HAT TRICK: CAPS' WIN WAS NEEDED, IF NOT PRETTY

BY BRIAN MCNALLY | FEB. 28, 2018

CAPITALS 3, SENATORS 2

HERE’S THE NIGHT’S HAT TRICK OF THOUGHTS FROM CAPITAL ONE ARENA:

The Capitals just needed a win Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators. They were thrashed Monday by the Columbus Blue Jackets. They were 8-8-4 since Jan. 11. They were blowing third-period leads on the regular.

A loss to the Senators, in seventh place in the Atlantic Division, would have sent the home crowd into an angry panic. That didn’t happen and for a few days, at least, the Caps can gather themselves. Here are a few thoughts after Tuesday’s victory.  

1. All’s well – for now. The Caps scored first and held on for a 3-2 win and are back in first place in the Metropolitan Division with 79 points. The margin is slim. The Philadelphia Flyers (78 points) can go back ahead Thursday when they play the Carolina Hurricanes at home. The Pittsburgh Penguins (76 points) have gone slightly cold finally and have to play at the Boston Bruins on Thursday. Even the fourth place New Jersey Devils (74 points) aren’t that far behind.

But the Caps get Wednesday off, a full practice at Kettler Iceplex on Thursday and another one at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium on Friday before the Stadium Series game Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s huge for a team that just finished its 15th game in 28 days. There was no practice time. And the Caps are trying to work defensemen Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek into the lineup.

Kempny played with John Carlson on his natural left side Tuesday. Jerabek hadn’t played since Feb. 1 when he was still with the Montreal Canadiens. He played 12:35. Didn’t see a whole lot from him, but a few practices will help him and Kempny both. It’s not easy adjusting to a different defensive system

2. How about that penalty kill? That group hasn’t gotten a ton of credit for the Caps this season, but despite facing 2:20 of 5-on-3 time against an Ottawa team with some legitimate gunners (Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman), they allowed just one shot. Hoffman did score a power-play goal at 5-on-4 in the second period to cut the lead to 2-1.

“I though the PK was a star,” Barry Trotz said. “I thought our resiliency was a star. We sort of had each other’s back a little bit. We took some penalties, warranted or not. We had to battle through it. The guys battled through it. We weren’t crying about it. I liked that response.”     

Still, some consistency is needed on the PK. The Caps have allowed at least one power-play goal in six of eight games.

3. Kuzy cruising. I’m certain Barry Trotz wanted to launch Evgeny Kuznetsov into the stratosphere when he passed up an easy backhand into a wide open net in the second period to skate the puck behind the net. Probably, Kuznetsov’s head was turned and he didn’t see that goalie Mike Condon was way out of position. Kuznetsov’s passed up a few bunnies this season, but that one took the cake. No matter. Two goals, including that sweet stuff late in the second period that caught Condon napping, more than made up for it.

Kuznetsov now has 19 goals. That’s one shy of his career best. He has 42 assists. That’s still 15 shy of his 57 in 2015-16. And he has 61 points and a legitimate chance to pass the 77 he put up that season.

Bonus thought: The behind-the-scenes stuff at pro games always cracks me up. Hockey players from the same country ALWAYS meet up in the hallway between the visiting dressing room and the door that leads to the Caps dressing room. I’ve never seen a game against Ottawa where Nicklas Backstrom wasn’t waiting there for fellow Swede Erik Karlsson to emerge. Or vice versa. The last time they played in November, Karlsson must have asked eight different people to go find Backstrom for him. On Tuesday the two gave each other a big hug, shared a few laughs and spent at least 15 minutes chatting before Karlsson had to go to the team bus.

Bonus bonus thought: Funny story from colleague Todd Dybas. Rookie Madison Bowey needed directions tonight to get to the press box. Can’t blame the kid for not knowing. He’s only been up there for four home games this season – although one of them was Saturday against Buffalo. Christian Djoos has also only been a healthy scratch at home four times. It shows just how much the Caps have had to rely on their rookie defensemen.

Photo by Todd Dybas for The Sports Capitol

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