Based on tonight’s performance, the Caps will be just fine with that.
In the post-game press conference, Coach Hunter was asked if this game was similar to the Caps’ victory over Nashville. “This is more heated because it’s a rivalry,” he replied. “It’s more emotional, and the guys rose to the occasion.”
A game that started out hesitantly — as if both teams were aware of the HBO cameras and trying to avoid mistakes — turned into a dominant performance by the Capitals. After just two shots in the first six minutes, the floodgates opened and 55 shots were on target by the end of the game. The important number, of course is 4: Four even-strength goals for a Capitals team that hasn’t given its netminders much support of late.
Alex Ovechkin entered the game on a point-per-game pace (14g, 11a) in his last 25 contests against the Rangers. He’s improved on that rate slightly with his 2 assists, both on beautiful shots by Alexander Semin, though didn’t find the net himself.
The Capitals’ forecheck was in fine form, stymieing the Rangers’ attempts to exit their zone or move through the neutral zone. Two of the Caps’ goals were direct results of their aggressive forecheck — the first a sweet steal by Marcus Johansson, who dished to Jeff Halpern and crashed the net as Halpern shot to pot the rebound.
The Caps’ second forecheck-created goal started with a sweet open-ice hit by Ovechkin; Backstrom collected the puck and fired a smooth pass to a streaking Semin.
Just seconds earlier the Rangers had a golden opportunity to tie the game at two apiece, when John Carlson (whose first-period stumble led to the Rangers only tally on the night) misplayed the puck. Yet the Rangers failed to convert, and Semin,with a burst of speed, made them pay for their missed opportunity. And in a blink, what could have been 2-2 became 3-1.
But the feel-good goal of the game goes to Troy Brouwer. He was having a rough night, whiffing in front of an open net on the power play despite a tic-tac-toe pass from Ovechkin to Backstrom to Brouwer. Later, a two-on-one break with him and Ovechkin did not yield a shot on goal; then Brouwer missed another great chance down low. But his persistence paid off, as he camped at the top of the crease and redirected a Carlson shot into the net. Brouwer burst into a huge grin after the goal — you could almost hear his sigh of relief from the press box.
The Capitals’ PK units stood tall and denied the Rangers on five opportunities (including another pesky Delay of Game… a lucky fan got a souvenir lofted over the defensive-zone glass for the second game in a row), including two late in the third frame. “It was a commitment by the guys. You see the blocked shots out there, and the puck does hurt! But they committed to it . . . that’s commitment to win.” Hunter also complimented Vokoun, who put in a solid performance despite ample bench time of late.
There were problems: a few bad passes by Ovechkin led to odd-man rushes the other way. The Rangers paid very little price for getting in Vokoun’s crease, nor for blatantly snowing him more than once.
But the team played as, well, a team, and the scoreboard rewarded their efforts with a much-needed victory.