In a strong offensive effort, the Capitals used four power play goals — three from Dennis Wideman — to overcome a good even-strength effort by the Maple Leafs and win, 4-2. This is the first set of consecutive wins since Dale Hunter took over as head coach. **UPDATE**: Wideman’s hat trick was revoked, as his third goal and Washington’s fourth goal was credited to Brooks Laich. The goal was assisted by Wideman and John Carlson.
Prior to Friday night’s victory, part of the Capitals’ issues rested on the fact that they struggled mightily in gaining scoring chances and earning shots. In their first win under Dale Hunter against Ottawa at home, the Caps finally broke that stretch, scoring three goals and earning 35 shots. Even though they lost against Florida, 5-4 the next game, they defeated the Senators again, this time putting 44 shots on net and netting five goals. Returning home to play the Maple Leafs, the Caps would hope to continue the trend of more scoring and more shots/chances.
However, the lingering issue was the Capitals waning power play. After starting the season high with the extra man, they fell all the way down to 22nd in the league after Wednesday’s game against Ottawa. The opportunities were there, but the Caps failed to use them to their advantage, making the scoring task that much more difficult.
Friday’s game had no problem with the power play. Wideman scored the first goal of the game at the 12:33 mark of the first period on the power play. Just under two minutes into the second period, Wideman struck again, giving his team the 2-0 lead. Phil Kessel landed a puck behind Tomas Vokoun on a deflection minutes after missing another great opportunity, but the Leafs committed a couple of late penalties in the second period, giving the Caps a 5-on-3 where they tacked on another goal to go up 3-1 — this time from Nicklas Backstrom.
Caps fans at Verizon sighed the “oh no here we go again” sigh when Cody Franson, who has been on a bit of a hot streak himself lately, took the puck and banked one in unassisted and brought the Leafs within one goal in the third period. However, the Caps did not sit back, and with their final power play of the game with under two minutes to go, Wideman earned the hat trick and the Caps the sure-victory over the same team that beat them 7-1 a few weeks ago.
What’s funny is that Toronto had dominated the 5-on-5 play, actually. Equipped with the NHL scoring leader in Kessel and forward Joffrey Lupul not too far behind, the Leafs have ridden on their offensive success, as well as some other players like Franson who are streaking now, too. However, their propensity to take penalties all game was their vice and cost them a chance to stay in this game.
Ron Wilson attributed Toronto’s performance to the “undisciplined penalties” that left the Leafs in a negative mindset for the rest of the game.His players concurred with the assessment.
“The Capitals get two quick power play goals there and it’s tough,” said Leafs’ Carl Gunnarsson after the game. “The Caps get the momentum going on their power play and we all know how good they are when they get that.”
That mojo from the power play not only affected players like Wideman, who had been having a bit of a hard time lately, but the rest of the team.
Alex Ovechkin earned an assist on Wideman’s second goal, giving him points in back-to-back games after his goal in Ottawa. Ovechkin also led the team in shots with eight, and only had three blocked shot attempts. He moved down the ice with the ease that audiences hadn’t seen in the last season and a half, and forced the defense to take him down, forcing some of the penalties that Toronto took.
Granted, the Leafs have the second-worst penalty kill in the NHL at 74.3%, but the way the Caps’ power play was before, especially in the last game against Toronto, that did not seem to matter. With shots, scoring chances and now the power play to 13th in the league, Washington has a bit of confidence and momentum to ride on.
The Caps play again Tuesday at home against the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Flyers in front of the HBO 24/7 crew that will be filming for this year’s Flyers/NY Rangers Winter Classic. It will be interesting to see what they do against a more formidable foe that they had already defeated 5-2 earlier in the year in October.
Notes: Roman Hamrlik was back in against Toronto with 15:05 of TOI… Jeff Schultz was a healthy scratch while Matt Hendricks was scratched for a minor knee injury…