The two biggest questions the Caps had going into last night’s contest with the New York Islanders were: “When is Nicklas Backstrom going to score?” and “Is the power play ever going to be effective?”
Both questions were answered with less than four minutes remaining in regulation; Backstrom’s deflection of an Alexander Ovechkin slap shot on the power play proved to be the game winner in a 2-1 win for the Caps.
Granted, Backstrom got an assist on Ovechkin’s second period goal, but you could tell he wanted more. Having been demoted to the second line at the start of the game, swapping places with Tomas Fleischmann, Backstrom was put back on the first line at the start of the second, and that’s when things began to click. “I thought they needed a break,” Coach Bruce Boudreau explained after the game. “And by the start of the second period, I thought they’d had a long enough break.” The strategy seemed to work. “Once (Backstrom) got the assist I just knew he was going to get more, because he never stops at just one once he gets a little bit of a roll going.”
The Caps came into the game having converted only 1 of their last 13 power play attempts. The Islanders gave the Caps plenty of chances to redeem themselves; it was the last power play opportunity that produced Backstrom’s game winner. The team now sits at converting 2 for 17, a dismal 11%, compared to last year’s league-dominating 25%.
Things looked a bit rocky at the start. The Caps were sluggish and let the Islanders dominate in their end. Even an early fight by new winger DJ King failed to provide much spark. King took on Trevor Gillies in the corner less than three minutes into the game in a rousing fight. It was an rousing introduction for the fiesty winger to the Verizon Center crowd, despite his eventual takedown by Gillies.
The Isles opened up scoring as Nido Niederreiter slammed his first goal of the season past goalie Michal Neuvirth. Though both teams had low shots on goal for the period (Washington had 5, New York 6), the control was looking to be in the Islanders’ favor. Both teams zeroed on their second period power play chances and the Caps looked lackluster until the final two minutes of the second, when Backstrom picked off a pass by Radek Martinek at center ice and slipped it to Ovechkin on the left wall, who then rifled a low shot past goalie Dwayne Roloson. “He’s so good and he’s got such a great release,” said Roloson about Ovechkin’s shot. “He shot a couple low tonight which he normally doesn’t do. The first one tricked me.”
Ovechkin is currently on a three-game goal streak and a four-game point streak.
Despite the power play woes, the Caps penalty kill continues to impress. The PK unit killed all three chances, increasing their successful streak to 15 for 15. Neuvirth continued to make his argument for the top goalie slot with 23 saves, 12 of which came in the third period. He easily stopped a late breakaway by Matt Moulson and had better rebound control tonight than in Monday’s game against Ottawa.
The Caps head out to Nashville for a Saturday night game against the Predators and are then back for a home-and-home series against Boston next week. The next question for the Caps to answer is who will be in net – a reportedly healed Semyon Varlamov, or the solidly successful Neuvirth? “[Varlamov’s] ready, but Neuvy is making a great case for himself,” Boudreau said when asked. “It’s not ever going to be a controversy, I don’t think… We’re lucky and we’re blessed with two good young goalies.”
Miss the game? Check out our game photos from last night’s contest.