The Capitals came through with a strong three-goal, third period to rally for a 4-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets Thursday night. Alex Ovechkin recorded the game-winner, which also happened to mark his 40th goal of the year.
Five thoughts on the win over Winnipeg.
1. Unexpected offense. The Capitals needed to set a tone early in the third with hard work and simple, smart plays. The group that managed to cash in first with that approach, however, was rather unexpected. Defensemen Julien Brouillette and Patrick Wey, just called up Thursday and with only one game of NHL experience between them prior to the contest, combined to help set up Tom Wilson’s game-tying goal.
Wey sent the puck crisply across the top of the offensive zone to Brouillette, making his NHL debut, who made the wise decision to send a shot off the end boards.
“I didn’t have the shooting lane to the net, so might as well,” Brouillette said, “And it came back pretty good. Willy made a good play.”
Both Brooks Laich and Jay Beagle had drawn defenders around the Winnipeg net as the caromed off the boards and back out in front of the net, where it laid loose for a few seconds. With the Jets’ defensemen preoccupied, Wilson corralled the puck for a shot over a sprawling Ondrej Pavelec.
“The play Bru made, banking it off the boards perfectly like that was a great play, great play and obviously it worked. The bounce was right, popped in the right spot,” Coach Adam Oates said. “Brooksie went to the net and took everybody and put Willy in the right spot and got rewarded. It was a great play, gave us a lot of life actually.”
It was Wilson’s second goal of his career – the first came back on Nov. 5 against the Islanders — but the first NHL point for both Brouillette and Wey. That it was those three players who wound up on the scoresheet not only reinforced the Capitals’ need to drive the net to create offense but it offered a boost to the rest of the team that might not occur if a goal comes from the expected sources.
“Anytime you can see those guys chip in, help out, get their first, everyone’s going to be excited for them,” Troy Brouwer said. “To see [Wilson] score another goal, it’s been a long time coming for him. I know he’s a little frustrated, but he’s working hard, being a good professional and whenever you can see guys everyone loves on the team get rewarded for their hard work and effort, it lifts everybody.”
2. Inexperienced defense. Speaking of Brouillette and Wey, they handled the pressure of being thrown into an important game rather well. They were on the ice for Washington’s first and second goals and received solid third-pairing minutes at 15:02 (Brouillette) and 14:39 (Wey) so that the team didn’t have to lean on John Carlson any more than usual. (Carlson finished the game with 25:26 in ice time, his lowest in five games.)
“For what I expected they were fantastic. I told them both and I’ve told [reporters] every time someone comes in, out of the lineup [or] after an injury, ‘Enjoy the moment, it can be overwhelming. Try to do the best you can, as simple as you can,’” Oates said. “And you know what? I thought they played with good confidence as the game went along. I thought [assistant coach Calle Johansson] put them out in the right situations to get a little bit of confidence and then I thought they played very solid, very reliable, moved the puck well.”
3. Two for Brouwer. With a pair of goals against the Jets, Troy Brouwer recorded his first multi-goal game since April 20, 2013, at Montreal. There are many players who haven’t produced as many goals as expected this season and each case contributes to the Capitals’ overall lack of secondary scoring this year. But one of the biggest, consistent absences on the scoresheet this year is Brouwer.
He had 19 goals in 47 games last season but only just hit 13 Thursday, his 58th game of the season. I’ve written about Brouwer’s lack of offense this season a few times, how not having Mike Ribeiro leaves him with fewer golden setups, how opposing penalty kills often remove him as a threat on the power play.
But against the Jets, Brouwer did something he hasn’t done often enough this year in driving directly to the net. His goal in the first period came after Casey Wellman and Marcus Johansson won a battle below the goal line and then found him at the top of the blue paint. Brouwer’s second was a prettier play on the rush, off another feed by Johansson, but he didn’t overcomplicate things with a backhander past Pavelec once again from the top of the crease.
Brouwer has three goals in the last three games. While it’s hard to tell how each player will perform coming out of the Olympic break a little offensive confidence certainly can’t hurt the veteran winger.
4. Another unexpected goalie switch. Michal Neuvirth just can’t seem to catch a break. About to get his fourth consecutive start, with a chance to assert himself as the top netminder on the depth chart and he comes up sick Thursday. Neuvirth looked under the weather following the morning skate and had a persistent, violent cough so it wasn’t shocking to see Braden Holtby lead the team out from the tunnel for warmups.
It’s a familiar pattern for Neuvirth. He missed a scheduled start on Nov. 29 when he stepped on a puck in warmups and last season he couldn’t play in three planned starts because of injury or illness. While these are circumstances Neuvirth can’t control, they certainly seem to happen a lot and damage his quest to become an No. 1 NHL goalie.
Fortunately for the Capitals, Oates made the call and told Holtby he would be starting around noon on Thursday giving the goaltender plenty of time to prepare.
“It was early enough that you just go about your game day routine,” Holtby said. “It’s a little tougher when it’s getting closer to game time.”
5. Erat scores, but for the wrong team. It was the easiest punch line whether on Twitter or in the pressbox when the rebound from Bryan Little’s shot went off Martin Erat and past Holtby into the net to tie the game at 1-1, 13:02 into the first period. Erat — the veteran forward who hasn’t scored a single goal this year – scored. Just for the wrong team. That’s a bad break for Erat and the Capitals, but to the team’s credit it didn’t allow that goal to snowball into a larger problem in the period.