The Capitals managed to overcome two lost one-goal leads and a shorthanded goal against to claim an important 3-2 regulation win over New York Friday night. Eric Fehr recorded the game-winner in what was a particularly strong contest for the veteran winger.
Five thoughts on the win over the Rangers.
1. The Great 19. While it doesn’t have the same ring to it, there’s no question that Nicklas Backstrom is playing superb hockey. With his goal and assist against the Rangers on Friday night, Backstrom has recorded 17 points (4 goals, 13 assists) in the past eight games helping Washington go 4-2-2 in that stretch.
His vision and ability to see a play developing two steps ahead of opponents is on full display as he engineers rushes and dishes the puck on the half wall of the power play. While Backstrom will always be a pass-first player he hasn’t squandered his own opportunities to put the puck on net.
“He’s really protecting the puck well,” Fehr said of Backstrom. “It seems like you need to send two or three guys at him to get the puck away from him. He’s handling the puck with confidence and he’s making great plays. This is what we expect from him every night but it’s pretty unbelievable.”
Backstrom’s goal against Cam Talbot late in the second period was on an unassuming shot as he came down the right wing boards, catching the Rangers off guard, and fired far side. It also came at a critical juncture for the Capitals, who had just been outshot 9-1 by New York in the 3 minutes 15 seconds leading up to Backstrom’s tally.
“I would say the last month for sure, I’ve seen a little different level I would say. When we play better every guy who has that skillset gets more of an opportunity to shine and I’d say right now he’s in a pretty good groove,” Coach Adam Oates said. “He’s pretty Steady Eddy. He’s pretty consistent the way he plays. Maybe he’s got a little bit more confidence, seeing a little bit better but all and all as the line goes each guy goes.”
2. Mike Green. The Capitals defenseman looked his smooth-skating best Friday night. He was flying around the ice, beating the Rangers to loose pucks, making smart decisions to send outlet passes out of the defensive zone and choosing wisely when to jump up in the play.
Early in the first period his ability to accelerate through the neutral zone led to a tripping penalty by Rick Nash when the New York winger hauled Green down. Green scored on a point shot on the ensuing power play for his third goal of the year, all of which have come since Dec. 3. Green was also not on the ice for either goal against and generally had a strong all-around outing. Perhaps he is finally finding his footing this season.
For as much as Oates tries to get Green to focus less on offensive production and more on the rest of his game, he knows it helps boost the defenseman’s confidence to have pucks find the back of the net.
“No question it helps to get points because that’s how people view him in one capacity but as we’ve talked about I try to talk him out of that as much as possible,” Green said. “We need him to play minutes and to play. He’ll get his points here and there but the league’s too hard to score.”
3. Grubauer rolling. With 38 saves against New York, Philipp Grubauer made his latest argument that he belongs in the NHL. The rookie netminder continues to put forth strong performances, muddying Washington’s goaltending depth chart and extending his stay with the big club.
His eight appearances are an admittedly small sample size but Grubauer’s 5-1-1, 2.18 goals-against average and .937 save percentage and consistent composure has instilled confidence in his teammates. I’ll have more on Grubauer in Sunday’s paper but at this stage he’s certainly forcing the Capitals’ hand when it comes to picking starting netminders.
4. Dominic Moore, meet Tom Wilson. Washington’s rookie power forward doesn’t see a lot of ice time in his role as fourth line winger, but he still manages to make quite the introduction from time to time. Late in the first period, Wilson leveled Rangers center Dominic Moore at center ice with one doozy of an open-ice shoulder check.
5. Shots. Friday night marked the ninth time this season the Capitals have allowed 40 or more shots on goal. They’ve allowed 30 or more in 32 of 38 games this season and given up the third most shots on goal in the league with 1,339, which is a staggering average of 35.2 per game. It’s become part of what the Capitals are this season, they simply give up a lot of shots. They’ve found ways to win in spite of it, and can limit opponents to mainly perimeter looks like they did to the Rangers Friday night, but it still takes a toll on the team and goaltenders over the course of time.