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Capitals keep rolling with win over Canucks

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Capitals keep rolling with win over Canucks

Post-game analysis of the Capitals’ 4-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks Thursday night at Verizon Center:

How it happened: Center Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a beautiful goal off the rush, assisted on Tom Wilson’s goal with a crafty pass from behind the net and found an empty net with 0.6 seconds remaining. Braden Holtby turned aside 29 of 30 shots, leading the Caps to their 14th win in their last 16 games. Defenseman Karl Alzner also scored for the Capitals, who improved to 12-0-2 against Canadian teams this season.

What it means: The Caps (33-7-3) improved their league-leading point total to 69, seven more than the Western Conference-leading Dallas Stars. The Caps have won five straight and are now 14-1-1 in their last 16 games. They are also 23-3-3 since losing Brooks Orpik to a lower body injury on Nov. 10.

Holt-beast: Holtby (28-4-2) lost his shutout bid with 8:51 remaining when back-to-back penalties to Marcus Johansson and Brooks Laich led to Radim Vrbata’s power-play goal with 1 second remaining on the Canucks’ 5-on-3 advantage. Holtby is now alone in second place on the Caps’ all-time wins list by a goaltender with 129, one more than Don Beaupre. He’s also 20-0-2 in his last 22 decisions, the longest points streak by an NHL goalie since Jose Theodore went 20-0-3 with the 2009-10 Caps. Theodore finished with a 30-7-7 record that season.  

Hard coconut: Caps right wing Justin Williams left the game with under a minute to play in the first period when he was struck in the back of the helmet by an Andre Burakovsky shot. Williams returned for the second period and assisted on Karl Azner’s third goal of the season.

Russian magic: Caps center Evgeny Kuznetsov already has four more goals (15) and four more points (41) than he had last season. He’s now tied with Nicklas Backstrom on the Caps with 41 points in 43 games. With 6:12 gone in the second period Kuznetsov made a beautiful forehand-to-backhand move on Ryan Miller to beat him far post. Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov broke up a rush by Alexander Edler out of the penalty box and turned the puck up the right side of the ice before dishing to Kuznetsov streaking toward the net.

Alzner from Niskanen? Caps defenseman Karl Alzner’s third goal of the season 12:03 into the second period leaves him two shy of the career-high of five he scored last season. He was left all alone at the left point, thanks to a big hit defense partner Matt Niskanen put on Canucks forward Sven Baertschi along the right wall. Bo Horvat immediately went after Niskanen, leaving Alzner with the time and space to  crank a slap shot past Miller, who slammed his stick on the ice, complaining a penalty should have been called on Niskanen.

Wilson vs. Canada: All four of Tom Wilson’s goals this season have come against Canadian teams (Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver). After going the first 22 games of the season with no goals, five assists and a minis-1 rating, Wilson has four goals, six assists and is a plus-7 in his last 21 games.

Look ahead: The Caps have scheduled an 11:30 a.m. practice at Kettler on Friday, followed by a flight to Buffalo, where they’ll face Jack Eichel and the Sabres Saturday night. They return home for a 5 p.m. game against the Rangers on Sunday.

RELATED: Caps honor Ovechkin with pregame red carpet ceremony

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How Todd Reirden saved the game in Colorado by calling a coach’s challenge he knew he would lose

How Todd Reirden saved the game in Colorado by calling a coach’s challenge he knew he would lose

With the Caps clinging to a 2-1 lead in the third period against the Colorado Avalanche Friday, disaster struck as Colorado forward Colin Wilson hit a puck out of midair past goalie Pheonix Copley to tie the game.

But Todd Reirden was going to make sure this game did not spiral out of control.

Reirden made what at the time seemed like a curious decision to challenge the goal for goalie interference. Avalanche forward Matt Calvert was right in Copley’s face, but there was, at best, minimal contact and certainly nothing that would suggest it hindered Copley’s ability to make a save. Sure, you never know what the refs will find when you watch in slow motion, but the challenge had almost no shot.

It was a curious call and a curious reaction when the call stood as a good goal. Reirden seemed legitimately angry, more so than you usually see from him.

But it was all calculated.

“Just thought there was some contact there, but to be 100-percent truthful on that, our team needed a timeout at that point so I had to make sure I was selling it properly,” Reirden said after the game.

Reirden knew the challenge was not going to be successful, but he wanted the opportunity to give the team an important reminder after they gave up the game-tying goal.

“It was a situation where a few weeks ago we had the lead and let it go against Montreal and it was something that we discussed with our team. I thought it was worth a try – I didn’t think it was very high percentage it was going to be reversed – and it gave me an opportunity to talk to our players about the fact that we’ve been in this situation before. Have we learned and are we going grow from that? Sure enough, we did and we end up stringing together a couple decent shifts of no panic and doing the right thing and we draw the penalty and are able to convert on the power play.”

