A fast start and strong goaltending from Jose Theodore propelled Washington to a 3-2 victory Saturday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets in front of 16,957 at Nationwide Arena. The Capitals set new team standards for a season in wins (51), road victories (23) and continued to add to their team mark for points (114).
Washington also moved within one point of securing the Presidents' Trophy for the first time in franchise history.
"It is nice to set records and it gives us a goal to shoot for next year," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "I thought it was more significant that I thought [Theodore] had a good game and for the most part we played fairly good defensively."
By "we" Boudreau later clarified that he meant the team's defensemen played well against the Blue Jackets. After the Capitals took a 3-0 lead in the first period, Columbus had the better of the play for much of the rest of the evening.
The Jackets outshot the Capitals 36-27 and misfired on several excellent opportunities around Theodore's crease – not to mention several fantastic saves the veteran goaltender were forced to make.
"That was with our forwards not being where they were supposed to be," Boudreau said.
One member of the Blue Jackets was definitely not impressed with Washington's effort.
"I don't think any team in the West would be overmatched by them. They play the wrong way," R.J. Umberger told the Columbus Dispatch. "They want to be moving all the time. They float around in their zone looking for breakaways and odd-man rushes.
"A good defensive team is going to beat them. If you eliminate your turnovers and keep them off the PP, they're going to get frustrated because they're in their zone a lot."
Capitals defenseman Mike Green, who's been playing the best defensive hockey of his career, also scored his 19th goal of the season and set a career-high with in points with 74. Both are tops among NHL defensemen this season.
He made a few outstanding individual defensive plays, including canceling out a potential shorthanded chance in the third period as the Blue Jackets attempted to complete a comeback.
"He was fabulous. Mike Green was fabulous tonight not withstanding scoring the winning goal. I just thought that every time on he was a force – defensively," Boudreau said. "He's been like that for a while, but he just doesn't get the recognition that he deserves."
The Capitals raced to a 3-0 lead in the opening period. Alexander Semin struck first with a rocket from the inside edge of left circle at 5:54. It was Semin's 38th goal of the season, tying his career high.
Tomas Fleischmann made it 2-0 with his 22nd of the season at 10:42. Eric Fehr sent a backhanded pass from behind the net to Mike Knuble near the right post and he slipped the puck to Fleischmann on the left side for an easy goal.
Green pushed the lead to three at 13:44 with a 5-on-3 goal. His shot from the right point beat Steve Mason, who had replaced starter Mathieu Garon after a collision with former Blue Jackets forward Jason Chimera and defenseman Anton Stralman.
"I didn't mean to hurt Matty, that's for sure," Chimera said. "He's a great guy and I don't want to hurt anybody out there. I was going full speed and unfortunately there was nowhere I could go there. I tried to get out of his way, and I hope he's not hurt too bad."
Antoine Vermette answered Green's goal 23 seconds later with Columbus still short a man. Rick Nash fed Vermette a perfect pass on a 2-on-1, and Vermette squeezed a shot through Theodore's legs.
Vermette brought Columbus within one goal at 12:17 of the final period with his 27th of the season. Nash made a great pass from behind the net and Vermette was actually one of two Jackets open in front.
The duo terrorized the Capitals, especially when their team was shorthanded. Nash has a pair of 3-on-5 goals in his career against Washington.
"He's good. He's just a good hockey player," Boudreau said. "When we're on the power play sometimes we're a little too risky, but we are what we are. That's probably why we're the best offensive team because we take a few more chances than other teams on the power play."
It was another night without significant impact from Alex Ovechkin, who has just 4 goals in the 17 games since his hat trick Feb. 7 against Pittsburgh -- the final game of a 14-game winning streak.
Ovechkin remains one goal behind Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and three points behind Vancouver's Henrik Sedin in the chase for the Maurice Richard and Art Ross trophies. He attempted 10 shots against the Blue Jackets, but only two were on target and he finished the night with a minus-2 rating.
"He looked a little off tonight, but you just keep throwing him out there and hoping it is going to happen," Boudreau said. "He's just got to work a little harder defensively and it will make his offense go better."
Added Ovechkin: "I think my goals are coming, but I don't know when – hopefully in the playoffs. I think I didn't play well in the neutral zone and I didn't skate to get open. That's why I just didn't have the puck and have speed."