BOSTON – The Capitals jumped out to a three-goal lead and managed to fend off the Bruins’ comeback attempt to secure a 4-2 win at TD Garden on Saturday afternoon. Alex Ovechkin scored a pair of power-play goals and recorded his 800th career point as Washington captured its fourth consecutive win to match its longest streak of the year.
Five thoughts on the win in Boston.
1. The five-on-three. Rarely do teams get two-minute, two-man advantages, but that’s exactly what happened 6 minutes 57 seconds into Saturday’s contest. Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson were called for high sticking Milan Lucic and holding Torey Krug, respectively, on the same shift, giving the Bruins the five-on-three.
The Capitals weathered the daunting kill rather well, though. Beginning with the trio of Karl Alzner, John Carlson and Brooks Laich for the first shorthanded shift, they were able to deny the Bruins open shooting lanes and made timely clears so they could keep the penalty killers fresh.
“I thought our sticks were really excellent tonight,” Alzner said. “If you have a good stick on a five-on-three, that usually helps you pretty good. That’s good for us to give the penalty kill a little confidence.”
The Bruins attempted four shots during the power play but only one, a slap shot by Krug, made it on net. The Capitals blocked two and another by Zdeno Chara missed.
“It was a great kill. It wasn’t a fluke. We made a lot of huge plays,” Braden Holtby said. “I didn’t know it was a five-on-three until I looked up at the faceoff. I just assumed it was a five-on-four. The guys did a great job. I think the Bruins only got one or two shots through, and that’s a huge credit to our penalty kill.”
It was momentum from an unlikely source, considering the penalty kill hasn’t exactly been reliable over the course of the season. The unit entered the contest tied for 17th in the league at 81.4 percent, but it has shown signs of improvement recently. Over the past eight games, the Capitals’ penalty kill is 31 for 35.
While that still averages out to more than four penalty kills per game – too many – on Saturday night the group came up big when it needed to, thwarting all but one of the Bruins’ five power-play chances, starting with that lengthy five-on-three.
“Any time you have a five-on-three for two minutes and you don’t score, whether it’s our team or their team, I think it changes the game,” Eric Fehr said. “You could really see our team get a lift from it. Guys did a good job killing, and that really got us rolling and ready to take the lead.”
2. Holtby. While he had to stop only one shot during that advantage, Holtby had a busy, 36-save outing against the Bruins. He read their chances that developed through cycles well, shook off their trips into the crease, including one play in the third period on which Loui Eriksson’s stick clipped his chin, and recovered after a bad bounce on a dump in popped back out toward the crease in the first.
The season hasn’t played out the way Holtby would have liked it to. Inconsistencies in his play — some stemming from the changes he was asked to make to his game by goaltending coach Olie Kolzig to play deeper in the crease – led to Philipp Grubauer taking over the starting spot for a spell. But he has started four straight games, each of the victories on this current streak. He has stopped 125 of the 133 shots he has faced in that span for a .940 save percentage.
It will be interesting to see over the final 21 regular season games whether Oates continues to run with Holtby and allows him to work through any rough patches. Or whether the back-and-forth between netminders continues depending on who has the hot hand.
3. Ward hits a new career high. Eric Fehr had lost a faceoff at center ice to David Krejci, who sent the puck back toward the Bruins’ defensive pairing. Joel Ward pressured and got a stick on Johnny Boychuk’s pass to Matt Bartkowski and then pushed the puck forward to create his own breakaway for a backhander past Tuukka Rask.
“Just tried to cut off a pass, and the guy kind of shot off my stick. I just went in, and it was a big goal, a big lift for us,” Ward said. “We got up by a few … but we’ve got to find ways to really put them down.”
It was the kind of hard work and hustle play that Ward has done so many times this season, but in this instance it led to a prettier goal than he usually gets off cycle plays. The tally would stand as the game winner, and it also marked Ward’s 18th goal of the season – a new career high.
4. Ten for Fehr. The last time Eric Fehr scored 10 goals was the 2010-11 season in which he played only 52 games because of the shoulder injuries that plagued him early in his career.
On Saturday afternoon in his 52nd game of this season, Fehr recorded his 10th goal on a breakaway fueled by his own hard work along the boards to clear the puck out of the Capitals’ zone.
“Their ‘D’ were very, very aggressive on the half wall, so when I chipped it to [Jason Chimera], I knew their ‘D’ was going to pinch,” Fehr said. “So I just kept pushing and pushing, and eventually the puck got out and I was able to get out all alone.”
Fehr outworked Patrice Bergeron along the boards to spring himself up ice and beat Rask five-hole.
Of all the players on the Capitals’ roster, Fehr has undergone arguably the biggest transformation in terms of taking on new roles – from his time on the penalty kill to learning to play center and all the defensive responsibilities it entails. He has been willing to do whatever’s asked, to fill whatever void the Capitals have in any given game eager to become a more well-rounded player and stay in the lineup. Nice to see him continue to be rewarded for those efforts.
5. Next. As pleased as the Capitals were to extend their winning streak, which started before the Olympic break (their first successful run of four games since early November), there’s little time to enjoy it. Washington hosts the Flyers at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday at Verizon Center for the first of two consecutive games between the two teams.
Since Philadelphia sits in third place in the Metropolitan Division, just one point ahead of the Capitals, these two games loom large for the playoff race.
“We went into the break how we wanted to. That was a big thing for us, and we came back really refreshed,” Holtby said. “It’s good, but those are just numbers, and they are in the past, and the biggest thing is tomorrow’s game.”