EDMONTON — Before they embarked on their road trip, the Washington Capitals had struggled to create much offensive traction at even strength. Apparently all they needed was a change of scenery.
Four players recorded even-strength goals Thursday night to power a 4-1 Capitals victory over the Edmonton Oilers. The win marked Washington’s third consecutive victory and pulled the team even at 5-5-0.
Particularly encouraging, though, is that seven of the Capitals’ eight goals through the first two contests of their five-game trip have come five-on-five. On this occasion it was the first and third lines doing the heavy lifting with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Joel Ward and Jason Chimera each posting a goal.
Goaltender Braden Holtby gave a performance to match that of the offense with only Justin Schultz’s goal with 2 minutes 4 seconds remaining spoiling his shutout bid. Even without that marker, Holtby was sturdy — and received far more defensive support than he did two days earlier — en route to a 30-save finish.
“It was a better game,” Coach Adam Oates said. “We did some good things. A little bit shaky in the first with some guys in this building for the first time, first time in the altitude, seizing up a little bit, but as the game went along we did a better job playing the way we’re supposed to play.”
Early on the Capitals appeared ill at ease facing Edmonton’s speed as it led to extended shifts in the defensive zone. Holtby’s efforts combined with the first of what would be four successful penalty kills on the evening prevented any damage, though, biding time for Washington’s offense to kick in.
The Oilers iced the puck with less than two minutes to go in the first period, setting up a faceoff between both teams’ first lines on the right side of the Edmonton zone. Backstrom beat Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the draw, and Marcus Johansson tapped the puck over to Ovechkin, who snapped a shot from the top edge of the circle past Oilers netminder Devan Dubnyk (22 saves) for a 1-0 advantage with 1:47 remaining in the opening period.
“We score first, and it gives us a little bit freedom,” said Ovechkin, whose goal was his 10th goal in as many games, making him the first player in the NHL to reach double digits in goals.
It also provided an important respite for the Capitals as a whole after Edmonton dictated much of the first period.
“We kind of got our legs under us a bit and started the second period a little bit better,” Ward said. “It was huge for us obviously for Ovi to get us on the board and get us going. That’s what he does. That’s his job to lead the troops. We just have to follow behind.”
What was ignited by Ovechkin in the first period was built upon by the rest of his teammates. The Capitals cleaned up their play after a sloppy contest two nights prior and managed Edmonton’s speed — both as a fleet-footed group of youngsters and playing on the best ice in the league — with growing consistency as the contest pressed on.
Even as the Oilers’ speed presented problems and allowed them to generate quality looks and swarm around the net, Holtby was a composed source of strength. One of his best stops came with just less than 12 minutes elapsed in the middle period when he pushed across the crease to knock away a one-timer by David Perron with his paddle and preserve Washington’s one-goal lead. He also had the benefit of a refocused defensive effort.
“They’re a patient offensive team and a very skilled team. They’re not scared to try and make that extra pass for an open net,” said Holtby, who played in front of scores of family and friends who made the 21 / 2-hour trip west from his home town of Lloydminster, Saskatchewan. “We did a good job of getting a last-minute stick on it or what not. They had a few that could have easily been open nets.”
Not long after that timely stop, the Capitals gleaned the benefit of another hard-working shift by the third line. Defenseman John Carlson teed up a shot from the point as Chimera and Ward created chaos in front of the Oilers’ net. Ward redirected the shot past Dubnyk for a 2-0 advantage with 15:35 gone in the second for his third goal of the season.
Washington’s even-strength offensive output didn’t end there. With 1:24 elapsed in the third, Johansson threaded a pass from the left side to the crease, where Backstrom outmuscled Nugent-Hopkins for an easy tap-in and a 3-0 Washington lead.
Then it was Edmonton native Chimera’s turn to continue an impressive start to the season by his third line. The veteran speedster made the most of a rush and rifled a shot past Dubnyk for a 4-0 lead.