Brooks Laich wrestled the puck away from Detroit defenseman Brad Stuart at the offensive blue line in the third period Saturday night and made his way toward the net. After Ty Conklin committed to him on the left side, Laich fed the puck over to Joel Ward for an easy tap-in tally to make the score 5-1.
It was Ward’s second goal in as many games and marked the seventh goal by the Capitals’ “meat and potatoes” third line. The trio of Ward, Laich and Jason Chimera now have 12 points in seven games, and the majority of it has come while they’ve been matched up against the opponent’s top lines.
Facing the Red Wings’ No. 1 combination of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Danny Cleary, they rose to the challenge again. That group of players was held to a minus-3 rating and one point (an assists that came on a power play) in Washington’s 7-1 win.
“It’s definitely pride,” Ward said. “We get called upon to do something like that, it’s a tough task, a big challenge for sure, but I thought one that we answered pretty well. They didn’t have too many chances… Five on five, I thought we did a pretty decent job of shutting them down.”
Members of the third and fourth lines also played key roles in thwarting the second set of power plays Washington gave the Red Wings. With Alexander Semin in the box for high sticking and Marcus Johansson, who sees regular time on the penalty kill, then whistled for tripping, Detroit had a 38-second two-man advantage not long after cutting Washington’s lead to two goals.
Coach Bruce Boudreau put out Laich, Matt Hendricks and Jeff Schultz for the 5-on-3 and they managed to minimize chances (granted, Tomas Vokoun made a stellar left-pad stop on Cleary to keep Detroit from adding another goal). When there was a line change after the first minor expired and it switched to 5-on-4, Ward and Jeff Halpern pushed the puck out of the zone as part of a foursome along with Karl Alzner and John Carlson that didn’t give up a shot on goal.
The Red Wings were “trying to get some momentum. They called a timeout and we definitely deflected it a bit,” Ward said. “When you’re winning the special-teams battle you’ve got a good chance of winning in this league. I thought it was good character by guys who stepped up on the penalty kill, and Vokey as well.”
Note: The Capitals reassigned goalie Dany Sabourin to Hershey Sunday afternoon, which likely means that Michal Neuvirth is on track to return to practice this week.
Boudreau said Saturday that Neuvirth, who has been out with a bruised right foot, will be practice with the Capitals this week and will go on the trip to Canada.