Boy did they need that. The Capitals snapped a four-game losing streak on Sunday with a 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins to reclaim first place in the Metropolitan Division.
Observations from the win
He's kind of a big Dill
This was Brenden Dillon's best game thus far with the Capitals and it's not just because of his fight with Evgeni Malkin, though that helped. He played less than 14 minutes in Saturday's game against New Jersey and did not play at all on the penalty kill. On Sunday, he played 20:38 and 3:34 on the penalty kill. He was very physical, played the body well. There was one goal where he was caught too high, but that was because he joined the offensive rush which defensemen are allowed to do in the team's system. That goal wasn't on him, the team was just caught on the counter-attack with him in the offensive zone.
"I thought he had a really strong game," coach Todd Reirden said. "We've been kind of easing him into it, his minutes weren't as high as we would've liked yesterday and then today I thought it was really noticeable, his play. Just settles things down and obviously penalty kill, using him more in that situation today. You could see his experience and then, when he has a chance to play against the other team's top players, he's not going to be fun to play against."
Dillon is a very good defensive player with a lot of snarl to his game. This was the best reflection of what the Caps really got when they acquired him.
Kempny-Gudas wasn't a disaster
Michal Kempny and Radko Gudas were paired together in Thursday's game against the Montreal Canadiens and there is no way to sugarcoat it: They were awful together. Surprisingly, the pair was reunited for this game and it actually wasn't the disaster I anticipated it to be. At 5-on-5 play, Kempny and Gudas had a 54.55 Corsi-For percentage. Well, they must have played sheltered minutes, right? They actually didn't. They had zero on-the-fly offensive zone starts and only 16.67-percent offensive zone faceoff starts. They were being played primarily in defensive situations.
Perhaps, in a way, that actually was sheltered for them considering they have been responsible for several of the breakaway chances the team has given up the past few games. Maybe the best way to shelter Kempny-Gudas is to keep them out of a position in which the offense can get behind them.
Wearing down the Penguins?
The Caps have outscored Pittsburgh 6-2 in the third period this season. Clearly Washington is trying to wear down the Penguins physically and that seems to be working in the third, though Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan isn't buying it.
When asked if he was concerned that the Caps were physically wearing down his team, Sullivan responded bluntly, "No."
Had Washington gotten crushed this game, I don't see how Brian MacLellan could have justified standing pat on Monday. Clearly a change would have been needed. It's just one game, but did Sunday's win change MacLellan's approach to the trade deadline?
Let's consider what we saw. The Caps had almost zero offensive net-front presence on Saturday. Tom Wilson got a power play goal from providing maybe the only screen of the entire day. That was very different on Sunday where the goals by Carl Hagelin and T.J. Oshie came on plays the team seemed incapable of making on Saturday.
Defensively, while the team may have given up three goals, this was actually one of the better defensive performances we have seen from the Caps in quite some time. We did not see the type of egregious mistakes and turnovers that have been killing them of late.
So of the issues the team has been dealing with of late, Sunday's game showed they are indeed correctable. In that sense, perhaps MacLellan won't feel compelled to make any further moves or, if he does, just some minor tweaks to the roster.
The question MacLellan has to ask himself is whether Sunday's win is the beginning of the turnaround or if it was just the team getting up for a big game and a big opponent? Sunday's win will mean nothing if they revert back to how they have been playing lately. How much will MacLellan regret not trying to do something on Monday if the Caps walk away with one point against Winnipeg and Minnesota over the next three games?
With the way things have gone for Washington of late, it had every reason to collapse after Pittsburgh took a 2-1 lead in just 26 seconds in the second period. The first two periods were not good and the Penguins were in complete control. But a different team took the ice in the third period and took back the game with three goals. Tom Wilson scored less than two minutes into the third on a 4-on-4 breakaway opportunity. The goal was a great play by both Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom.
Wilson first forced the neutral zone turnover by defenseman Marcus Pettersson. Backstrom hit the loose puck up to Wilson and then quickly turned his body into the path of Pettersson, holding him up slightly to allow Wilson to get the breakaway. Wilson did the rest, deftly deking Murray and tucking the puck into the back of the net.
so smooth pic.twitter.com/tQ890LbhO2— NBC Sports Capitals (@NBCSCapitals) February 23, 2020
Play of the game
It's not really a play, but Dillon beat the snot out of Malkin.
That's one way to win the hearts of Caps fans, Dillon pic.twitter.com/hxj6vIWnRL— NBC Sports Capitals (@NBCSCapitals) February 23, 2020
And here's a bonus Caps fans will enjoy.
when you live up to your nickname pic.twitter.com/xvCqgV2Y5J— NBC Sports Capitals (@NBCSCapitals) February 23, 2020
Stat of the game
With one assist, John Carlson passed Calle Johnasson for the most points by a defenseman in franchise history with 475. Carlson tied that mark on Saturday and was honored earlier in the game with a video tribute.
"Yeah, it's not my favorite thing," he said of the tribute, which is very in-tune with his personality.
Quote of the game
It didn't take long for Dillon to adjust to the Caps-Penguins rivalry.
"I like to play hard, especially against those top-end guys. Malkin's a heck of a player. He plays a physical game, too, sometimes. With these rivalry-type games, tempers run high and it was great."
Caps are shutout today!— The Great Pause (@CoreyThoesen) February 23, 2020
Until they get back to fundamentally sound hockey, this team has zero chance to go deep in the playoffs. Heck, they’re 6 points away from being out completely. So sad with all the talent they have.
Just had to include this one because I love that it came from "Cautiously Optimistic."
Caps surrender a breakaway first period goal— OtakuSFH (@SfhOtaku) February 23, 2020
The defense was much more sound in this game, though Sidney Crosby got a short breakaway goal in the second.
Could be, but so far so good!
I have 4 kids I’ve been up for hours. Caps win today and the Maryland Terps win today. Happy Sunday.— BigSmooth39 (@BigSmooth399) February 23, 2020
Maryland was leading at the time of writing. I feel your pain. I have only one kid and sleep is limited. Mine broke my toe though.
Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.
MORE CAPITALS NEWS: