The Washington Capitals can thank goalie Braden Holtby for a 4-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets after the Caps were out-shot 37-17 in DC.
By Glynn Cosker
Managing Editor, DCpuckDrop.com
The Columbus Blue Jackets visited the Capital One Arena Friday night for a rematch of Tuesday’s game in Ohio which the Caps won 3-2. This time around it ended 4-2 in favor of the Washington Capitals.
It was an odd win for the Caps because Columbus were the better team in every department – except for goals scored and goaltending. The Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin was unusually quiet all night with zero shots and a plus-minus rating of minus-one. Columbus out-shot the Capitals 37 to 17 in the game (and the Blue Jackets had another 18 decent scoring chances), but – once again – the Caps’ goaltender, Braden Holtby, stood on his head for the win. In fact, over the two consecutive games against the Blue Jackets for the Capitals, Holtby recorded a combined save total of 72.
Caps Score First
In a rare event, the Capitals managed to score first in an NHL game when John Carlson slotted home a sublime Evgeny Kuznetsov pass after 5:09 in the first. Jakub Vrana had the other assist. Prior to tonight, the Caps had allowed the first goal in 10 of their last 11 games. However, Washington’s lead didn’t last long because one minute and 19 seconds after Carlson’s strike, Pierre-Luc Dubois equalized, unassisted, after a weird bounce from the Zamboni door hinge skipped the puck right onto the Columbus man’s stick just outside Holtby’s crease.
The Capitals’ first man-advantage came with 11:11 on the clock when Nick Foligno was nabbed for holding Tom Wilson in the neutral zone, but the closest the Caps came to converting on that power player was when defenseman Dimitry Orlov rocketed a shot from the point. The Capitals had a two-on-one near the three-minute mark when Vrana and T.J. Oshie were in all alone on the Blue Jackets’ net minder Sergei Bobrovsky, but after a sweet pass from Vrana, Oshie flew the puck wide of a gaping open net. It’s been that kind of year for Oshie, and he’ll want to turn things around soon.
The Caps wound out the first stanza on the penalty kill after Kuznetsov was called for interference and – after Washington killed off Columbus’s power play – that same man Kuznetsov flew out of the penalty box and thumped home a goal from the slot with only 1.4 seconds left in the period to send his team into the first intermission 2-1 up. His goal showed the kind of tenacity that earned Kuznetsov his massive, lengthy contract at the end of last season. Tonight’s outing was the Russian’s best game in a long time as he was all over the ice, worked hard on every shift and recorded four shots on the night.
Capitals Produce a Highlight-Reel Penalty Kill
The second period started with the Blue Jackets leveling the score almost immediately when Artemi Panarin fired home after just 27 seconds – from a long way out. That was quickly followed by the Capitals’ second power play, but Bobrovsky kept Washington at bay with some good stops. Soon after, though, that all changed when the Capitals appeared to get into the Columbus net minder’s head as Jay Beagle and Lars Eller scored a pair of fairly easy goals. Eller’s tally, in particular, looked like one that Bobrovsky would have saved 99 times out of 100. However, that’s not taking away from how the Caps responded to the Columbus equalizer – it was a good spell that put the score at 4-2 in favor of Washington. Beagle’s goal came after 4:38 with assists from Devante Smith-Pelly and Chandler Stephenson; Eller’s strike was after 6:06 with Oshie on the assist.
Columbus were awarded a power play late in the second period and the last minute of the subsequent Caps’ penalty kill was remarkable for Holtby and his defenseman (Matt Niskanen in particular) as they pulled off a few miraculous stops and blocks to keep out the Blue Jackets. In fact, it was the Capitals ‘highlight reel’ segment of the game, but it came in a period that saw the Caps out shot 10-0 in the final 14 minutes. That’s right – no shots from the Caps in the second period for 14 minutes straight. One has to wonder what the outcome would have been had Washington been playing the Penguins or the Lightning and put up that kind of shot production.
Let’s Thank Holtby – Again
The third period was mostly uneventful and Washington stuck around for the 4-2 win. Every stat on the box score was troubling for the Caps – except for the one that counted the most: goals scored. Ultimately, it was Holtby’s night – he was the MVP of the game, and each player should thank him for preventing a big loss.
Next up for the Capitals is a home meeting with the Detroit Red Wings, but that is followed by a lengthy (and cold) road trip north and west of Washington D.C.