With 13 games left in the Capitals schedule, the Washington Capitals are two points behind the New Rangers and one point ahead of the Detroit Red Wings (who have two games in hand) for the final wild card spot in the East. After a strong 4 to 2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs last night and a 4-3 home victory over the Vancouver Canucks Friday night, the team seems happy with their play and ready for the challenge ahead.
These were “game we knew we needed to win,” said Karl Alzner. Now, our team has “confidence” and “momentum” going into the next series of games on the road against the three top teams in the Pacific Division (Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose), explained John Carlson.
Last night’s game began with a dominant first period in all aspects of the game. The Capitals outscored Toronto 3-1, outshot Toronto 14-2, out-hit Toronto 9-7 and won 12 of the 22 faceoffs. Toronto went over 16 minutes without a shot.
Joel Ward made the best “assist” of the night. At seven minutes at even strength, Toronto was playing two men to the strong side. Ward went back door and took a pass from Karl Alzner in front of the net. Toronto’s Dion Phaneuf knocked Ward down. While falling, Ward shot the puck passed the goalie and off of the skate of teammate Jason Chimera for the goal.
The Ward—Chimera—Eric Fehr line has been the most consistent line of late. In March, they have scored 19 points in nine games (Ward three goals, four assists; Chimera one goal, six assists; Fehr two goals, three assists). Ward’s power play goal later in the first period was his 20th goal of the season, a career high.
The second period may have been the most impressive period, however. In the first eight and one half minutes of play, Toronto outshot the Capitals 5-1, but scored no goals. And then, three power plays were called against the Capitals in a five minute span. Toronto patiently waited for their shots, but Goalie Jaroslav Halak made eight saves on those power plays. The period ended 3 to 2.
Troy Brouwer, who at times has been critical of his team’s concentration, said “we kept our composure for once.”
In the third period, the Capitals largely played to preserve a 3-2 lead. “We made it difficult for them to come down the ice,” according to Coach Adam Oates. “We made [Toronto] work hard.” The Capitals committed no penalties in the third, and only allowed seven shots.
The Capitals realize the importance of the next three West Coast games. “We got to win all,” said Oates. Other players wanted to tamper expectations, however. We need “at least four points” to be in the “playoff picture,” according to Brouwer. Maybe Alzner explained it best. “In the beginning of the season, I’d say only one win. Now, at least two wins.” We will know soon whether the Capitals are up for the challenge.