The top line converts, but Ovechkin is pretty mellow. (Photo credit: Lou Capozzola)
I know a special place. A magical place. A place where the beer flows like wine. Where normal men are giants, and struggling hockey teams play like they’ve never been better. A place called Long Island.
The Washington Capitals spent the evening in that benign growth of land dangling unloved off the mainland. There they met the New York Islanders (29th in the league in… oh let’s just say everything). But the Caps didn’t play down to their competition. Instead they looked like the studs we know deep down they really are. But looks can be deceiving.
Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin delivered a masterful possession that Jason Chimera finished off from the goal mouth. Backstrom then broke his 21-game goalless streak by cleaning up an Ovechkin rebound. On a rail, NYI’s Michael Grabner beat John Carlson’s coverage and Braden Holtby’s read to put the Islanders on the board, but the third period was scoreless. Caps beat Isles 2-1.
- Woohoo! We scoared first!
- Both of the Caps’ goals came from point-blank distances directly in front of the net. The NHL has the shot distances as 5 and 11 feet, but I think Backstrom’s was closer. Good crashing, boys!
- John Erskine‘s participation in tonight’s game was reportedly a last-minute decision. He played, but that might not have been the right move. Big John was on ice for 6 of the 7 Islander scoring chances at even strength, and he also caught an angry puck in the foot. I wouldn’t be surprised if Friday is another maintenance day for good ol’ 4.
- Both of the Caps’ markers came on the backs of the team’s evanescent top line (current version: Ovechkin-Backstrom-Chimera). Nick Backstrom had a goal and an assist, Alex Ovechkin two assists, Jason Chimera a goal. Expect to see this combo again.
- Alex Ovechkin himself is becoming an increasingly greater eight, earning 7 Caps scoring chances and allowing only 3 against. That Alex got only one shot on goal and still found success bodes well for this road trip.
- On the telecast, CSN’s Joe Beninati dropped the magic words, Russian machine never break(s), and Craig Laughlin mentioned Braden’s Holtbyisms. For a bunch of dudes who sit on couches, we had a big night.
- Speaking of Braden Holtby, he looked comfortable and in control in net. He blocked 24 shots, 17 of which were valid scoring chances. 10 of those came while the Caps were shorthanded. Yes, he’s still doing that wacky “I’m gonna clear the puck all by myself!” thing, but Braden was definitely our best penalty killer regardless. After a rough stint with the team a few months back, Holtby totally deserved the celebratory embrace of Matt Hendricks.
- Boyd Gordon and Backstrom were puck monsters on the face-off dot. Gordon won 12 of 14, and Backy won 10 of 14. Superb.
- The Capitals killed six penalties, which is where the lion’s share of the Islanders’ scoring chances came from. Those 10 PP scoring chances are a season worst for the Capitals. Mike Green and Jeff Schultz saw 8 of those 10 up close. If this were any team but the Islanders, this game wouldn’t have been a win.
- And it’s not as if the Caps were dominant at even strength either. The shots on goal were almost a tie: 25-24 in the Isles’ favor, and the Isles also outchanced the Caps 9-7.
No one’s unhappy about the win. Seriously, we’re delighted. But there should be a measure of caution in the triumph. The Caps did play an inferior opponent, but they committed a bunch of penalties. They crashed the net, but their defense was spotty. So let’s be both grateful for the standings points and attentive to the lessons. It’s still a long way to May.
A final note: Caps expatriate/current Avalancher, Tomas Fleischmann, will miss the rest of the season due to pulmonary emboli. Even if this isn’t related to the blood clot in his leg that cost him a chunk of last season, there is still reason to worry for Flash. RMNB wishes a speedy recovery to our beloved ginger weirdo.
Ian has the reins for Saturday’s dance with the Maple Leafs. I’ll be at the Dismemberment Plan concert!
Additional reporting by Neil Greenberg, who has beat me in our last two matches of Words With Friends.