To all those celebrating Christmas, Happy and/or Merry Christmas. To the rest of us, happy Cookie Season. Everything’s going to be on sale on December 26th and you know what? We’re going to be ready. The Capitals did admirably this week, even with the prospect of a few days off as a light at the end of the tunnel, coming out of a three game stretch with two wins, leaving them with nearly identical home and away records. The depth stole the show, with goals by Eller, Connolly, and Stephenson, and the shutout win against Ottawa was the perfect present to all Capitals fans.
As fans, though, we’ve always got to be vigilant — the team says Brooks Orpik is close to returning, and once he’s back? The dark days of a minimum of one unbelievable d-zone turnover per game won’t be far behind.
Record: 22-10-3 (Home: 11-5-2 / Away: 11-5-1)
Standing: 1st Metropolitan / 3rd Eastern
Goals For: 129
Goals Against: 103
- Goals: Alex Ovechkin (29)
- Assists: Nicklas Backstrom (31)
- Points: Alex Ovechkin (44)
- PIM: Tom Wilson (30) & Michal Kempny (30)
So Lars Eller scored, which is just about typical for a revenge game, but that’s about all that happened on the Capitals’ side that wasn’t a penalty. It was a chippy game, as Caps versus Pens usually is, but a little more extreme than one would expect.
The Capitals out-penaltied the Penguins four calls to two in the first, starting with matching majors for Tom Wilson and Jamie Oleksiak fifty-five seconds into the match. About three minutes later, Alex Ovechkin and Kris Letang took matching minors for roughing. Then the Capitals raced ahead in the penalty standings (one where we don’t want to be first, as a reminder to the boys) by taking two more minors to close out the first — a holding call against Siegenthaler at 06:54, and a Kempny cross checking call at 14:10.
In the second period, some scoring started happening — Lars Eller knocked his fifth of the season in off an assist from Tom Wilson with about thirteen and a half minutes remaining, and the Pittsburgh capitalized on that time. Some guy named Sidney Crosby scored about three minutes later on the power play, followed by a Bryan Rust goal that would win the game a minute from the end of the second.
Ironically, both Penguins goals came during the Pens’ most heavily penalized period — the Penguins drew one penalty to the Capitals’ five. Bryan Rust and Marcus Pettersson both drew minors within the first three minutes of the frame, a high sticking call against Pettersson giving the Capitals a second power play opportunity almost immediately after their first (thanks to a holding call on Rust) expired. Michal Kempny got caught tripping, the Capitals’ sole penalty of the period, but the Penguins only needed one chance — some guy named Sidney Crosby scored about a minute into the penalty kill, and the game was back to even strength. Jake Guentzel (holding, 12:12) gave the Capitals another shot at the man advantage and Brian Dumoulin (holding the stick, 20:00) tried his best to give them the advantage to start the third, but the Capitals just couldn’t convert.
Phil Kessel took a tripping penalty a quarter of the way through the third, a minute into a Pens powerplay started because of a Niskanen tripping call, to give the Capitals their third opportunity at four on four play, but once again, the Capitals’ special teams units fell flat on their faces and the Penguins walked away with the win.
The Capitals are 1-2 against the Penguins this year, and their opportunity to even the series comes on March 12th. Hopefully a break helps the Caps clear their heads (and switch things up on the power play).
The penalty kill redeemed itself after letting a goal through against Pittsburgh, thanks to a Chandler Stephenson shorty from Nic Dowd, roughly three minutes into the second, but the game didn’t seem to heat up until the third — separated by about four minutes, Buffalo’s Johan Larsson scored off assists from Thompson (gained in the Ryan O’Reilly trade) and Ristolainen (the taller of the Rasmi), and Tom Wilson scored his tenth of the season from Kuznetsov to win the game.
