By Victor Cabrera
The Washington Capitals looked to finish strong in 2016 and continue gaining points in a tough Metropolitan Division and a tough Eastern Conference. The Caps played 14 games going 8-3-3 through the month of December. Concluding 2016, Washington had 47 points sitting 5th in the Eastern Conference and currently in a wild card spot. This month Washington had 13 games against Eastern Conference opponents and only one game against a Western Conference team (Vancouver) as well as no meetings between Ovi and Sid. Now to analyze how the Capitals did through the holiday month.
The first game was at home versus the Islanders. A rather eventless game as neither team managed to score through the first and second period. In the third period, the Islanders were able to break out and scored three goals in the first half of the period while shutting out the Capitals. A 3-0 home loss was the end result, a bad start for Washington. Next was a road game in Tampa Bay. A game in which the Capitals trailed 1-0 but Nicklas Backstrom and the Capitals would tie it in the third via the power play to force overtime. Overtime, however, did not settle it and a shootout was required. 1-1 score after overtime and the shootout had the same score 1-1 after the third round a scoreless fourth round, then a Bolts goal and a Marcus Johansson miss gave Tampa Bay the win. A
A two game home stand at Verizon Center was followed after the road loss. First, the Buffalo Sabers came into town. The Sabers would lead 1-0 after the first, the Caps would tie it in the second but Buffalo would strike back to lead 2-1 after the middle frame. Washington trailed in the third up until Marcus Johansson scored on the power play tying the game 2-2 and that score remained through regulation forcing overtime. Overtime would decide the game as Johansson would score his second of the night and the game winner. Capitals earned a 3-2 comeback win against the Sabers. Boston would visit the Capitals next. An easy win it seemed as the Capitals’ forward Justin Williams scored two goals in the first and Jay Beagle scored in the second period to lead 3-0. The Bruins would formulate offense scoring two late second period goals and headed into intermission only down 3-2. The Capitals would see their lead diminish as they allowed a goal on the penalty kill in the third resulting in a 3-3 tie. The score remained tied concluding regulation and again the Capitals had another extra session. Nicklas Backstrom would end overtime early scoring the game winner giving the Capitals two points and a 4-3 win over the Bruins. Washington would head over to Buffalo and face the Sabers for the second time in three games. A scoreless first between the two teams. The second period with a T.J. Oshie goal and a Jakub Vrana goal, which was the rookie’s first NHL goal and point. 2-0 leaf after the middle frame, Buffalo would score in the final period closing the gap but the Capitals would do more damage with goals by John Carlson and Marcus Johansson. Washington was on a three game win streak.
The Caps would make their way back to Verizon Center to host the Canucks. Captain Alex Ovechkin would score the game’s first goal on the power play. A scoreless second period, but the Caps would seal the win in the third with goals by Justin Williams and Tom Wilson for a 3-0 win. Braden Holtby made a 20 save shutout in the game. A two game road trip was next on the schedule first at the Barclay’s center to face the Islanders. The Islanders would lead through the first period 1-0. A Brett Connolly goal and a Justin Williams power play goal would give the Caps a 2-1 lead but the Islanders would tie it later in the second. Matt Niskanen would be the hero scoring two goals in the third for a 4-2 Washington win. The Capitals win streak had now reached five wins.
The Hurricanes would host the Caps for their next game. The Canes would lead 1-0 after the first period. Ovi on the power play would tie the game and Justin Williams would give them a brief 2-1 lead in the second period. Carolina would tie it later in the period 2-2 with the final period to play. The Canes would score on the power play early in the third period. T.J. Oshie would tie it for the Capitals in the third and forced overtime. Neither team scored in overtime and they would have to settle it in a shootout. The Canes missed their first shot, Oshie would score his shot, the Canes would miss again, and Evgeny Kuznetsov would score his attempt giving them the win their sixth in a row. But, Washington would have to play at home the next night hosting the Habs. The Canadiens would lead 1-0 after the opening period of play. Nicklas Backstrom would tie it for the Caps on the power play in the second period, but Montreal would regain their lead later in the period. The Habs would hold the lead for the rest of the game giving them a win, Carey Price‘s 250 NHL win and snapping the Capitals six-game win streak. Washington would go visit the City of Brotherly Love to play the Flyers. Andre Burakovsky would give the Capitals the lead through the opening period. The Flyers would score but, Lars Eller would give the Caps the lead back, only for Giroux to tie it in the final minute of the second period. A scoreless third would make the 2-2 score be settled in overtime which was also scoreless forcing the shootout. Oshie would score the only Caps shot in the opening three rounds while Voracek scored for the Flyers. Simmonds would score in sudden death and Justin Williams had his attempted saved for the 3-2 to Philadelphia.
The Capitals would head back home to host the Bolts. A two goal first period for John Carlson, followed by an Ovi goal in the second, and a Justin Williams goal in the third period for a 4-0 win over Tampa Bay. A 23 save shutout performance for Holtby. The Holiday break was next giving the Capitals a few days off from games. The Islanders would be the first game back from the break. Cal Clutterbuck and Justin Williams would score for their teams for a 1-1 first period. The Islanders would lead 2-1 in the second with an Andrew Ladd goal. Ovechkin would tie it in the third but the Islanders would quickly score twice for the 4-2 lead. Andre Burakovsky would score for the Capitals but it wasn’t enough as they fell 4-3 to the Islanders. The next two games were against the New Jersey Devils first at home. A scoreless first period, a Devils’ goal in the second, and a Daniel Winnik third period goal to end regulation 1-1. Overtime didn’t settle it and a shootout was needed. Oshie would be denied on the first attempt, followed by New Jersey scoring their attempt. Kuznetsov would also be denied and the Devils would score to win 2-1 via a shootout. On New Year’s eve, the Capitals would face the Devils on the road. Brett Connolly and Jay Beagle would give the Caps a 2-0 in the first. Kyle Palmieri would make it 2-1 but Oshie, Ovechkin, and Williams would each score to make it 5-2 at the end of the second period. The Devils would score in the third however Johanson would score for the Capitals ending the game 6-2 in favor of Washington. six different players each scored a goal and an impressive 9 for 9 on the penalty kill for the Capitals.
The point leader for the Capitals is Nicklas Backstrom 9 goals and 21 assists for 30 points. Backstrom is also the assist leader with Kuznetsov in second place having 16 assists. Ovechkin has 17 goals so far and 11 assists for 28 points being the second top point scorer. Marcus Johansson has 14 goals the second top scorer for the Capitals. Holtby is the top goalie with 27 games played 15-8-4 for three shutouts. Phillipp Grubauer has played in 8 games for a 6-1-1 record with one shutout.
The Capitals have done well on the powerplay and they can kill penalties which is key to holding leads. They have done very well in shootouts by going with Oshie, Kuznetsov and Ovechkin as their top shooters. They should work on holding leads as they don’t want to lose points by dropping their leads. If they stay consistent with the extra man and the kill they should see good success in their team. The key will be to win the divisional games to ascend in the standings and secure a playoff spot.
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January 7, 2017