WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The Washington Capitals didn’t want to dwell on their sterling showing in the first of back-to-back games against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday. They fully expected the Southeast Division leaders to come out with a better effort Friday night in the second half of this unofficial doubleheader and didn’t want to be caught resting on the performance of a previous game.
While the Jets indeed showed more intensity early, Washington built off a two-goal lead in the first period for a second straight day.
Five players scored as the Capitals routed Winnipeg, 6-1, at MTS Centre. Washington has won the past three meetings between the two teams, outscoring the Jets 13-1 in the process, including a 4-0 victory on Thursday.
With the victory, the Capitals sit three points back of eighth-place Carolina and trail Winnipeg by five for the division lead with 17 games to play. They’re all too aware of the importance and possibility each game holds, but with each step up the Eastern Conference ladder, Washington’s confidence rises.
“We’re getting in a groove, you can feel it in the dressing room,” said goaltender Braden Holtby, who finished with 30 saves. “The guys are confident and guys are ready to make a push here. It’s a good feeling and that’s what we’ve been waiting for all year.”
The Capitals didn’t play as clean in the first period as they did the night before; instead, on Friday they spent a significant amount of time in their own zone. But opportunistic play from the second line allowed them to jump out to a two-goal lead.
“I didn’t really think we played our best hockey in the first,” Coach Adam Oates said. “Holts really kept us in there, we got a couple timely goals, which made it a better period than it actually was. “
Brooks Laich scored his first goal of the season in just his third game since returning from a lingering groin injury to put Washington ahead 1-0 with 12 minutes 10 seconds gone in the first.
The utility forward started the play with an aggressive forecheck that forced a turnover by big Winnipeg defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. Mike Ribeiro gained control of the puck, carried it behind the net and then fed it back out to Laich, who fired a one-timer past Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.
The Jets pushed back but a few seconds after a shot by Evander Kane rang off the goal post, Troy Brouwer poked the puck away from defenseman Ron Hainsey to send himself and Mike Ribeiro racing down the ice on an odd-man break.
As the duo crossed the blue line Brouwer passed to Ribeiro and then drifted toward the left side simply waiting for when he would receive the puck back. Upon hitting the hash marks, Ribeiro sent a smooth pass to Brouwer for a one-timer blast that made it 2-0 with just under four minutes remaining in the opening frame.
“We were going to beat them with a team game, we made a lot of short small passes we supported each other. They can work as hard as they want but if it’s all individual we can counter that,” Laich said. “They exerted a lot of energy in the first but after that I thought we controlled the game really well.”
With 5:50 gone in the second period, Joel Ward found Jay Beagle out in front and the fourth-line center made it a 3-0 advantage on Washington’s ninth shot of the game. Beagle’s tally chased Pavelec, who allowed seven goals on 34 shots in two games against Washington this week, from the net.
Washington’s offense wasn’t done yet. After a turnover by forward Eric Tangradi Alex Ovechkin fired a long-range snap shot over backup goaltender Al Montoya’s shoulder into the upper left corner of the cage for a commanding 4-0 lead.
“After that kind of games two games in a row, four points give us confidence we score lots of goals on the road,” Ovechkin said. “It’s good feelings right now.”
It was Mike Green’s turn to join the scoring party at the start of the third. With Laich in front Green fired a point shot that found its way through to make it 5-0 just 1:52 into the final frame.
Byfuglien ended Holtby’s attempt to record three consecutive shutouts against the Jets when his shot deflected off Green and in to make it 5-1, but the tally was of little consequence. Ovechkin scored second goal of the game on a power play in the final five minutes to record his second multi-goal game of the season and wrap up the thrashing.
“When you can have a game where everything’s clicking, your power play’s good, your penalty kill’s good, you sustain offensive pressure for the whole game it’s just encouraging,” Brouwer said. “Especially with us needing confidence going forward to try and get ourselves back in the playoffs.”