After stringing together two consecutive wins against Chicago and Carolina, the Caps stretched the streak to three against an injury-ridden Columbus Blue Jackets squad Tuesday night, winning 5-2.
Columbus failed break its own eight-game losing streak, a pattern likely attributed to the laundry list of missing players, including Artem Anisimov, Jack Johnson, Brandon Dubinsky and Sergei Bobrovsky.
Caps forward Marcus Johansson put the home team on the board first early on, scoring on Columbus goalie Curtis McElhinney on a series of deflections. The puck traveled from Troy Brouwer, through numerous pairs of skates and off of McElhinney’s pad before it finally reached Johansson’s stick, giving the Caps the lead.
“That goal was mostly about luck,” Johansson said. “I think it hit both D-men and somehow got to the net and I was able to get the rebound from the goalie….I think we worked hard to get those bounces.”
After a three-game drought, Washington Captain Alex Ovechkin exploded in the first period with two bullets to build on Johansson’s goal. Both on the power play, Ovechkin’s two goals silenced the critics and extended the lead to 3-1.
The first goal on a set-up from Washington defenseman Mike Green, Ovechkin hammered the puck from the top of the circle over the blocker side pad of McElhinney.
Ovechkin’s second goal was a display of beautiful passing in transition for the Caps. On a give-away from Columbus in the neutral zone, Ovechkin gave the hand-off to Nicklas Backstrom, who then found Jay Beagle. Beagle made a dazzling play on a no-look drop pass through his legs for Ovechkin, who retrieved the waiting puck and fired it top-shelf over the glove of McElhinney.
“He is probably the hardest working guy on the team and maybe the whole NHL,” Ovechkin said of Beagle. “He just wants to compete every single time. “
After a solid period from the Caps, the Blue Jackets slowly came alive in the second, gaining ground on the ice and on the scoreboard. Columbus got a power play off of a Brooks Orpik interference call, while held scoreless; they did build some valuable momentum.
When the Caps went on the man-advantage when Corey Tropp was whistled for tripping, Holtby stoned Columbus forward Nick Foligno, who was trying for the short-handed tally.
Another impressive play from a Blue Jacket in the second, veteran James Wisniewski saved Columbus from going down 4-1 when he swatted Eric Fehr’s puck out of the air, preventing the shot from going in the wide-open net.
Later in the second, commotion at the Washington net whittled the Caps lead to one. The play resulted in what Capitals Coach Barry Trotz referred to as “a poor goal.”
Unable to find the puck, Holtby accidentally pushed it over the goal line with his skate boot as Columbus forwards Cam Atkinson and Jenner collapsed into the crease into a pile of red and white jerseys.
After a promising second period from Columbus, the momentum switched again in the third when Johansson got his second goal of the night to extend the Caps lead to 4-2. The swede’s first multi-goal game of the season, his wrap-around score is his fifth goal in 6 games.
“I think to get two goals ahead instead of one with four minutes left, that’s obviously a good feeling,” Johansson said. “But you can’t stop playing because of that. They were close to getting that third one there, but it always helps to get that one late.”
Trotz approved of Johansson’s gutsy game.
“He is playing really well,” he said. “He is skating, he is shooting pucks, and he is getting big goals for us. He seems like he is enjoying himself. I’m happy for Marcus, getting two. I was hoping maybe he would get three.”
An interference penalty on Atkinson in the last minute all but sealed the fate of the visiting Jackets and the Caps extended their winning streak to three games, with a final score of 4-2.
Trotz praised Holtby’s play, hailing the goaltender for overcoming recent woes.
“He had to give us a period, and he did,” he said. “He wasn’t feeling sorry for himself…he bailed us out in the third. I was happy for Braden in the third.”
Ovechkin similarly heralded the netminder for preserving the Capitals’ lead.
“We knew they were going to make a push,” Ovechkin said. “Holtby played unbelievable…his ability to stop the pucks kept us in the lead 3-2.”
Armed with a three-game winning streak and their shutdown goalie on his way back, Washington not only gained two points in the standings, but confidence.
“I think confidence plays a big role in hockey,” said Johansson. “I think the more goals and points you get the more confidence you get. Especially when your team wins, it really boosts your confidence.”