With 48 games in 99 days, there’s not a lot of time to digest what happened in any single contest. So as we churn through this compressed Capitals season, I’ll be rounding up my thoughts and analysis of each game here. If you missed them, check out the game story from the Capitals’ 3-0 win over the Winnipeg Jets and how Braden Holtby’s latest shutout took place.
Multiple players mentioned that prior to the start of the third period, the Capitals discussed the important of these particular two points — against a divisional foe they’re chasing — and zeroed in on finding a way to close out Winnipeg.
They responded by scoring a pair of opportunistic goals 52 seconds apart in the first five minutes of the period.
Troy Brouwer’s shot off a faceoff win by Nicklas Backstrom went off Winnipeg forward Chris Thorburn and fluttered past Ondrej Pavelec to make it 2-0.
Then when Pavelec stopped Alex Ovechkin on the rush, no one picked up Mike Ribeiro as he snuck into the slot from the right side for a rebound that the Jets’ netminder wouldn’t be able to stop.
“We’ve really been trying to work on closing teams out and making it difficult for teams to come back in games, especially late,” Brouwer said. “We came out for the third and we knew that these two points were very important to us. We made a quick push right away and were able to get two, really quick goals to put it away.”
While he hasn’t played many top-line minutes in his career, Matt Hendricks sure has taken advantage of the chances he has been presented with when paired with elite offensive players as linemates this season.
Hendricks scored the Capitals’ first goal of the game in Winnipeg when he redirected a pass by Ribeiro past Pavelec at 10:56 of the second period.
“I knew it was coming,” Hendricks said of the perfectly placed pass from Ribeiro. “I was thinking should I catch it and shoot it or just deflect it? Glad I chose the second option.”
Hendricks is ready to tackle whatever task a coaching staff asks of him, but he’s certainly having fun when given the opportunity to play with the top linemates. “These are the opportunities you work for,” he told me Friday.
The tally against the Jets was his fourth goal of the season and the third time he has scored while skating with Washington’s top players. On Jan. 22, also against Winnipeg, he scored while skating with Ovechkin and Backstrom after an incomplete line change. On Feb. 12 at Florida, he cashed in after being moved up at the start of the second period to skate with Ovechkin and Ribeiro.
Hendricks’s goal was the result of the Capitals taking advantage of a bad break for Winnipeg when John Erskine’s shot brought Blake Wheeler down to the ice writhing in pain. If a non-severe injury occurs, play won’t stop if the opposing team has the puck and with Wheeler out of the play it gave Washington a de facto power play.
John Carlson gathered the rebound from the block and passed it back across the top of the zone back to Erskine, who sent a beauty of a cross-ice pass to Ribeiro on the half-wall. The veteran center then found Hendricks in front for the deflection.
“We just kept playing, a great pass from Ersky to me and it was kind of a half power play I guess,” Ribeiro said. “Ten seconds we were able to score and we kept pushing the pace after that.”
Sure, Holtby’s 35-save shutout didn’t require that he make 35 10-bell saves but that’s the way it should be if the Capitals are on their defensive game.
The win marked Holtby’s ninth consecutive start and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get the next two as well, with Washington slated to host Boston and Florida before back-to-back games against the Islanders and Rangers next weekend.
“The last few weeks Holts has played very solid hockey for us and the guys know that and they expect that,” Oates said prior to Saturday’s game. “Everybody’s accountable and it starts with him in the net.”
When Mike Green was out for three games in February because of a groin strain, Oates leaned heavily on Carlson. So much so that the 23-year-old skated 26:15 in the first on Feb. 17 at the Rangers, 30:34 in the second against New Jersey on Feb. 21 and then on Feb. 23 with a sizable lead against the Devils he skated 22:42.
Oates acknowledged during that stretch that he was concerned about Carlson’s workload — in a season with precious little recovery time, tiring any player out can make them more susceptible to injuries and generally less effective.
Saturday at Winnipeg, Carlson played a manageable 22:44 as Oates balanced the minutes across the blue line. (Tomas Kundratek was second with 22:27, Karl Alzner at 20:26 and then John Erskine at 19:2.8) While part of the even ice time was likely the lack of special teams play in the first two periods and then the Capitals’ lead in the third, it will be worth keeping an eye on Carlson’s ice time once again with Green out of the lineup.