Washington Capitals' Top Line Re-Emerges in Another Tight Win Over Islanders
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A trapping style of defense, while using a controlled hectic fore-check, propelled the Capitals to take the all time series lead in beating the Islanders 2-1 Thursday night in New York.
The Caps are now 6-0-1 in their last seven trips to Uniondale and like most of the NHL, the Washington Capitals continued their three year stretch of beating the Isles on a regular basis.
However, the Caps certainly have not dominated them in going 10-1-3 over that stretch.
The win marked the ninth time in the last 12 meetings between the two teams that one goal decided the outcome.
Washington also won the battle of which team was going to give up the first goal; the Isles have done it in seven straight games and 28 times this season.
They rank second in the NHL behind only the Capitals, who have fallen behind first 29 times this season.
True to the numbers, the Islanders would tie the Caps at 29, allowing Washington to score just 3:41 into the game.
The goal added one more game to the current first goal streak. New York has now surrendered the first goal in eight straight. It was the seventh time in those eight games that the Isles allowed the first goal before the five minute mark of the opening period.
A new addition to the Caps top line wouldn't take long to capitalize on playing with superstars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
Jason Chimera would score his seventh goal of the year, but it was Nick Backstrom that did all of the work. Backstrom would skate the puck from his own defensive zone through the neutral zone, eventually dropping a pass to Alex Ovechkin just to the right of the Islanders goal.
Islander’s goalie Rick Dipietro immediately over committed to Ovechkin’s side, leaving Chimera all alone on the other side of an empty net. Ovie hit Chimera with a soft pass and he simply tipped it in for a 1-0 Washington lead.
Backstrom played perhaps his best game since December 1st. He looked very much like the Nick Backstrom from last season.
Backstrom has now recorded points in four straight games and in six of his last seven. He also has nine assists in his last 12 games, but he still hadn’t scored a goal since the first day of December, a span of 21 games.
Luckily for a relieved Backstrom, that number won’t reach 22 games; Ovechkin would assist on the draught breaker, as the Islanders would once again surrender an early goal at the beginning of the second period.
Backstrom’s 12th goal would come just 3:38 into the second, as he would again team up with his buddy Alex Ovechkin in staking the Caps to a 2-0 lead.
Backstrom took a clearing pass from Caps defenseman John Carlson and dished it off to Ovechkin at the blue line.
Ovie charged toward Rick Dipietro trying to score on his backhand, but Dipietro stopped him. Dipietro left the rebound and Backstrom was there to clean it up, knocking the monkey right off of his back.
Backstrom and Ovechkin had two points each as Ovechkin recorded just his third multiple point game in his last 24 contests.
Thursday’s performance for Backstrom was just the fourth time this season he has recorded a goal and an assist in a game, a feat he accomplished 14 times last season.
Both Capitals goals came directly in front of the Islander net and in fact both Backstrom and Chimera were legally in the crease when tapping home their goals. A style of play team Captain Alex Ovechkin has wanted to see from his teammates.
Following the loss in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Ovechkin said, “We have to go to the net, find the rebound, crash the net, make some hits and be angry." That’s exactly how the capitals played for 60 minutes Thursday.
Backstrom was very relieved after Thursday's game saying, "Hopefully, you guys will stop asking me about it," he said with a laugh". Backstrom was vocal about the slow starts during the three game slide last week but had this to say about Thursdays win, “We started off pretty good. All the guys were just flying out there,"
Backstrom was smiling tonight and happy about how the Capitals again earned points in a second straight road game: "That reminded me of last year. We came out hard every game. That's what we've got to do to win", Backstrom said.
The Capitals got a strong night in net from recent Hershey Bears call-up, Braden Holtby. Michael Neuvirth, who is injured and listed day to day, was back in D.C getting his injury tended to and Semyon Varlamov, while dressed and on the bench Thursday night is also day to day with a lower body injury.
Holltby stopped 24 of 25 Islanders shots as his only mistake came when Caps defenseman John Carlson allowed the Isles Michael Grabner to beat him down the left wing.
Grabner beat Holtby with a backhand shot over his shoulder 5:15 into the second period cutting the Caps lead to 2-1.
Carlson is a good young defenseman, but like many young blue liners, he sacrificed technique in trying to rely on his physical abilities. He played the man, not the puck and it cost his young 21 year old net minder a chance at his first career shutout.
Holtby made several big saves tonight and was huge during many of the Islanders six failed power play attempts.
Holtby seemed to put his last stint in the senior circuit behind him. Holtby (3-2-1) was sent to Hershey after allowing five goals on 23 shots in a 5-0 loss at New Jersey on Nov. 22.
Are the Capitals a better playoff team right now than they were the last three years combined
While Ovechkin and Backstrom seem to be getting back on track, the offense as a whole is still struggling overall.
The Capitals failed to score three or more goals for the 12th straight game and failed to record at least 30 shots on goals for the fifth straight contest; both streaks were last duplicated over five years ago.
The power play was 0-2 on the night extending the extra man advantage number to a miserable nine for their last 81 or just 11.1 percent.
The shocking offensive numbers that continue to add up some how didn't matter after the win on Thursday.
Thursday’s win didn’t carry with it the frustration the Capitals and their fans have had win or lose during the last 25 games. Despite scoring just two goals, the Capitals played with confidence all night long, never appearing frustrated.
The win over the Isles looked liked the Caps were more than comfortable in executing the new blue print of a defensive style game plan.
With Backstrom and Ovechkin starting to get in the scoring column more often, maybe the Caps are actually preparing for a different kind of run in mid April and May.
Boudreau said following the game, "Eventually they will start scoring again at the rate they are capable," Boudreau said. "If they learn to play defense and then they get the balance with the offense, our team will be in good shape."
If the Capitals do indeed start scoring and continue to play defense like they have been then droughts like Backstrom's and Ovechkin's wont be the only ones that end.
The drought in D.C may also be over. The one with no Stanley Cup.
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