Things did not start well on Saturday, but the Capitals escaped Edmonton with a 5-2 win. Here's why.
1. The Ovechkin – Kuznetsov – Smith-Pelly line
Were you confused when you saw Devante Smith-Pelly would be playing alongside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov? It’s okay to admit it. With injuries throughout the lineup and in the midst of a slump, Barry Trotz had to shake up his lines and Smith-Pelly found himself on the top line. He may well have saved the game with his first goal as a Cap. Down 2-0, Smith-Pelly got Washington on the board with just 17 seconds left in the first period. That goal was the first of five unanswered scored by the Caps. It wasn't just Smith-Pelly, however, as the whole line seemed to have instant chemistry. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored two incredible goals in the third period to put the Caps in control. Ovechkin, meanwhile, recorded three assists for the first time since Nov. 2, 2014.
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2. Eller had his best game of the season
Lars Eller came to play on Saturday. He was flying all over the ice and he was finally rewarded with his first goal of the season, a one-timer with so much power behind it that the shot actually sent Eller airborne.
That goal tied the game at two. Washington would not trail again.
3. Holtby’s third period
Braden Holtby always rebounds after a tough performance and he did again on Saturday. After getting pulled in Thursday’s game against Vancouver, Holtby returned to the crease in Edmonton and turned aside 38 of the 40 shots he faced. Early in the third period with the Caps protecting a one-goal lead, John Carlson was just a bit too casual retrieving a puck behind the goal line and it was stolen away by Connor McDavid and fed to Jussi Jokinen for the one-timer. Holtby stopped the initial shot and two more on the resulting scrum to keep the Caps ahead. Those were three critical saves to bail the team out after a sloppy turnover.
4. Backstrom shutting down McDavid
McDavid had one assist on the night but he was largely a non-factor in the game thanks to the efforts of Nicklas Backstrom. In his return from an illness, Backstrom spent much of the night battling McDavid and the Oilers’ top line. If Backstrom was going to campaign for the Selke Trophy, this would game would feature prominently in the highlight reel.
5. A shutdown effort by the penalty kill
Washington had allowed six power play goals in its last three games. They faced four power plays on Saturday, but this time walked away unscathed. Both of Eller’s delay of game penalties came at critical times. Had Edmonton scored on either of them, it could have swung the momentum back in their favor and the Caps could easily have been handed the loss.