In the team's first game in 142 days, the Capitals walked away as the 3-2 winners over the Carolina Hurricanes in Wednesday's exhibition. Alex Ovechkin was brilliant with two goals and one assist and a goalie tandem of Braden Holtby and Vitek Vanecek did the rest to get the win.
Ovechkin's still got it
After essentially a full offseason, the 34-year-old Ovechkin still shows no signs of slowing down and factored on all three of Washington's goals. The team's first goal of the game was a typical Ovechkin from the office one-timer. Before you dismiss that as simply "Ovi being Ovi" don't forget this is the team's first game action since March. To be able to get the timing right on that play is pretty remarkable, even if we've seen Ovechkin do it hundreds of times.
On his second goal, Ovechkin was the recipient of a fantastic pass by Tom Wilson who fought off Jaccob Slavin to make the play and set up the goal. Ovechkin was coming in on the left of Wilson and managed to get off the one-timer on the pass despite the awkward angle with the pass coming to his backhand.
Whatever the Caps hope to achieve in the postseason, none of it would be possible without Ovechkin leading the way. The fact that he seemed to pick up right where he left off is a great sign.
The one note about the offense is that you would like to see more from the other lines. All three goals came from the top line which looked great. Ovechkin was the catalyst with three points, but in addition, Evgeny Kuznetsov's goal came off a beautiful quick passing play that showed the offense was in-sync more so than perhaps many expected.
That's great, but they will need production from the other three lines as well.
A solid return for Holtby
One player who the team was hoping wouldn't pick up where he left off was Braden Holtby. Holtby had a very difficult season, but had a strong performance Wednesday with 12 saves on 13 shots through two periods.
The only goal Holtby allowed had to be reviewed and was waved off on the ice. Vincent Trocheck found a loose puck behind him and tucked it into the net, but it appeared as if the goal was off its moorings before Trocheck could get it in. The play was called a goal on review.
It was not a perfect performance by any means. Holtby was beaten but saved by the post in the second period and there were some frantic moments. Holtby plays a very calm style so when his game starts to look frantic, that's a bad sign. For the most part, however, Holtby looked very much in command of his crease. Perhaps more importantly, there were no goals that made you shake your head and think to yourself, "boy, he should have had that."
A mixed bag on special teams
The penalty kill looked really, really good. Washington killed off three out of four penalties and only gave up a goal on a lengthy 5-on-3 with Vitek Vanecek in net and Sebastian Aho dangling through everyone to set up Teuvo Teravainen. Sometimes great players won't be stopped (see Ovechkin).
On the other end, however, the power play did not look all that great. Ovechkin scored on the first opportunity from the office (see note above on great players who won't be stopped), but that particular power play was hot garbage leading up to the goal. Right off the start, Jordan Staal picked off a stretch pass leading to a shorthanded opportunity. Washington then spent most of their time trying to figure out how to get the puck in the offensive zone and keep it there. It took a bad turnover from Carolina to launch a 2-on-1 break and then another turnover in the defensive zone to set up Ovechkin again for the goal.
While the first power play was bad, the unit improved somewhat as the game went along, though Washington did not score again with the extra man and gave up too many shorthanded chances. It's also important to remember that timing is the one thing that teams will struggle with the most coming back after nearly five months off and so much of the power play is about timing so some struggles are to be expected.
In short, the power play wasn't great, but there's no reason to assume at this point that the power play has simply picked up where it left off.
Vanecek cemented his position
Vitek Vanecek played the full third period for Washington and was very good. I don't want to overstate his performance and make it sound as if he played so brilliantly he left no doubt that he will be the backup, but he certainly did nothing to lose the job.
The lone goal Vanecek was allowed was on a 5-on-3 power play. He made a great save coming out of his crease in an aggressive challenge on a wide-open shorthanded opportunity. That was the most impressive of his 13 saves.
Reirden made it sound as if the backup job was Vanecek's to lose coming into this game and based on his performance it seems safe to assume it will be Vanecek on the bench backing up Holtby in the round-robin.
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