With the Washington Capitals‘ recent hot streak, many were curious as to how long they could keep this momentum up. After a scoreless first period Sunday, the Capitals went on to have a four-goal third period and showed they still have plenty of gas left in the tank as they dominated the Philadelphia Flyers with a 5-0 win.
The victory helps Washington climb to the top of the NHL standings, and they reclaimed the top-seed in the league, the Eastern Conference and the Metropolitan Division from the Columbus Blue Jackets, and rightfully so. This team is the NHL’s best team right now.
In a game where Nicklas Backstrom was also honored for 500 career assists, he put on an excellent performance and was effective in helping his team capture a victory.
There was a reason for some concern for the Capitals in the first 20 minutes of Sunday’s tilt. They didn’t appear as energized or prepared for the Sunday matinee, and it showed in their game. Not only did the Flyers outshoot them 13-5 through the first period, but they didn’t get too much done on an early power-play opportunity and found themselves in the penalty box twice.
Perhaps the best part of the first came near the end of the period when the Flyers had a barrage of scoring chances. However, Philipp Grubauer was prepared, putting on a show and stealing pages from Braden Holtby’s textbook to keep the score even at zero. The Flyers went into the locker room hoping to find a way past the Capitals backup, while the Capitals tried to capture the momentum they’ve had over their lengthy winning streak.
There weren’t many chances for either team in the second period, and despite looking more invested in the game, Washington didn’t put too many shots on net. Finally, however, they broke through about halfway through the second thanks to another power-play chance.
Michael Del Zotto tried to clear the puck but it bounced off his stick and ended up on Andre Burakovsky’s, who found himself right in front of Steve Mason with a point-blank opportunity. Of course, the Swedish forward made the most of his chance and fired a wrister past Mason to put Washington up 1-0.
The Capitals found more energy following Burakovsky’s strike and went into the third period looking to get more pucks on net after having just eight shots through 40 minutes of play.
A completely different Washington team came out of the locker room for the final 20 minutes of regulation, and it looked similar to the team that dominated the Chicago Blackhawks Friday.
They extended their lead to two early in the third, after Marcus Johansson sent an outstanding behind-the-back pass to a wide-open Justin Williams in front, who accurately shot it past Mason.
Soon after Williams’ tally, Nicklas Backstrom took the puck away and started an uneven rush against Philadelphia with Alex Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen trailing. After a solid cross-ice pass to Ovechkin, the Russian winger elected not to shoot and made a solid slap-pass to Niskanen, who put the puck past Mason on an impressive tic-tac-toe play.
Niskanen struck again minutes later, hammering a perfect slap shot right past Mason for his second goal of the game and his fourth of the season. Not even 60 seconds had passed before Williams would pick up his second of the game off a slick pass from Backstrom in front of the net. After that, Mason’s day came to an early end, and Michal Neuvirth would relieve him of his duties. This was the second straight game and the fourth time in 12 games that the Capitals forced their opponents to pull their netminders.
Grubauer remained solid between the pipes, stopping seven more shots from the Flyers in the final frame to earn his second NHL shutout on a 24-save performance.
WSH- Andre Burakovsky (6) unassisted
WSH- Justin Williams (13) assisted by Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov
WSH- Matt Niskanen (3) assisted by Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom
WSH- Matt Niskanen (4) assisted by Tom Wilson and Jay Beagle
WSH- Justin Williams (14) assisted by Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Orpik
THW Three Stars
Philipp Grubauer (24 saves, shutout)
Justin Williams (two goals)
Matt Niskanen (two goals)
Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins
PPG Paints Arena, 7 p.m. EST on Jan. 16
Broadcast Channels: NCBSN
New Jersey Devils at Philadelphia Flyer
Wells Fargo Center, 7 p.m. EST on Jan. 21
Broadcast Channels: TCN-PH, MS+2
Sammi Silber covers the Capitals beat for The Hockey Writers and is an NHL contributor with Sporting News. She has also contributed to USA TODAY College, Huffington Post, FanSided and the Nation Network. Silber has written four books and recently worked on graphics for the film, The California Golden Seals Movie.