The Capitals (3-5-0) wrapped up their five-game homestand on a positive note. But the team knows there are still plenty of things to work on.
“It was better. I think we still had our moments we obviously have to clean up,” said Coach Adam Oates, who is still waiting to see the Capitals develop the consistency they had late last season. “We did some good things. It still doesn’t have the feeling of last year, the second half of the year. It doesn’t. I still think we have too many breakdowns in our own end, but I’m glad the guys got a win. It’s been a tough homestand, tough sledding.”
Oates’s line alterations paid dividends, with Martin Erat recording three assists in 17 minutes 49 seconds of ice time after being moved from the fourth line up to the second. Both of Erat’s linemates, Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer, recorded even-strength tallies for their second goals of the season to help Washington build its lead. Meanwhile, Joel Ward and Alex Ovechkin kept the league’s best power play rolling with a 2-for-4 showing.
Although the teams ended the first period scoreless, the Capitals laid a foundation by establishing a consistent cycle game, something often absent through the first seven games.
On one shift, the reconfigured second line of Erat, Laich and Brouwer spent well more than a minute churning away down low in the Columbus end and built momentum with rapid passing, frequent checks and hustle to ensure they maintained possession. They didn’t score, but that shift and others like it bolstered Washington’s efforts all the way down the bench.
“You wear them down,” Erat said. “It’s a 60-minute game, and those [defensemen are] going to feel it in the end. We just capitalize on our chances. We just get them tired, and that’s our game.”
Eighty-six seconds into the middle period, Brandon Dubinsky tripped Mike Green, putting Washington’s intimidating power play (30.8 percent) to work.
Much like the lineup itself, the first power-play unit featured a new look with Ward in the slot and Marcus Johansson down low. Nicklas Backstrom fed the puck to Johansson, who sent a one-touch pass out front to Ward for a one-timer that found space under the right arm of Sergei Bobrovsky to put Washington ahead 1-0 for his second power-play goal in three games. Bobrovsky, the defending Vezina Trophy winner as best goaltender, finished with 35 saves.
Columbus threatened to tie the contest for the next six minutes, though, outshooting the Capitals 8-2 in that span and creating quality chances. But Holtby handled all of the tight looks around the crease, his confidence apparent as he dismissed every one.