|Braden Holtby makes one of his 22 saves Wednesday night.|
The Capitals got off to a good start in terms of puck possession, controlling the tempo early and getting several solid rushed up ice. However, the young Oilers defense did a good job initially keeping the Capitals from getting shots on net. That changed when the top line of Marcus Johansson, Alex Ovechkin, and Mike Knuble got two great shots off in front of the net, but Nikolai Khabibulin was there to keep the game scoreless. As the period continued, Edmonton kept well, getting some chances and shots of their own, but it was the Capitals who got the first power play when Tom Gilbert was sent off for slashing at 9:34 following a dominant offensive shift of their own. But Washington was unable to take advantage of the worst penalty killing unit in the NHL, and wasted yet another power play with few chances and shots. The Capitals then began to take control of possession again, getting good chances off the sticks of Marcus Johansson and Alexander Semin. After an up-ice rush, the Capitals took their first penalty of the game when Scott Hannan was given the gate on a soft interference call at 14:28. But the Capitals' excellent penalty killing unit did their job, eliminating the man advantage with ease and then attempting to get their own momentum going. With this momentum, Mike Knuble got a golden chance in front, but Khabibulin was tremendous to reject the offering with about 90 seconds left. Jason Chimera then got a quick rush up ice soon after, but it was broken up by the Oil defense. Jason Arnott then took a late penalty at 20:00 to send the Capitals to the penalty kill at the start of the second, tied 0-0.
With Edmonton on the man advantage to start the second period, the away side got some solid zone time and pressure on the Capitals, but Washington was again extremely effective on the penalty kill and kept the Oilers from scoring. The Capitals then got their own chance at some offensive pressure, and were rewarded with a power play at 4:14 of the period when Ryan Jones was called for a knee on John Erskine. After a slow start to the man advantage that included a shorthanded breakaway, Jason Arnott threaded a perfect cross-ice pass to Alex Ovechkin off a fake shot. The Captain buried the power-play marker on the doorstep at 5:38 for a 1-0 Capitals lead, his first goal with the man advantage on home ice in 347 days (WOW!). Washington kept up their offensive pressure, and were given another power play at 8:53 when Khabibulin was charged with delay of game. After another bad start to the man advantage, the Capitals got some good zone time, and Eric Fehr buried a rebound in front for another power play goal and a 2-0 lead at 10:32. Washington continued to control the play as the second period progressed, and had the Oilers hemmed in their own zone for stretches, very rarely giving up puck possession. Their offensive control was rewarded again when Alex Plante hauled down Marco Sturm on a rush up ice at 16:06, giving the Capitals their fourth power play. This time, however, the Capitals were not able to bust through on the man advantage despite some very close calls, one particularly off the twig of Mike Knuble. The Caps continued to control the game as the period wore down, and the middle stanza closed with Washington in front 2-0.
The third period saw the Capitals again come out well, as Marco Sturm and Matt Bradley got solid chances within the first two minutes, but were stopped by Nikolai Khabibulin. Soon after, the Oilers committed an atrocious turnover just inside their own blueline, and Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson skated in alone. After some pretty back-and-forth passing, Ovechkin slammed it home, top shelf, at 3:10 for a commanding 3-0 lead. As the period continued, the Capitals continued to set the pace of the game with excellent puck control and strong defensive play. Washington then took advantage of another terrible Oilers play, this one by Khabibulin, when Jason Chimera beat the Russian goaltender to a loose puck by the blue line and fed it in front to Eric Fehr, who made no mistake with the yawning cage in front of him. Fehr's marker put the Capitals up 4-0 and came at the 7:47 mark. Soon after the goal, however, Matt Hendricks was boxed for interference at 8:39, sending the Caps to the penalty kill. Washington was able to kill off the penalty successfully, but Alexander Semin took a slashing penalty with seven seconds left on the penalty. Washington was able to kill off the extra power play time very well, and then got another goal of their own. Alexander Semin and Marco Sturm broke in on their own and Semin finished again for a 5-0 cushion at 14:30, finally restoring order at Verizon Center and giving free wings to every fan in attendance. As the game winded down, the Capitals continued to dominate Edmonton in every facet of the game, playing keepaway as they tried to keep Braden Holtby's shutout bid alive. Washington did just that, and by the time the clock hit zero, the Verizon Center crowd was roaring "HOLT-BY! HOLT-BY! HOLT-BY!" for the young rookie goalie. This one was like old times.
Alex Ovechkin is back, folks. The Capitals captain scored his first power play goal on home ice in almost a year tonight, and added an even-strength marker and a power play assist. He was all over the place, again, with that boundless energy and pure joy that makes him such a pleasure to watch. He also picked up his 600th career point tonight with his assist on the Caps' second goal. 600 points in fewer than six full seasons? Uh, he's good.
Jason Arnott had another excellent game. His pass to Ovechkin that opened the scoring with the man advantage was absolutely beautiful, his 900th career point, and he looked great running a power play point for the third consecutive game. Arnott has had a rebirth here with the Capitals, and is going to be a huge part of the stretch run as he continues to mentor Alexander Semin, as well. Again, I say - thank you, George McPhee.
Congratulations to Braden Holtby for his first NHL shutout! He was tested barely at all over the last 35 minutes of the game, but he was great early in the second period on two breakaways, including a shorthanded one, that would have been devastating had the Oilers converted. But Holtby stood strong, and brought home the first of what is sure to be many goose-eggs at the NHL level. Bomb.
The Capitals will be on ice for practice tomorrow at 11 AM at Verizon Center, as they will pose for their annual team photo. This practice is closed to the public, so please don't show up at Kettler Capitals Iceplex tomorrow morning; you will be very disappointed and probably angry. Washington will welcome Carolina to Verizon Center in their next game, which will be Friday night at 7.