The Washington Capitals pulled out one of the most improbable victories of their season on Monday night, beating a team that had only lost four times in regulation in their own building, the Detroit Red Wings, by a 5-3 final score. The Capitals got two goals from Alex Ovechkin and one each from Jason Chimera, Keith Aucoin, and Mike Knuble (KNOOOOOOOBS) in their winning effort, which ensured that they keep a firm hold on the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference into the middle of the week. In addition, Braden Holtby made 30 saves in the nets in his first start since being recalled from AHL Hershey on Saturday, and only his second NHL start of the year.
Detroit came out hard to open the game, pressuring call-up goaltender Braden Holtby into some nice saves after long periods of offensive zone possession for the home side. Slowly, the Caps began to pick up a little momentum, and drew their first power play of the game after seven minutes when Alex Ovechkin took a stick up high when cutting in to the zone. It didn’t take the Caps long to score on this power play, as Marcus Johansson dangled in a found Ovechkin for a one-timer at the top of the circles that the Captain pounded home into the top corner.
The Capitals made it two shortly thereafter, as Mike Knuble finished off a nice passing play from Jason Chimera in front to make it 2-0 with a little less than ten minutes remaining in the period. Three minutes later, it looked like Kyle Quincey had cut the lead in half, but the referees waived off the goal and instead called Tomas Homstrom for interference in front of the goal. Washington converted on that power play, too, as Ovechkin corralled a loose rebound in front and put it over a sprawled Howard. The Wings got a power play late in the period to try and draw within two, but DC killed it off and took a 3-0 lead in to intermission.
The second period’s beginnings were much less eventful until Matt Hendricks took a holding penalty after three minutes, giving the Wings another power play. Detroit would not be denied this time, as Quincey uncorked a bomb through traffic from the point that went off the post and in past Holtby, who had no chance.
After a period of time in which not much happened in the middle of the period, the Caps got another man advantage after a Todd Bertuzzi infraction, but for the first time all night, the home team was able to kill off the penalty and keep Washington off the board. But the Capitals could not be kept at bay much longer, as Keith Aucoin took a loose puck in front off an Alex Semin centering feed and popped it over Howard’s shoulder to reinstate the three-goal lead; the period closed with DC up 4-1.
Of course, however, the Wings made things very interesting at the start of the third period, scoring less than 30 seconds in when Todd Bertuzzi beat his man to a loose puck and potting it to energize the crowd at the Joe. After the goal, the Red Wings became energized, and began throwing pucks at Holtby, who had to be sharp with some saves through traffic. But eventually the pressure caved Holtby, who allowed another as Daniel Cleary cut the lead to one with seven minutes left.
Now really pressing, the Red Wings had the Caps on their complete heels and had the puck in the Caps’ zone for minutes on end. Washington helped out their opponents with three minutes left in the frame when Mike Knuble took a tripping penalty 200 feet from his own goal. But Henrik Zetterberg took a holding call after only a minute to create some four on four hockey. The Caps managed to keep the Wings out of their end in the four on four, and Jason Chimera sealed the win with 20 seconds left with a nice empty netter, enabling the Caps to climb out with two critical points.
Well, that was unexpected. There the Caps were, coming off another dreadful road performance and heading in to the hardest barn in the NHL to win inside. So what did they do? They beat one of the best teams in NHL. Yeah, I don’t get it either. But, as always, I want to see it consistently before I say anything has changed. Also helping things was the absence of two of the Wings’ top four players, one of which happens to be the second best defenseman ever.
I’ll give Braden Holtby credit. Thrown to the lions, he came up big with some nice saves in this game in order to help secure two points. He didn’t look overwhelmed, except for maybe at the end a bit, and overall was his typical self, whether it was in the NHL or AHL. Who gets the start Thursday evening in Philly just got a lot more interesting.
After about a week of terrible performance in the defensive end of the ice, Alex Ovechkin rebounded with a nice performance tonight in which he collected two pucks in the slot and slammed them home. He was back to his vulturing ways, and he took advantage of it to help his team win. It’s almost like he scores when someone else takes the puck to the net, or something.
The Caps will be off Tuesday before practicing Wednesday and playing the Flyers in the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday.
Harry Hawkings is a college student who covers the Caps for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here.