a very good forecheck. The Caps attempted a push back with a nice shift from their third line, but Brooks Laich, left open in the top of the slot, missed the top right hand corner with his effort. But the Caps got a lucky break when a bad clearing pass by the Rangers stalled at the blue line, allowing Jeff Halpern to walk in and take a shot on Marin Biron. Biron could not control the rebound, and Marcus Johansson was there to bang it home at 8:18.
The Caps’ good fortune took a nosedive three minutes later however when an awful turnover by Karl Alzner led to a great scoring chance and a penalty against the defenseman. Washington was able to kill off the penalty, but John Erskine was called for tripping soon after taking down Mike Rupp in the defensive zone. Again, DC killed the penalty, but gave up the equalizer after a Ryan Callahan shot block gave the Rangers a two-on-one that Brandon Dubinsky finished cleanly over the glove of Tomas Vokoun.
Washington got a power play with 1:41 left in the frame, and set up very well with puck movement that gave them several golden chances, most notably a puck that floated over Troy Brouwer’s stick when he had a wide open net on the doorstep, but could not convert. The period ended tied at one.
The Rangers knocked off the remaining 20 seconds on the DC power play to begin the period, and again began cycling the puck in their offensive zone for long stretches, to which the Caps had no answer. Slowly, the Caps began to break the pressure, and with 13 minutes left in the frame began a concerted attack that generated a few nice chances. Dmitry Orlov came very close to his first NHL goal during that sequence with a few cannonading slap shots from the point, but Biron held firm.
New York could not hold on forever, and the Caps finally broke ahead after an incredible shift in the offensive zone that lasted almost 90 seconds and ended with Jeff Halpern deflecting one through Biron’s legs just past the halfway mark of the game. The Caps doubled their lead in short order, as Alexander Semin collected a pass in open ice from Nicklas Backstrom and roared in on goal, backhanding one past Biron at 13:02.
Immediately following the Caps’ third goal, the Rangers were given another power play, their third of the evening, but again the shorthanded unit held firm, preventing the visitors from denting their lead. New York continued to pressure as the period closed, but the Caps held them off and after two, led 3-1.
For the third consecutive period, the Rangers began the final frame of regulation on a strong note, cycling and forechecking the Caps down low and generating opportunities. But as was the case in the second period, Washington slowly regained the momentum and earned themselves some chances. Their solid pressure earned them another power play with 15 minutes left in the period, but it was New York who actually earned three odd man rushes during the man advantage, killing it easily.
The Caps then gave up another power play with a little less than nine minutes left in the period, and the Rangers got several nice opportunities. Ryan Callahan appeared to have tied the game on the doorstep with 7:59 left to play, but video review determined that the puck was kicked in the net, and the play was overturned. DC killed off the rest of the penalty, but were sent shorthanded again right away as Troy Brouwer knocked the puck over the glass for a delay of game call.
Again, though, the Caps were able to keep New York from pulling closer. Using the momentum they collected from those two spectacular penalty kills, Alexander Semin iced the result with a spectacular slapshot over Biron’s shoulder with three minutes left, and the Caps left with a huge win.
This was a complete victory, and one that was absolutely essential for the Caps at this critical juncture in their season. Especially against a great team like the Rangers, the importance of this win cannot be overstated. ”It was very important,” said Marcus Johansson. ”We got off to a great start and we played like that the whole way. We played really good, all the way from the inside out.” Troy Brouwer agreed: “This is a big confidence builder,” he said. ”Just our game has been so up and down lately, we haven’t been able to put together too many solid games back to back. It just gives us confidence going into the next game.”
Tomas Vokoun wasn’t exactly excellent tonight, but he made the big save when he had to, especially impressive when you consider he hadn’t started a game in two weeks. ”It’s great to get a win,” he said. ”Guys played with a lot of emotion and we executed the game plan that we had. You’re not sure what you’re gonna get coming off a layoff like that, but you can’t forget playing [goal] in two weeks.” Vokoun will be instrumental to this team’s ability to get a playoff spot, and this is huge for him and the team.
Now, it’s all about how they respond mentally. This has happened at least three times over the last four weeks: the Caps are in the doldrums and break out with a dominating win over a very good opponent. Every other time prior, they’ve laid an egg. Against the Devils last week. Against the Flyers two weeks ago. Against the Devils in late November. Time to get back on the horse and actually gain some momentum. Wouldn’t that be nice.
The Caps will practice tomorrow at 11 AM at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. I will be there with all of your practice needs; follow me on Twitter here for those updates.