Alex Ovechkin had the best game of his season Thursday in a Caps win. (WFP)
The Washington Capitals got back in the win column on Thursday night, taking the first half of a back-to-back in Winnipeg by a final score of 4-0 at the MTS Centre. Washington got off to a great start, totally dominating the opening 20 minutes of play and getting goals from Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johansson to take a 2-0 lead in to the first intermission. The Caps would grind the rest of the game out, playing stout defense until the final six minutes of the game in which they scored twice to double their advantage and silence the usually rowdy MTS Centre crowd.
Alex Ovechkin paced the way with a goal and two assists while Nicklas Backstrom also collected a multiple-point night with a goal and an apple. Braden Holtby made 19 saves for his fourth shutout of the season for DC, who raised their record to 13-16-1. According to SportsClubStats, the Capitals, who are now seven back of first place in the Division and five back of the final playoff spot in the Conference, have a 15.7% chance to make the playoffs and a 6% chance to win the Southeast. That’s a jump of almost 10% and 4%, respectively, than the beginning of the day.
This was a game that had a frantic pace early, with the Capitals totally controlling the speed of the game and wearing the Jets down in their own barn. There was a long lull in the middle of the game as Washington basically tried to bore the Jets to death, and it worked brilliantly for long periods as their Canadian hosts were unable to get any sort of sustained pressure or rubber on goal. It wasn’t a foray in to Dale Hunter hockey, either; the Caps had possession and though they didn’t get many shots on goal either, they had good zone entries and a good forecheck.
This was another great game from Alex Ovechkin, probably his best this season all-around. They captain was physical and had his “motor,” as I like to call it, for the fourth consecutive game to go along with three points. The Caps’ captain had a beautiful assist on Johansson’s goal, driving to the net and finding the young Swede alone in the slot for a tap-in goal. His own tally was another walk-in, uncontested one timer from the circle set up by a beautiful Nicklas Backstrom pass and brutal Jets penalty kill. Ovechkin has been excellent over the last two weeks or so, aggressive in the offensive and neutral zones; he even had a nice backcheck to help save a goal Thursday night. Again, no one has doubted Ovechkin’s ability to be dominant offensively for periods of time; it is maintaining that level of play that has people worried. The consistency is what you hope for, and what Ovechkin needs. Recently, he has had it and it has shown both on the scoresheet and off.
Mike Green made his return to active duty following another long layoff because of a lower-body (probably groin) injury. The third regular Capital from 2011-12 to return to the lineup after a prolonged absence in the last three days, Green wasn’t really noticed, in a good way or bad, until the middle of the third period. After whiffing on an attacking play in the Winnipeg zone, he had to be bailed out by a brilliant Braden Holtby save after failing to stop on his edges and backcheck. Green is an excellent offensive player but he can’t mail that play in; if Holtby doesn’t make an all-world save on that play the game is completely changed and it’s partially Green’s fault. He was even in corsi, though, that mistake included; solid for a guy coming off an injury layoff.
This game was a little bit of “coming together” for this roster, if you will. With their lineup almost fully intact for literally the first time all season, the Capitals played a great road game in what is supposedly a tough barn against the Division leaders and came out with a convincing two points after a tough loss in Pittsburgh. Mathematically, they increased their playoff chances more than twofold on Thursday, but you still really have to wonder what this team’s true destiny is this season. It is oh, so tempting to want them to go for it and try to make the playoffs, even on a whim, this season because they are your team and you want to see them succeed. But the Caps need to win out the rest of the week for this to gain any momentum in my opinion because of how mediocre they have looked for stretches this year and how difficult it will be to dig themselves out of the hole that they have dug. That starts with another game in Winnipeg on Friday night; one that is scheduled for 7 PM on the east coast.
Harry Hawkings is a college student credentialed to cover the Capitals for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here for all your news needs this season.