The Washington Capitals move within one point of the Southeast Division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, winning 3-2 against the St. Louis Blues.
The Capitals’ victory comes at the hands of all four lines putting in work and sustaining pressure throughout the entire game, even after a snoozer of a first period where Washington was down 1-0.
“First period we were getting caught with 3-on-2’s,” said Jason Arnott, who scored the game-winning goal of the night. “if we take care of our own zone the goals will come.”
Matt Hendricks (also known as Matty Hustle by fans) used his speed to reach a puck that was entering the Blues’ zone, then battled deep in the corner to gain possession of the puck. Hendricks then fed the puck to Alex Ovechkin and moved the puck to Scott Hannan, who was positioned in the slot to score his first goal to tie the game up at one all.
“It’s nice to get one,” Hannan said about his first goal in 113 games. “It was a great pass from Ovi [Ovechkin], who saw me from the corner.”
Even though it is not his usual role to be a part of the Caps’ offense, Hannan said, “When I see the opportunity, I try to jump in. Obviously, my end is first and foremost and then it’s killing penalties and doing that. But if I can help out on that side of the puck, it’s anyway I can.”
Following the first goal, the Caps continued to move the puck in deep and cycle the puck for constant movement; however, gave up a goal from Alex Steen as he danced around Caps defender John Erskine for the clear shot. Nonetheless, the Caps did not fall into their usual defeated stance once going down a goal mid-game.
Continuing to move the puck well, Washington was able to maintain good momentum throughout the rest of the game and did not allow the Blues to establish their tempo.
Along with a goal to tie things up from Nicklas Backstrom, of course, Michal Neuvirth did the usual, settling down later in the game
and allowing the Caps to regain strength. A 2-on-1 provided the go-ahead goal, as Washington took advantage of a neutral zone turnover by the Blues. Alex Semin fed Arnott a pass where he took the perfect shot for the goal.
Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau talked about how the team has benefited from the team’s new addition in Arnott, as he got the game-tying assist in Tuesday’s win over the Islanders and tonight’s game-winning goal. “If we have a 2-on-1 we usually go straight to the net,” said Boudreau, “but he [Arnott] opened up and got ready for the shot. It’s just an experienced move when Semin gave him a really good pass.” Boudreau continued, “He didn’t have to make a play, he just had to shoot the puck because he was already in the shooting position.”
Following this match, the Capitals go on a back-to-back road trip in the state of Florida to play the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning lost tonight 2-1 against the Boston Bruins, allowing Washington to move within one point of the Southeast Division lead with the victory over the Blues. If the Bolts lose against the Montreal Canadiens Saturday night and the Capitals win Sunday evening against the Panthers, Washington would take over the division lead. The Caps could extend their lead to three points with a victory over the Lightning Monday night.
“It’s always nice to get the confidence going and getting on a roll before you get on the road,” Arnott said about the road trips coming up. “You can’t take Florida lightly and Tampa’s got a fantastic team, so it’s just going to be another battle.”
“We know that that’s going to be the games in the playoffs,” said Hannan “it’s going to be [a] grind them out [game] and there’s going to be intensity right to the end.”
Players also seem to be getting healthy again, such as Nicklas Backstrom, who took a few more faceoffs than in the last three games after he suffered from a fractured thumb.
After a few cross-ice passes, one made it through neutral zone as Ovechkin once again found an open player in Mike Knuble. Knuble’s pass to Nicklas Backstrom on the breakout opportunity was a little high, but it proved to be no issue for Backstrom as he batted the puck in the net. His stick remained below the crossbar and the home run-shot counted.
“I’ve been working out with Ryan Zimmerman this summer,” Backstrom joked. He then seriously explained the goal, saying, “I saw the puck go in there and I also got lucky there.”
Washington has improved its play just three days after the trade deadline where they acquired Arnott, defenseman Dennis Wideman, along with Saturday’s acquisition of Marco Sturm. The Capitals will need not only these players to continue their positive impact on the team, but for every line to coalesce and play hard as well. The purpose of the added players is to only help everyone else do their job. Whether the Caps make a real push for a higher seed in the playoffs and if they can become an even better team is dependent on everyone. This upcoming road trip will help to tell how ready this team will be toward the end of the season.