Since returning from suspension, Tom Wilson’s scored ten goals and seventeen points while only accruing thirty (gulp) penalty minutes. (It’s comforting when you realize he usually gets close to the upper half of the one hundreds in an eighty-two game season, so to be at thirty in sixteen games of play is about average for him.) Things are looking interesting for the Capitals’ top six, now that Wilson’s turned his attention rather successfully to scoring. Is his 26.3% shooting percentage reliable and repeatable? Probably not, but the team’s riding it and so should we.
The penalty situation was also interesting in this game — Buffalo and Washington traded hooking calls in the first, and then Buffalo pulled ahead by one in the penalty count in the second, Rodrigues and Mittelstadt sent to the box for holding after Siegenthaler earned himself a timeout for a tripping call to open the second. Washington dominated the count in the third, with Niskanen and Dowd drawing tripping calls that sandwiched a hooking call against Vladimir Sobotka (also acquired from St. Louis). Buffalo and Washington ended the game tied at four minors apiece, neither power play or penalty kill converting.
Both goalies ended the game with save percentages over 90% — Hutton, despite the loss, saved twenty-two of twenty-four shots by Washington in about fifty-eight minutes of play, but Holtby was just too good, saving thirty-six of thirty-seven while only being out of net for six seconds of the game. Even a patented Holtby out of crease adventure couldn’t stop him, earning him a blocked shot for his stat line.
Hey, at least we know Vrana can play goalie in a pinch!
Brett Connolly had the night of his life to get Pheonix Copley his very first NHL shutout. Copley faced thirty-five shots from the Senators and stopped them all, in fifty-nine minutes and forty-six seconds of play, to earn himself the W going into the holiday break. Fifteen of the seventeen Senators who played more than ten minutes put a shot on goal, with nine (Tkachuk , Ryan , Chabot , Paul , Stone , White [3[, Ceci , DeMelo , and Dzingel ) trying multiple times in vain to put the puck past Copley. When I called him a capable backup at the beginning of the season, I thought I was being optimistic, but this outing was a good one for Copley. Hopefully he takes the confidence it gives him into the holiday break.
The first period featured two Capitals goals — Brett Connolly scored his eighth of the season a minute and a half after the game began, and about two minutes from the end of the frame, Matt Niskanen scored its bookend, his fifth of the season, from Backstrom and Ovechkin. Between the two goals, John Carlson (high sticking minor, 12:33) and Colin White (hooking minor, 12:58) gave both teams a taste of four on four that went nowhere for either team.
The second period featured the remaining two goals of the game, scored by Jakub Vrana, who now has eleven on the season, and Michal Kempny, off an assist from Brett Connolly, whose multipoint outing was a thing of brilliance.
The only Capitals penalty of the second period, a hooking call, was earned by Tyler Lewington, a righthanded defenseman who’s spent the last two seasons with the Hershey Bears. Lewington was a prolific scorer in the WHL (for a defenseman), scoring at a nearly 0.65 point per game pace in his last season in the WHL, two years after he was drafted in the seventh round by the Capitals in 2013. Lewington has been described as a meaner Karl Alzner, a stay at home bottom pairing defender who can fight and hit and make passes, but won’t ever be the fastest on the ice. Lewington was signed to a two year, 1.35 million USD extension of his ELC this May, as sure an indicator as any that the Capitals organization had a vision for Lewington.
The third period was scoreless, and two power play opportunities for the Capitals (both calls on Nick Paul), went unconverted, but it didn’t matter — the Capitals boosted their away win count by one going into the holiday break, and even though Lewington only found his way onto the scoresheet with a minor in the thirteen minutes he played tonight, it was a solid outing for a rookie.
