For the second time this season, the Washington Capitals used the Ottawa Senators to get healthy in snapping a losing streak.
Washington downed a struggling Senators team 3-1 in an afternoon affair at Washington's Verizon Center.
The Capitals beat the Senators 3-2 in Ottawa back on December 19th, ending an eight game losing streak, which was the longest since Bruce Boudreau took over as head coach in 2007.
Yesterday, the Capitals scored three third period goals in a 6 minute and 16 second span to beat the Senators for the third time this season, but what can we really take from this victory?
The Senators are 13th in the eastern Conference, started a goalie that was 0-5-2 in his last seven starts and are one of only eight teams that give up over three goals per game.
Ottawa was 1-6-1 in their last eight games and the Caps, losers of three straight, once again played down to the competition in getting shutout for the first 40 minutes.
For two periods, Ottawa gave the Capitals' offense fits, but that’s no longer a surprise from any team in the NHL.
For the fifth time in six games, the Capitals surrendered the first goal and they seem to be coming earlier and earlier in the first period.
Sunday’s goal came less than two minutes into the contest as Caps starting goalie, Michael Neuvirth, failed to cover the puck in the crease.
Neuvirth, one half of the great young goaltending duo the Capitals boast, rebounded from the goal to finish with 22 saves. This was the third time Neuvirth beat the Sens this season in improving his record to 15-6-4.
Following the early goal, Washington looked to be in danger of being shutout for the seventh time in less than 27 games.
Instead of the struggling Alex Ovechkin or Nick Backstrom stepping up, the Capitals got another struggling top line forward to convert an Ottawa turnover into the tying goal.
Brooks Laich, who has been experiencing quite a goal scoring draught himself, converted an errant clearing attempt deep in the Senators' zone and beat Ottawa goalie Brian Elliott, tying the game at one.
The goal was Laich’s first since he scored against Anaheim back on December 15th, a span of 13 games.
Laich's tying goal sparked a scoring outburst by the Capitals. Including Laich's goal, the Capitals would score three times in a six minute, 16 second span of the third period to take a 3-1 lead.
The Capitals' second goal was a power-play goal. The Senators' Milan Michalek was serving a two minute penalty for cross-checking Capitals' defenseman Karl Alzner from behind.
It looked worse than it was, as Alzner would leave the ice only to return later in the period.
The Caps didn't wait long to cash in on the extra man advantage. It took just two seconds to snap an 0-11 power-play outage the Caps had been experiencing.
With the faceoff inside Ottawa's zone and to the right of Senators' goalie Brian Elliott, Nick Backstrom won the draw, getting the puck right back to Caps' defenseman John Carlson.
Carlson blasted the shot past Elliott, giving the Caps a 2-1 lead just 45 seconds after Laich's goal.
Prior to the power-play goal, the Caps were in a stretch of total power play futility at 8-79 (10.1 percent) and were showing no signs of coming out of the slump.
Jason Chimera finished off the Senators, scoring a goal I'm sure goalie Brian Elliott would love to have back. Chimera, skating down the goal-line, banked the puck off of Elliott's back, making it 3-1 and completing the scoring.
The Caps, in spite of their horrible offensive slump, are now tied for first place, once again with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Southeast division.
However, the Capitals are clearly beginning to show signs of frustration on offense.
For the third time in four games, the Capitals had more shots miss the net than they had on goal. The Capitals had 24 shots against Ottawa, but had 34 that missed the mark all together. They had 21 blocked and 13 that just missed the net.
10 of their next 15 games will be on the road and head coach Bruce Boudreau knew how important winning this game was to the Capitals' psyche.
“I just told them I hope they realize how important this period is to our season,” Boudreau said when asked about what he said to the Caps during the second intermission. “It’s vital mentally to get a couple goals for themselves."
Without that period, the Capitals would have been heading to play the Eastern Conference’s best team—the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night—on a four game losing streak.
Tuesday's game against the Flyers should give the Capitals a good measuring stick of where they are as a team right now. The game in Philly will mark the second game out of the last three that the Caps will have played the best team in each conference.
The Capitals lost to the Western Conference and NHL point-leading Vancouver Canucks 4-2 on Friday evening in Washington.
The Capitals are doing some of the little things correctly, as Washington won 69 percent of the faceoff’s against Ottawa in the game.
One of the Capitals' top forwards of late has been Marcus Johansson and he was rewarded with a first line start against Ottawa. Johansson started with Ovechkin and Backstrom.
Boudreau said of Johansson, “When he gets the puck more and he uses his speed through the neutral zone he’s so much better. So it was something that I thought was a good time to change.”
Boudreau added on Johansson’s play “Just another solid game...He was good. He’s getting better and better each night.”
The Capitals are fortunate with the unexpected solid efforts from players like Johansson and Mathieu Perreault. Perreault won several big faceoffs in the defensive zone and was 7-11 at the red dot on the night.
If Boudreau can figure out how to get the Great Eight and the rest of the Capitals' top line production in sync, Washington may just become the team we all thought they would.
If he doesn’t and with the All-Star break looming, this could be a long stretch of road games that could bring significant changes in the Nation's Capital.