The Washington Capitals are coming off one of their best seasons in franchise history, and now, they are taking that dominance that they had all season into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. On a loud Saturday night inside an electric Verizon Center, Washington took a commanding 2-0 series lead over the eighth-seed Philadelphia Flyers with a 4-1 victory Saturday.
Of course, there was a lot working for the Capitals; in fact, every single part of the team was performing to their best potential, and not much went wrong. Without further ado, here are five takeaways and five things to know from the Capitals victory, as the team prepares to head to Wells Fargo Center for Game 3.
Braden Holtby is Back in Beast-Mode
Prior to the post-season, Holtby’s numbers were somewhat concerning. He allowed nine goals through his last three regular season games, and barely tied Martin Brodeur‘s season wins record. However, Holtby realizes the circumstances now, and each save counts. The Flyers fired 42 shots on goal, and he stopped all but one.
Watching Holtby between the pipes Saturday, you could see him playing a much more aggressive game. He held his own, stepped up to the shots he faced and appeared much quicker. His best save came in the third period, when he robbed Shayne Gostisbehere with a sensational glove save.
With Holtby providing yet another excellent performance, it should be easy for Washington to continue to dominate this series over Philadelphia. If he can shut down Gostisbehere and even Claude Giroux, it will create a huge problem for the Flyers, who already struggle enough with goal-scoring as it is.
The Penalty Kill Remains Perfect
Washington has seemingly spent a lot of time in the penalty box, as has Philadelphia. Excluding the matching penalties and fighting majors, the Capitals been called seven times through two games.
Fortunately for the Capitals, their special teams has been perfect so far this series. The P.K. is handling the Flyers and shutting down the man -advantage. Even Gostisbehere, who has made the Flyers power-play unit exceptionally better, has not been quite able to figure out the Capitals’ penalty kill, as well as Braden Holtby.
Not to mention, every player was doing their job, so the penalty kill had no issues. In fact, the Capitals seemed to calmly kill off a two-man advantage late in the first period. Shockingly, Philadelphia finished the regular season with an impressive 18.9 power-play percentage, and if they cannot get past Washington’s special teams, their underdog story may come to an end sooner rather than later.
Nicklas Backstrom is Making All the Difference
Backstrom is the one player that is truly making an impact in this series. The Swedish playmaker, who is often called one of the league’s most underrated centers, finished the night with a quiet three points. His late third-period goal put the final nail in the coffin, and he was behind John Carlson‘s first strike, as well as the classic Alex Ovechkin tally that gave Washington a two-goal cushion.
In addition to a secondary assist in Game 1, Backstrom has four points in the first two games of the 2016 Playoffs. The way that he controls the puck, maintains puck possession and sees the game makes him a dangerous, lethal player — in a quiet way. He can make plays up on the fly, dish perfect, accurate passes and even score the perfect goal.
Backstrom is one of the most valuable players that Washington currently has on the roster, and he will surely be the catalyst that drives Washington to continue dominating this series.
The Vintage Alex Ovechkin is Back
Remember the hard-hitting, out-of-control and high-scoring Ovechkin from 2009? Well, ladies and gentleman, he has returned. Ovechkin showed a flash of his younger self in the first period, when he sent a legitimately flying into his own bench — pun intended.
Later, near the end of the second period, he gave the Capitals a two-goal advantage when he tallied from his “office,” thanks to a perfect one-time feed from Backstrom.
This is the Ovechkin that will be a key piece for Washington to make a deep run for the Cup this year. It is necessary for him to exemplify more leadership and maturity, but having the intense, reckless and sensational version of Ovechkin blended with that makes for the perfect player.
Every Player is Chipping In… In Some Way
Thanks to an excellent stacked roster, as well as Barry Trotz’s new buy-in system, every single Capital is giving full 100 percent effort, and all of them are doing their part… even if they don’t necessarily mean to.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of the night was when Jason Chimera scored — all the way from center ice. He deflected the puck 100 feet down the ice past Steve Mason, and even though he necessarily didn’t mean to score, it still counted and was a huge shift in momentum for Washington.
Not to mention, Chimera probably humiliated Mason for the entirety of this series, and made it seem likely that the Capitals may see a different goalie in net come Monday.
Another player that had an impressively strong outing was Marcus Johansson. On one particular play, he jumped out and sacrificed himself in front of Holtby. This not only exemplifies excellent backchecking and shot blocking, but shows that chipping in doesn’t always mean scoring goals. It’s also sacrificing yourself for the sake of your team.
If the Capitals can keep this momentum going, and if each player continues to play to their full potential, there is no way they can lose this series.
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.