Roster Spot Musical Chairs
- To NHL: Tyler Lewington (from Hershey [AHL], temporary callup [12/15 – 12/23])
Next Week’s Games
- 27th December: Carolina Hurricanes @ Washington Capitals, 7:00pm EST
- 29th December: Washington Capitals @ Ottawa Senators, 7:00pm EST
The last time the Capitals went to Raleigh, they came home with a 6-5 shutout win. Two weeks of goaltending instability filled nightmares for the Hurricanes later, the Capitals return, having gone 3-1 since, to potentially take a second game in the season series. After this game, the Capitals won’t see hide nor hair of the Hurricanes for three months, the last two games of the season series coming in back to back games for the Capitals at the end of March (26th at home and 28th in Raleigh).
This is the first time this season that the Capitals are facing the Canes at home, however, and judging by the Caps’ 11-5-2 record, the Canes’ “Take Warning” is getting a response — “Tread Carefully”. Capital One Arena has seen twice as many regulation and overtime wins as regulation losses, but given the Hurricanes’ propensity for putting shots on goal, the Capitals’ defense better be on their A game. (Not the A belonging to Brooks Orpik. Please.)
Since facing the Capitals last, the Hurricanes have played three games, of which they lost two. Their sole win in that three game stretch, a shutout win against the Arizona Coyotes, came the day after their loss. The loss to the Penguins, which the Capitals also recently faced, is understandable, but how in the hell did the Canes manage to lose to the Red Wings? Mysteries abound, confusion mounts, and the Hurricanes better put on a show in D.C., because the Caps aren’t coming to play.
So the Caps added to that league last goals against number some, didn’t they?
A four goal shutout isn’t nothing, even if the Capitals were only up against backup Mike McKenna, most recently of the Calder Cup finalist Texas Stars. But the team brought it together to earn Copley his first NHL shutout, fourteen games into his NHL career. The Alaska native has gone 8-2-1 as a Capital, with a 2.67 GAA and a 91.2% save percentage. His quality save percentage is at 54.5%, and in a league where 53% is roughly league average and 60% is good, he is truly a more than serviceable backup.
The real goal is getting someone a hatty, though. Like I said, Vrana’s been looking. Let’s do it.
The Capitals aren’t likely to get McKenna again, after the mess they made of his stat line, so Anderson is likely to be in goal on the twenty-ninth. Hopefully the team in front of him doesn’t change, because the Caps had a rollicking good time this week, and I imagine they’ll be looking for the same in Ottawa next Saturday.
This Week In Review
I feel like I’m singing the same old song here, but the Capitals had twelve opportunities to play with the man advantage (plus a few jaunts at four on four play) this week and converted on none of them. It’s obvious something has to change — the players are frustrated and it’s time for a change. Maybe that change will come after the holiday break.
The secondary scorers really stole the show this week, with Vrana, Eller, Stephenson, and Connolly all scoring one apiece, and they were joined by the defensemen — Kempny and Niskanen each scored a goal as well. Wilson was the only top six forward to score a goal, though Kuznetsov, Ovechkin, and Backstrom found their way onto the scoresheet with apples eventually. It’s good to be in a situation where the depth is able to produce this much, and Connolly and Vrana are taking full advantage of the contract year hype.
After four straight games as a healthy scratch, Andre Burakovsky returned to the lineup as the third line left wing of choice against the Sabres and Senators this week, bumping Devante Smith-Pelly first down to the fourth line, then out of the lineup entirely in favor of Boyd. Chandler Stephenson also drew back in this week, knocking Dmitrij Jaskin out of the fourth line left wing spot. Despite all the shakeups in the bottom six this week, Eller scored against the Pens, Connolly had a multipoint night in Ottawa, and Stephenson managed a shorthanded goal, on which Nic Dowd had an assist.
Though the rest of the characters in these iterations of the bottom six didn’t make the scoresheet, the fact that they’re in the lineup indicates that they’re being closely watched, Burakovsky included. Reirden values Stephenson and Burakovsky for their speed, and that was on display against the Sabres (where Stephenson, prominent on the penalty kill, strutted his stuff) and Senators. All that remains to be seen is whether Burakovsky will get his scoring up from his current five goal, three assist total.
(Picture Credit: NBC Sports)