Five thoughts on the win on Long Island:
1. Vanek’s goal. From the moment the puck went in the net Braden Holtby was arguing with the referees, asking why they didn’t whistle the play dead on either of the two times he covered the puck with his glove. Holtby had stopped an initial shot by Thomas Vanek on the rush and covered the puck a first time but it was poked free by Kyle Okposo.
Alex Ovechkin was vying for space with Okposo at the top of the crease and was equally perplexed as to why the referees didn’t blow the whistle.
“I was in the middle and I saw it clearly he covered the puck enough to be whistle but it was not whistle,” Ovechkin said. “100 percent he covers the puck and you can see his reaction out there I saw he covered the puck two times. [John] Tavares or somebody else make a hit on the glove and the puck go through my skates and it goes in.”
The Capitals’ goaltender turned and put his glove over the puck on the opposite, right side of the crease, only to have Tavares then swoop in and knock the puck loose once more. It popped back out to the left side where Vanek found it loose and scored on the rebound to make it 2-1 Islanders with 1:51 left to play in regulation.
“I covered the puck and the rule is once you lose sight of the puck you blow the whistle,” Holtby said. “Can’t see the puck when its under my glove and a guy pitchforks it out from under me. It’s tough because at that point in the game it could have been a loss for us, in a game that we played very well, because of one call. Luckily it didn’t affect us.”
2. Jumping up. Karl Alzner made a critical decision to jump up along the boards on the penalty kill late in regulation to keep the play alive in the offensive zone. He pushed the puck down the left wing boards, beating Tavares to it and then fending off Okposo and Travis Hamonic in the corner so he could pass to Jason Chimera behind the net. Chimera sent a backhander out in front to Nicklas Backstrom and suddenly the game was tied.
That play isn’t possible if Alzner doesn’t pinch to ensure the Capitals maintain possession. It’s also an indication of Washington’s most stay-at-home defenseman becoming more comfortable at making the necessary reads to help keep the offense humming.
The coaching staff wants all of the defensemen to be able to jump up in the play when necessary and they’ve doubled down on that request this year and it’s especially visible with Alzner. Way back in October, I asked him how he was handling that responsibility when his first priority has always been to monitor plays and reads from a purely defensive mindset.
“I don’t love being there, I don’t love doing that but I know that it’s going to help in the long run. Coaches want me to give it a shot and I’m getting a good reaction from the forwards too,” Alzner said in late October after a practice. “I used to always think, ‘Ok the puck turned over to the forwards’ side’, and now I’m trying to be that extra out and if I have an opportunity to get low in the zone get low in the zone just make sure you can get back in time. It’s more fun, it keeps you in the game more when you’re doing that, I enjoy it but still don’t feel very comfortable.”
While those plays certainly weren’t second nature for him then, it looks like Alzner is becoming much more comfortable at joining in on the offensive side when he needs to.
3. Fourth line. With only six minutes of special teams time total in Saturday’s contest, Coach Adam Oates was able to roll all four lines for the majority of the contest. That allowed the fourth line, which in this game included Aaron Volpatti, Martin Erat and Tom Wilson to get a little more involved in the game. Volpatti and Erat played 10:38 and 10:50, respectively, while Wilson clocked in at 7:48.
Until the frenzied comeback, this was a game tailored for the fourth line what with the increased physical play and need to win battles all over the ice. Volpatti’s goal, which gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead in the second period, was a prime example. Erat protected the puck against Islanders defenseman Aaron Ness behind the net, swept out low along the goal line to the right side and threaded a pass across to Wilson, who was stationed on the left side of the crease. Wilson took two shots and then Volpatti muscled his way to gain positioning on Matt Carkner, creating just enough room to knock the rebound in when it popped out to him.
“Marty he’s really good in the corners and we know that, so we try to get to open spots. Willy takes a few swings at it and I tried to shovel it in,” Volpatti said. “You feel better when you’re in more, sometimes if you go 10 minutes without a shift your legs kind of burn out when you get out there. It’s good to contribute. Everyone wants to contribute more.”
4. Orlov. The 22-year-old defenseman’s season debut wasn’t particularly flashy but in this case that might be a good thing. Orlov skated 14 shifts for a total of 13:41 against the Islanders, and was credited with two shot attempts. He took a cautious approach to the contest and didn’t go searching for offensive opportunities that weren’t there and handled the Islanders’ physical play well.
The Capitals need defensemen who, on a nightly basis, can minimize their own errors. Orlov seemed to do that Saturday night, now the question remains whether he’ll get a few more games to provide a larger sample of what he can do at the NHL level.
5. Holtby. After not being scheduled to start on Friday, Holtby has come through with two solid outings on back-to-back nights to help get the Capitals build some positive momentum. He finished with 37 saves against the Islanders in what was the 23rd time this season that the Capitals have allowed 30 or more shots on goal.
Perhaps no sequence was more incredible than how Holtby managed to keep the puck out of the net during a penalty kill in the second period. Washington already had a 1-0 lead when Jay Beagle went to the box for hooking but Holtby all but singlehandedly ensured that an opponent wouldn’t be able to come right back and score again.
Here’s the video.