WINNIPEG, Manitoba — After the first period Saturday afternoon, the stat sheet made it appear as though the Washington Capitals were once again on their heels. The numbers were grim — the Winnipeg Jets had outshot them, 15-5.
But the Capitals were actually rather content. The Jets’ shots had been all long-range, low-probability attempts that goaltender Braden Holtby saw cleanly.
The Capitals stuck with their system and as the offense synced up with the strong defensive play, they were able to take control to earn a 3-0 win. The victory was just Washington’s third on the road in 10 games, and offered a glimpse of the team’s resilience after the Caps staggered through one of their worst losses of the season Wednesday in Philadelphia.
“It’s good to get a good feeling back in the room. We felt that we competed for a full 60 minutes,” said forward Matt Hendricks. “We felt that we played our best game, Holts was outstanding as usual.”
Holtby recorded 35 saves for his third shutout, all of which have come during his current streak of nine consecutive starts, and sixth of his career. During these nine games, Holtby is 6-3-0 and has stopped 256 of the 274 shots he has faced for a .934 save percentage that is reminiscent of his dominance in the playoffs last spring.
The 23-year-old netminder is just as quick to turn aside excessive praise as he is a perimeter shot. Holtby was the first to acknowledge that, with the exception of a flurry of power-play chances in the third period, he wasn’t facing an extremely challenging workload from the Jets.
“The game tonight, that’s not a shutout from my standpoint, that’s a shutout that our team played [for] because we earned it as a group,” Holtby said. “Before it just wasn’t coming as easy to us and you see it’s paying off, we’ve been working hard this whole time and I’m a big benefactor.”
Washington looked to be getting grossly outskated by the Jets in the first period, getting beaten to loose pucks and heavily outshot but the visitors weren’t yielding threatening offensive time.
The Capitals prevented Winnipeg from setting up in the offensive zone and creating any sort of traffic in front of Holtby. Moreover, they stayed confident that the offense would soon follow.
“We played great from first [minute],” the Capitals’ Mike Ribeiro said. “They might have had seven, eight shots [that] I could have stopped those ones — not dangerous shots that they had at the start and we knew that. We just played simple, really. Our ‘D’ chipped the puck up most of the time, let the forwards race for it. That’s what we need on the road: just a simple game.”
Washington began to establish possession at the start of the second period, forcing more neutral-zone turnovers and spawning odd-man rushes. Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec (18 saves) was up to the task early, though, and made a highlight stop when he robbed Jason Chimera on a three-on-two chance with a sparkling glove save.
About 11 minutes through the second period, the Capitals managed to take advantage of a bad break for Winnipeg, maintaining possession when a point shot by John Erskine felled Blake Wheeler. As the Jets winger writhed in pain on the ice, Erskine zipped the puck over to the half-wall, where Ribeiro surveyed the scene before making a centering attempt that Hendricks redirected past Pavelec for a 1-0 lead.
“We just kept playing, a great pass from Ersky to me and it was kind of a half power play I guess,” Ribeiro said. “We were able to score and we kept pushing the pace after that.”
The Capitals entered the third period keen on departing Winnipeg with a valuable two points and a win over a divisional foe they trail. A pair of goals 52 seconds apart less than five minutes in provided all the cushion they needed.
Troy Brouwer scored to make it 2-0 just 3:24 into the third off a faceoff win by Nicklas Backstrom when his shot went off the leg of a Jets defenseman and fluttered past Pavelec. Less than a minute later, Washington’s top line caught Winnipeg on a line change.
Pavelec stopped an initial chance by Alex Ovechkin on the rush, but he wasn’t prepared to contend with Ribeiro’s shot off the rebound. The veteran center gave Washington a 3-0 advantage that it protected the rest of the way, killing off three third-period Winnipeg power plays to do so.
“We’ve really been trying to work on closing teams out and making it difficult for teams to come back in games, especially late,” Brouwer said. “We came out for the third and we knew that these two points were very important to us, so we made a quick push right away and were able to get two, really quick goals to put it away.”