On Thursday morning, the Detroit Red Wings got reacquainted with Verizon Center, some players skating on the ice while others kicked a soccer ball around in the arena’s halls. A few were then recited the Washington Capitals’ dominant statistics when playing in this building.
And yet, the Red Wings had the Capitals exactly where they wanted them with the score tied early in the third period. But even with goaltender Braden Holtby looking less sharp than normal and the team down a forward because of an injury, Washington still managed to continue its recent roll with a comfortable margin of victory. John Carlson’s slap shot put the Capitals ahead for good in the 6-3 win.
Washington became just the second team in NHL history to score at least five goals in 10 straight home games, joining the 1970-71 Boston Bruins, who did so in 11 straight, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“That’s called home-ice advantage,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “There are certain buildings that are tough buildings to come into, and we’ve tried to make the Verizon Center very tough to come into.”
An indirect pass from Carlson set up T.J. Oshie’s first goal of the game, a snap shot less than two minutes into the second period, to give the Capitals a 3-2 lead entering the final frame. But Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg quickly tied it. He carried the puck across the crease in front of Holtby before beating him high with a backhand. Having posted a shutout in his most recent game, Holtby appeared frustrated that the shot got past him.
Carlson’s game-winner came nearly three minutes later. Oshie then scored his second goal with 5:42 left in the game when he slammed in a shot on a late power play. Nicklas Backstrom added an empty-net goal in the last two minutes. What was a tied game was suddenly another comfortable win.
“It’s one of those big moments that we always talk about,” Carlson said. “When we get a chance to take a game over, make sure that we’re doing that. I think that’s something we always want to make sure about in big situations.”
The last meeting between the Capitals and the Red Wings was a painful one. Three Washington players — Oshie, Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky — got hurt in the first period, forcing the Capitals to play with nine forwards for the rest of the game.
Thursday night’s game started eerily similar. With less than five minutes left in the first period, Burakovsky blocked a shot by Brendan Smith with his right hand, and after hunching over on the bench in pain for several minutes, he went to the locker room and did not return. Trotz said after the game that Burakovsky will “miss some time” with the injury.
On the next shift, an offensive zone boarding by Backstrom on Jonathan Ericsson had the Red Wings defenseman slow to get up. Backstrom was issued a minor penalty, and Ericsson was ruled out for the rest of the game. Red Wings Coach Jeff Blashill said Ericsson will be out six to eight weeks with a fractured wrist.
“Something about Detroit,” Trotz said with a shrug.
The Capitals got on the board with a dominant shift by their second line. Evgeny Kuznetsov drove to the net, and his pass through the crease was intercepted by Andreas Athanasiou, but the puck bounced to Marcus Johansson anyway, and he snapped it in from point-blank range. That marked the 17th time in the past 19 games the Capitals have scored first.
One of Washington’s most consistent players all season, Johansson is quietly on pace for a career year. He’s scored a goal in three straight games and has already eclipsed last season total with 18 goals.
Back-to-back goals by Athanasiou had the Capitals in the unfamiliar position of trailing by a goal. But in the last two minutes of the first period, Brett Connolly managed to tie the game while hobbled.
Connolly got tangled up with Danny DeKeyser in a race to the puck. Connolly appeared to tweak his right ankle on the play, slow to get up behind the net. Defenseman Karl Alzner’s shot from the point went off Mrazek’s pad and bounced toward Connolly just as he had made his way to the goal line. From an odd angle, he shot the puck past Mrazek and then limped over to the glass as his teammates surrounded him to celebrate.
Connolly’s ankle was wrapped after the game, and he walked with a slight limp. Even when the Capitals were the picture of defeated, they still left their home rink victorious.