recap columbus

Saturday night was a grand night at the big barn on F St. Behind a stellar netminding performance from Charlie Lindgren, the Caps earned the 1,000th home victory in franchise history, a 2-1 squeaker over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Making his first start in 22 days, Lindgren was almost perfect. He made 34 saves, including several of the spectacular variety, and he protected the slimmest of leads for the better part of 40 minutes, making 14 of his stops in the third period.

Lindgren started for the Caps on opening night of this season, but was injured in practice days later, and tonight’s start was his first since Oct. 13.

“It definitely hasn't been the start to the year that I want, health wise,” says Lindgren. “I’ve kind of gotten some bad bounces so far, but I think the medical staff here does an amazing job, keeping me motivated and getting me back to full health. We’ve obviously got a great, great group of guys here, great teammates that pick each other up.

“Being back between the pipes tonight felt good. And it's been over three weeks since I played, so to get a big win against Columbus was pretty awesome.”

With a power play in the game’s second minute and a Tom Wilson penalty shot opportunity at 6:17 of the first frame, the Caps had a pair of early opportunities to get on the board first, something they hadn’t achieved in their first six home games of the season. Both of those opportunities went by the wayside, but the Caps did get on the board first, getting some rare puck luck in the process.

Wilson put the Caps up 1-0 at 12:21, scoring on a broken play off the rush. Rasmus Sandin carried into Columbus ice with speed, only to be stripped of the puck before he could make a play. But not to worry, kid. Wilson got to the loose puck in the slot and put it over the left shoulder of Jackets’ goalie Elvis Merzlikins for a 1-0 Washington lead.

Exactly five minutes later, the Caps doubled their lead, and they did so with a pretty and precision passing play, the sort of execution that Carbery has been looking for.

On the forecheck in Columbus ice, Milano forced a turnover and then took a circuitous route around the back of the cage, after first pushing the puck to Nick Jensen at the right point. Jensen went to Evgeny Kuznetsov at center point, and then it went to Sandin at the left point. From there, back to Jensen at the right point. By now, the lurking Milano had reappeared just off the left post. Jensen fed him for an easy tap in, and Milano did the rest, biting the hand that once fed him to give Washington its first two-goal lead on home ice this season, 2-0 at 17:21.

“I was hoping no one saw me sneak behind there,” recounts Milano. “Luckily, no one did besides Jens, and I had a wide-open net.”

Carbery was pleased with the play as well, and with his team’s overall performance, the Caps’ first regulation win in a game in which they’ve scored two or fewer goals since a 2-1 win in Boston on Feb. 11 of last season.

“Don’t get me wrong,” says Carbery. “[Despite] the lack of scoring, we’re doing a ton of really good things. We had some [offensive] zone shifts tonight where we were completely on script. Guys were doing exactly what we talked about doing in the pre-scout, to things that we want to do in the middle of the rink, to puck possession.

“We continue to do a lot of really, really good things. You’d just like to be rewarded for it. And to be honest with you, the win is great. You’d just like some of our guys to be rewarded for doing a lot of good things.”

Early in the second, the Jackets cut the Washington lead in half when Dmitri Voronkov scored on a deflection of a Kirill Marchenko shot from center point at 1:38.

From that point forward, both goaltenders were perfect. Just after Voronkov’s goal, Merzlikins stopped Matthew Phillips from the top of the paint, and he later denied Aliaksei Protas – playing in his 100th career game for the Caps – on a short-ice two-on-none.

Early in the third, Merzlikins got his glove on a couple of in-tight opportunities off the stick of Caps’ captain Alex Ovechkin.

Washington put together some lengthy and dominant offensive zone shifts in the second period, but still needed Lindgren to deny Columbus captain Boone Jenner’s bid for another deflection in front, just ahead of the midpoint of the second.

Lindgren used his glove to thwart Cole Sillinger from the slot midway through the third, and he denied Sillinger a couple more times late in the third. Lindgren also made dazzling saves to prevent Yegor Chinakhov and Marchenko from lighting the lamp.

“He’s a gamer when he’s in there,” says Wilson of Lindgren. “He gets momentum and he’s a tough goalie to beat. He made some huge saves, some highlight reel saves. It’s fun to see him do his thing in there; he’s a good man, a good teammate, and he had a heck of a game.”

The Caps’ blueline corps was shortened early when Trevor van Riemsdyk left the game with a lower body injury in the first, but the 17 remaining skaters in front of Lindgren combined to block 26 shots in the game, led by John Carlson’s five. Four of Washington’s remaining five defenders finished with more than 20 minutes of ice time – led by Carlson’s 28 minutes on the nose – and Alex Alexeyev logged a season-high 16 minutes, also on the nose.

Washington’s penalty killing outfit also came large once again, snuffing out two Columbus power plays in the back half of the third period, and going a perfect 4-for-4 on the night. The Caps have killed off a dozen straight opposition power plays in their last five games.

Columbus coach Pascal Vincent thought for sure one of his players was going to score that tying tally late, but Lindgren made sure it never happened.

“Yeah, I really believed it,” says Vincent. “Marchenko back door, Sillinger in the slot; we had some good chances. I thought our best period was the first period; we came out really hard, and we’re down 0-2 after the first, but that was our best period.”

With the fate of the game still up for grabs in the third, star Columbus winger Johnny Gaudreau found himself stapled to the Blue Jackets bench for most of the final frame. He took just two shifts in the third, both of them early, and his skates didn’t grace the ice for the final 16-plus minutes of the game, a stretch that included a pair of power plays and a lengthy stretch of 6-on-5 time late.

“I’m coaching a team, and the guys who are going are going to play,” says Vincent. “Everything is earned. When the game starts, it’s not about your name, it’s about what’s on the front of the jersey, and who we believe will give us a chance to win.

“We know Johnny can make a difference when he’s skating and when he’s involved, and tonight, I thought he wasn’t there. So we’re going to play the guys that are flying. It doesn’t matter who you are; it’s about the Blue Jackets. And I didn’t like his game.”