On Nov. 1, the Caps held a 4-3 lead over the Montreal Canadiens with less than five minutes remaining in the game. The game spiraled out of control, however, when Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored a game-tying goal. Washington allowed three goals in the final 3:04 of the game to turn a road win into a two-goal loss.

Reirden was determined that was not going to happen again on Friday so he challenged a goal and reminded his team of what happened in Montreal during the review. The Caps responded by drawing a late penalty and winning 3-2 in overtime in a game in which they were without Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and Braden Holtby.

“That’s important for me, early in the season, to have those growth moments as a team,” Reirden said. “That was actually what was going on behind the scenes there so that set us up for success.”|

But wait, why not just call a time out?

Because the Caps had nothing to lose. You still get the timeout and a chance, no matter how miniscule, of taking a goal off the board. And if you lose the challenge, all you lose is the timeout you would have used anyway.

Worth a shot, right? 

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Tom Wilson does the little things in Capitals’ 3-2 overtime win at Colorado

Tom Wilson does the little things in Capitals’ 3-2 overtime win at Colorado

To call it a hit is generous. To call it a huge play is accurate. 

Capitals forward Tom Wilson backed into a loose puck along the boards in the defensive zone of Friday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. He waited for a hit sure to come from behind. 

Colin Wilson, the Avalanche center, moved in to dislodge the puck. Instead he got dislodged from gravity. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Tom Wilson, barely moving and braced for contact, used his own leverage to launch Colin Wilson into the air, arms and legs akimbo. 

By the time Colin Wilson crashed to the ice, Tom Wilson had chipped a blind backhand pass to center ice, where Alex Ovechkin stopped it with his skate, dropped it to teammate Nicklas Backstrom, who gave it back as they entered the offensive zone. Ovechkin crossed from left to right and ripped a shot past former teammate Philipp Grubauer in goal for Colorado. 

It was a wonderful pass from Backstrom, who put the Avalanche on their heels. Ovechkin’s shot was a bullet that left little chance for Grubauer. But make no mistake – it all started with Wilson, who was prepared to take a hit to make a play. It is those little things that the Capitals missed during Wilson’s 16-game suspension by the NHL. It was the little things that helped them to a 3-2 overtime victory.  

“[Wilson] brings so much energy to this group,” Backstrom said. “He’s everywhere out there. That’s what we need. He’s playing PK, he’s playing power plays, he’s doing everything. He’s a valuable guy in this group so we’re happy to have him back.”

The game-winning goal in overtime by Backstrom was a perfect example. Wilson took a drop pass from defenseman John Carlson 12 seconds into overtime with Washington on a 4-on-3 power play. That’s when he went to work. 

For six seconds Wilson and Avalanche center Carl Soderberg did battle along the right boards high in the offensive zone. Just as Wilson was knocked to the ice, he slipped a pass back to Backstrom alone at the point. 

With Soderberg on top of him and both out of the play, Wilson watched Backstrom take advantage of the extra space in what effectively became a 3-on-2. He passed to Carlson in the right faceoff circle and then got the puck back in the high slot and beat Grubauer blocker side for the win. That doesn’t happen without Wilson. 

“When you’re playing with good players, you just try and keep it simple, win your battles and they’ll do the rest,” Wilson said. “And that’s exactly what happened on both those plays. At the end there, I thought about throwing it across the ice a couple times, but I’m not that comfortable out there yet so just kind of ragged on the wall and waited. Nicky got open for me and made it easy, I just threw it over to him and it was in the back of the net.”  

The Ovechkin goal put Washington ahead 2-1 at 18:29 of the second period. The Backstrom winner came 22 seconds into overtime. Wilson, in his third game back after his original 20-game suspension was reduced by a neutral arbitrator, played a career-high 24 minutes, 24 seconds. He moved to the power play for 4:19 with T.J. Oshie out with an upper-body injury and contributed 1:35 on the penalty kill – a little less than usual. 

Wilson played on the PK for 5:23 in his first game back Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild. He scored a goal in that game, too, by driving the net hard and has been a jolt of energy for a team that was scuffling coming into a difficult four-game road trip. The Capitals are 2-1-0 with one game left Monday at the Montreal Canadiens. 
 
“Tom is one of those guys that was vocal in our room, vocal on the bench that we’re fully in control of that game still even though we gave up the late goal,” Washington coach Todd Reirden said. “But that’s a tough start [after the suspension], three in four, and then add in the altitude and the minutes that we’re counting on him playing because they aren’t easy minutes. And then obviously having to chase around that top line tonight from Colorado is no easy task. Just really happy with the fact that we got him back a little earlier than was originally set up for us. It’s been a good bounce for our team.” 

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