ANAHEIM, Calif. – Strong special teams play and a stellar outing by Jaroslav Halak propelled the Capitals to a 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks Tuesday night, extending their winning streak to three games and kicking off this road trip in a positive fashion.
Five thoughts on the win in Orange County.
1. Starting off. It’s no coincidence that in each installment of this three-game winning streak the Capitals have scored first. They’ve come out strong in the early stages of each contest, recording six first-period goals combined while holding their foes to just two, outshooting their opponents by a combined 36-26 and setting an aggressive initial tone that hasn’t always been there this season. (Prior to this three-game stretch Washington had been outscored 60-47 in the first period this year.)
“I feel we’ve been doing better on our starts,” defenseman John Carlson said. “Just applying more pressure and kind of getting the game going for us instead of just hoping a little bit, working a little bit and then we regroup in the second period and play good. It’s good to see.”
Against Anaheim Tuesday night, the Capitals were quick to establish a forecheck and it was Joel Ward who kicked things off. While the Ducks came back to tie, Washington didn’t change course and would lead again on a late power play goal by Troy Brouwer just 9.2 seconds before the first intermission.
Washington hasn’t trailed once during this three-game winning streak and the team shows an elevated level of confidence when it starts off well that isn’t unexpected. Far too often this season, the Capitals have waited until they’ve fallen behind an opponent to find their game and force their agenda on the ice. With their backs against the wall with a playoff berth at stake though they don’t seem willing to wait for that to happen any more.
Coach Adam Oates pointed out that on the road that initial push can carry even more weight.
“You get the first one it sure helps the cause. I think every team has a tendency on the road especially to see how the game’s going to turn out,” Oates said. “We talk about it a lot but I think it’s a human nature thing where you’re waiting to see how [an opponent plays]. I thought tonight we came out we dictated and obviously big goal by Wardo early, PP and….we got into our game.”
2. Third line. Perhaps second to only the power play in terms of reliability on a night-to-night basis is that the Capitals can count on their third line of Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr and Ward to churn away in the offensive zone, creating a cycle and the gritty scoring chances that go with it.
Ward’s goal, a rebound tally from his usual lying in the weeds approach of being in a high traffic area and ensuring he maintains positioning there, marked his 21st of the season. It also marked the 11th of the Washington’s last 15 five-on-five goals that at least one member of the third line has been on the ice for.
More on the third line in Thursday’s paper.
3. The power play. Throughout his tenure as coach, Adam Oates has made it quite clear he doesn’t want the Capitals to rely on their power play for goals. But with the team pushing for the playoffs it doesn’t hurt to have a rather automatic offensive output available when the opportunity presents itself.
Washington recorded two power play goals on its first three shots and 29 seconds on the man advantage against the Ducks, extending an impressive trend since the Olympic break. In those 11 games, the Capitals are 14-for-35 on the power play a staggering 40 percent success rate. Alex Ovechkin as five of those tallies alone, because no matter how much opposing teams know that his lethal one-timer is coming they can’t stop it.
While the Capitals needed the two power play goals they posted in Anaheim, Oates didn’t think the team was being too dependent upon their special teams.
“I thought we didn’t rely on it tonight, they scored the goals but our game was complete,” Oates said. “I didn’t feel like the guys were waiting for those opportunities you know I thought from start to finish the guys played a very solid hockey game.”
The Capitals saw the flip side of a successful power play Tuesday as Anaheim couldn’t buy a goal on the man-advantage despite numerous opportunities and a 5-on-3 advantage 1:50 long. After their 0-for-6 showing against Washington, the Ducks are 1 for 34 in their last nine games on the power play.
4. Penalty kill. Speaking of the Ducks’ ineptitude on the power play, while some of it is their own doing Washington’s penalty killers came up big when they needed to Tuesday night.
The play of those tapped to handle the lengthy 5-on-3 – Carlson, who played the duration, Karl Alzner, Nicklas Backstrom, Jack Hillen and Eric Fehr – was particularly key as Washington protected a 2-1 lead early in the second. The penalties were the types of cringe-worthy mistakes that can pile up quickly, first a too-many men on the ice call and then Troy Brouwer accidentally firing the puck over the glass on the initial kill.
Those two penalties 10 seconds apart could have derailed Washington, but the initial trio of Carlson, Alzner and Backstrom limited the Ducks’ options and forced shots wide. They, along with Halak, weathered several plays to the top of the crease and Ryan Getzlaf rung a shot off the post but the Capitals escaped unscathed from Anaheim’s two-man advantage.
For as well as Halak played, count him among those that would like to see the Capitals avoid being shorthanded six times in one contest.
“We just need to stay out of the box, against these teams they’ve got really good power plays,” Halak said. “we just have to stay out of the box and try and play five-on-five hockey with these teams.”
Penalty killing hasn’t been a source of strength for Washington this season – they’re 20th in the league at 81.3 percent. But the Capitals haven’t given up a power play goal against in four games now, going a perfect 14-14 in that span.
5. Where’s Penner? Facing his former team just two weeks after he was traded to the Capitals, Dustin Penner had an unremarkable return to Anaheim. He skated just 8:51, tied for the second-lowest ice time on the team along with rookie Tom Wilson, and wasn’t noticeable as Washington captured a its third-straight win.