ANAHEIM, Calif. — While the Washington Capitals have struggled to find consistency in many aspects of their game this season, the power play is the exception to the rule. It’s the one aspect of their play that the Capitals can rely on every night, and Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks, the man-advantage possessed surgical precision.
The Capitals recorded two power-play goals on their first three shots and 29 seconds of time on the man-advantage to fuel a 3-2 win over the Ducks at Honda Center in which the visitors were outshot 45-30.
It took a combination of those power play tallies — which included Alex Ovechkin’s league-leading 46th goal of the year for the game-winner — six successful penalty kills, and a superb showing by Jaroslav Halak, who finished with 43 saves in his sixth consecutive start, for Washington to ensure it would kick off this three-game road trip on a positive note.
“I thought our game was pretty solid,” Coach Adam Oates said. “I really did. I thought start to finish the guys didn’t really skip a beat. [The Ducks] had their moments of course but I felt like we were involved all night long.”
The victory also pushed Washington to 76 points — tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who reside in the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference despite having played two fewer games. Columbus owns the first tiebreaker as well, with 30 regulation and overtime wins to the Capitals’ 25.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing right now, it’s do or die almost for us,” John Carlson said. “We need to put something together, this is nothing compared to what we need to do to get in. I think everyone knows that and is working hard.”
Washington has now won three straight and each victory boasted two common threads — a strong start, and the first goal. As has often been the case this season, the third line — easily the most consistent group five-on-five — set the tone early and helped create that initial thrust.
Working on a cycle during the third shift of the game, Jason Chimera fired two shots on goal. The first was blocked but the second required a pad stop by Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller (27 saves) that left a rebound loose in the goal crease. Joel Ward, hovering unguarded just off the right post, snared the rebound and put the puck behind Hiller for a 1-0 lead just 2 minutes 11 seconds into the game — his 21st goal of the season.
The Capitals’ momentum-stifling trend of surrendering quick goals cropped up again, though, and Anaheim tied the game 59 seconds later when a botched line change led to a three-on-two rush and a goal by defenseman Ben Lovejoy.
When Nicklas Backstrom drew an interference minor on Saku Koivu it gave the Capitals a power play with 30.1 seconds left before the first intermission — and they capitalized on it. The league’s second-best man-advantage unit went to work quickly as Troy Brouwer scored on a rebound to put Washington up 2-1 with just 9.2 seconds remaining in the first.
Washington opened the second period by being whistled for too many men on the ice, and then Brouwer cleared the puck over the glass, gifting the Ducks a five-one-three power play. But Anaheim has been largely ineffective on the power play this year, entering the game ranked 20th in the league (16.4 percent) and on a 1-for-28 skid in its previous eight games and wouldn’t find success against the Capitals.
“You never want to give up a 5-on-3 but I’m happy we were able to kill them,” Halak said. “It was a big period for us, big few kills we had there.”
The Ducks managed to put five shots on goal during the combined penalties — four on the two-man advantage — but Halak and Washington’s penalty killers, including Carlson, held their ground. The closest Anaheim came to a goal during that span was when captain Ryan Getzlaf clanged a shot off the right post. The Capitals went on to kill three more minor penalties before the contest came to a close.
“We shot today, we just didn’t pay the price in front of the net until the end,” Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We had a lot of looks and we were shooting the puck, but we weren’t getting to any loose pucks.”
Former Capital Mathieu Perreault scored on a shot through traffic to pull the Ducks even at 2-2 just 92 seconds into the third period, but Washington didn’t need long to reclaim the lead.
Anahiem winger Matt Beleskey went off for slashing just more than a minute after they had tied the score, laying the framework for Ovechkin to do what he does best — fire a wicked one-timer from the left circle that is all but unstoppable — and push the Capitals on to their third straight victory.
“We know it’s huge game, we know that, we prepare for that,” Ovechkin said. “Power play is a key right now for probably every team, if you have that kind of opportunity you have to use it.”