The Capitals snapped a six-game losing streak at home Thursday in a 4-0 dominant win over the Carolina Hurricanes.
Here are some observations from the game.
A much better start
Bad starts at home have been a problem as the Caps had given up the first goal in seven out of their last eight games in Washington. On Thursday, the Caps were in control from the moment the puck dropped. Washington kept control of the puck and kept Carolina bottled up in their own zone. At the end of the first, the shots on goal were fairly even at eight to six, but the Caps had an expected goals for percentage of 84.92% and a Corsi For percentage of 58.82%, both at 5-on-5.
Washington forced three minor penalties in the first period alone and that was ultimately how they would get on the board.
The power play is the difference
The power play has been a major factor this season and has cost Washington multiple games. On Thursday, it was the decisive factor in favor of the Caps.
As strong as Washington looked to start, they could not take advantage 5-on-5. Late in the first, however, Ethan Bear was called for holding and Brady Skjei was booked for high-sticking just 41 seconds later, giving the Caps an extended two-man advantage. That's when they were finally able to get one past goalie Frederik Andersen as Evgeny Kuznetsov wristed a shot from distance through a T.J. Oshie screen.
Washington would finish two of five on the night on the man advantage as Alex Ovechkin would score from the top of the faceoff circle in the second period. This was the first game the Caps have scored two power-play goals since Jan. 28.
The much-maligned power play is starting to heat up for Washington as the team now has 11 power-play goals in its last 12 games.
Home sweet home
Thursday's win snapped a six-game home losing streak for the Caps. Their last win came back on Jan. 22 against the Ottawa Senators. It is also the team's first regulation win at Capital One Arena in 2022.
The team's struggles at home have been baffling for a team that has been so dominant in Washington over the years. The fact that the Caps were able to dominate this one from start to finish against one of the top teams in the NHL is a massive step in the right direction.
The return of Mantha
Anthony Mantha played his first game since Nov. 4 when a shoulder injury forced him to get surgery. He played on the second line and was strong from the opening shift, finding an open spot in the high slot and firing a good scoring chance just wide of Andersen.
Mantha finished with 16:23 of playing time, two shot attempts and one shot on goal.
Vanecek reclaims the crease
Vitek Vanecek made his first start since Feb. 1 and earned his third shutout of the season, making 36 saves in the effort. Ilya Samsonov got the bulk of the work while Vanecek dealt with an upper-body injury, but could not find any consistency in his game and take advantage of the extra playing time.
Vanecek came on in relief of Samsonov Monday, making 16 saves on 17 shots in the loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. With that performance and Thursday's shutout, Vanecek looks like he has taken hold of the starting job in Washington for the foreseeable future.
Good sign for the 4th line
Through Washington's struggles over the past two months, the fourth line of Carl Hagelin, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway has been one of the team's best and most consistent lines. Hagelin, however, suffered a serious eye injury in practice Tuesday and is expected to be out long-term. Fears that the fourth line would drop off appear to be premature, at least through one game.
Conor Sheary was plugged into Hagelin's spot on the left wing and the line kept up its fantastic play. A great shift in the second period by the fourth line ultimately led to a great setup for defenseman Martin Fehervary who extended the Caps' lead to 2-0.
Given how much the team has struggled, a drop-off by the fourth line in Hagelin's absence would have been a disaster. It's just one game, but it looks as if the fourth line may be able to keep up its dominant play with Sheary added to the mix.
Ovechkin scored a power-play goal in the second period, the 763rd goal of his career. That pulls him to within three of Jaromir Jagr who sits third all-time with 766.
The goal was also No. 33 of the season for Ovechkin. Ovechkin is in Year 1 of a new five-year contract. If he averages 33 goals over those five years, he will pass Wayne Gretzky's all-time goals record of 894. He's already hit that mark in Year 1.