As long as the Washington Capitals win the right games, they might be able to stay in the hunt in the most up for grabs division in the NHL. Saturday’s visit to the Winnipeg Jets was one of those games, and the Caps responded in a big way.
Braden Holtby stopped 35 shots to pick up his second shutout in three games, and Troy Brouwer and Mike Ribeiro scored goals 52 seconds apart to propel Washington to a 3-0 win at Winnipeg. Despite entering the afternoon in last place in the Eastern Conference, the Caps’ victory temporarily moved them to within four points of first place in the Southeast Division.
The Jets had yet to be blanked in 2013 entering the game, and early on it looked like that would continue to be the case. Winnipeg out-shot Washington 15-5 in the opening frame, but Holtby was back on his game after allowing four goals on just 18 shots in his last outing (and getting the hook from coach Adam Oates).
Washington came out of the first intermission with more jump, but it was a somewhat fortunate sequence that led to its first lead. Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler went down to the ice in his own zone after getting a puck to the face, giving the Capitals a de facto 5-on-4. Ribeiro alertly took advantage and found Matt Hendricks–freshly promoted to the top line–cutting to the net to deflect his pass past Ondrej Pavelec at the 10:56 mark.
After killing off a penalty that bridged the second and third periods, Brouwer added to the lead 3:24 into the final stanza. A faceoff win in the offensive zone by Nicklas Backstrom ended up on Brouwer’s stick, and his deflected shot fooled Pavelec for his team-leading ninth goal of the season.
The fans at MTS Centre barely had a chance to recover before it was 3-0 for the visitors. This time it was Alex Ovechkin steaming in on the left past a floundering Ron Hainsey. The captain’s shot took a big rebound off of Pavelec, and Ribeiro calmly knocked home the rebound to give him a two-point night.
Winnipeg finally showed some fight during a pair of third period power plays, but the team’s special teams struggles continued. The Jets ended the contest 0-for-3 with the man advantage, making it 1-for-32 over a 12-game stretch.
New Capitals winger Aaron Volpatti showed his willingness to drop the gloves, engaging the larger Anthony Peluso in a first period fight. Peluso landed the majority of the blows but ended up out of the game with an upper body injury.
With a big win under their belts, the Caps get two days off to prepare for a pair of home games that will be crucial for different reasons. The conference-leading Boston Bruins visit on Tuesday to provide a measuring stick, and the Florida Panthers follow on Thursday for another crucial divisional tilt.
The game was over when…
Ribeiro’s goal provided the dagger, coming so quickly on the heels of Brouwer’s tally. It was Ovechkin who made it happen though, powering his way to the net for the initial shot. The Canadian TV announcers said that Ovi was “struggling” just a few minutes prior, but it didn’t look like it on that play. He may not be able to get himself completely in the clear to launch shots like he once did, but he can still make things happen when he shows determination like that.
The unsung Capitals hero was…
Eric Fehr, who no doubt played with some extra motivation since the Jets didn’t want him back after last season. Fehr sealed off a man on Brouwer’s goal–a play the CBC announcers didn’t see to like–then go himself an assist on the Ribeiro goal. He also made a nice play to break up a rebound chance by Grant Clitsome in the third period to help preserve Holtby’s shutout.