Five thoughts on the Capitals’ 4-1 win in St. Louis

April 9

(USA Today Sports)

ST. LOUIS – It might be too little too late for their playoff chances but the Capitals put together one of their best performances of the season to capture a 4-1 win over the Blues and stay alive at least for another day. Alex Ovechkin recorded his 50th goal of the season in the win as well.

Five thoughts on the win over the Blues.

1. Beat up blue line? No problem. When the season began no one imagined that the Capitals would be fighting for their playoff lives with two of their defensive pairings consisting of Dmitry Orlov with Tyson Strachan and Julien Brouillette with Connor Carrick. Combined they had played in a total of 285 games heading into Tuesday’s game.

But despite the lack of NHL experience that quartet performed admirably as did the Capitals as a whole, with forwards making sure to backcheck and provide clean paths for breakouts and clearing plays.

Without Mike Green, who is believed to have injured his right hand or wrist against the Islanders, as well as Jack Hillen and Patrick Wey — both sidelined with suspected concussions –  the team didn’t crumble. The Capitals instead rallied around the need for an all around defensive effort.

“That was a full team effort. Everybody did their part,” Karl Alzner said. “We got pucks in. D, we made passes when we had to the options were there. Forwards did a good job getting open, it was everything that we had talked about yesterday and in our meeting a week ago. It couldn’t have come at a better time against this team.”

Even in the early stages of the game, the Capitals defensemen handled the pressure well from St. Louis’s big forwards. They moved the puck out of their own end and up the ice regularly and when they weren’t, Braden Holtby handled all but one of the 29 shots he faced.

Holtby was especially complimentary of the defensive efforts in front of him.

“Obviously [Carrick] didn’t play in a while I thought he played with some confidence which is good,” Holtby said, noting that Tuesday was Carrick’s first game since March 16.  “Brou and Strachs — they’ve played outstanding….Brou I’ve played with a lot and I know what he’s capable of and he’s doing a great job of controlling his emotions and everything at this level. And Strachs is just great to have back there. He talks, he communicates extremely well probably better than a lot of – one of the better guys I’ve played with at communicating. That’s a goalie’s dream right there.”

2. Two goals for Backstrom. The last time Nicklas Backstrom recorded two goals in a game was Nov. 1, in the Capitals’  7-0 rout of the Flyers. But since then, he’s been his usual playmaking self chipping in a goal here or there. His first tally against the Blues was a nice change up from the norm, though, with Alex Ovechkin sending the cross-ice pass on the rush for a one-timer past an opposing netminder.

Was it nice to have that role reversal?

“Absolutely,” Backstrom said with a wide smile. “I knew from when I gave it to him on the blueline, I knew he was going to pass it back to me. Great pass.”

His second, on the power play, came when the Blues opted to give him space and time with a path to the net. It’s become a trend lately, perhaps because Backstrom is taking advantage of it, that teams are cheating toward Ovechkin on Washington’s power play. Teams will often take away him as well as Backstrom’s half-wall passing options, but that lets the center shoot. In recent weeks he’s spoken about wanting to take those shots himself more, when the opportunity presents itself, and he has a pair of power play goals – against St. Louis and Nashville –  in the last five games from doing just that.

3. Holtby. After all the hullabaloo Tuesday about the goaltender that wound up backing up in St. Louis, Holtby was sturdy in net for the Capitals. He now has wins in consecutive starts for the first time since Feb. 27 and March 1, the first two games out of the Olympic break.

Given the way he’s performed lately, you have to wonder if the Capitals stick with Holtby for the final three games, as well.

4. Collision Caps. For the third time in two weeks, two Capitals players skated into each other during the course of game action. Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johansson were the latest victims of teammate-on-teammate hits, though, this one likely came with less force than when Ovechkin and Hillen collided at full speed against Los Angeles on March 25 and when Green and Jason Chimera clipped each other against the Islanders Saturday.

While on the power play in the first period, Brouwer had been drilled into the corner boards by Blues defenseman Barret Jackman. Shaken up, he slowly made his way to the bench when Johansson collided with him in the neutral zone. Johansson appeared to absorb the worst of the run in and lay on the ice motionless for several seconds while Brouwer continued on to the bench.

While neither played the final 2:37 of the first period, both did return to the contest and finished the game. Johansson had his right shoulder wrapped following the game, though.

“That’s a tough one,” Coach Adam Oates said when asked about the abundance of collisions between Capitals. “Brouw took a hard hit, is cruising off the ice and Jojo has no idea he’s there. We’re coming up the ice and I’m not  sure whose fault that was.”

5. Mostly dead is still slightly alive. For those who have never seen ‘The Princess Bride’, stop what you’re doing and go watch it. But that particular phrase is rather apt for the Capitals at this point. Their playoff chances are thin, but they’re not gone just yet. That could change Wednesday night, though.

Both Detroit and Columbus, owners of the first and second wild-card spots with 90 and 89 points respectively, have three games left. Any point earned by the Red Wings along with any two points earned by the Blue Jackets would eliminate Washington from the playoff hunt. (Even if they win out, the Capitals can only get a maximum of 91 points and they lose on tiebreakers to both teams.)

They both play Wednesday night. Columbus visits Dallas but will start off ahead 1-0 because this is the contest that was rescheduled after Rich Peverley collapsed on the bench on March 10. And Detroit visits Pittsburgh.

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