Saturday night is all right for hockey, too, as it turns out.
Some 17 months after they hooked up in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, the Caps and the Vegas Golden Knights clawed at each other for 60 minutes on Saturday night in an entertaining game in the District. When it was over, the Caps were on the good side of a 5-2 decision, their sixth straight victory and their fifth straight on the Capital One Arena sheet.
Washington either won this game in the first six minutes of the first period, or in the front half of the third, take your pick. The rest of the game was virtually even, but the Caps got an early jump on the Knights and never trailed, and both Washington special teams were critical in denying Vegas' comeback bid in the final frame.
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | November 9
"This team kind of brings it out of you, Vegas," says Caps coach Todd Reirden, in response to a question about physicality. "That's the type of game we are going to have against them. It obviously goes back to some history against them, and they're a highly competitive team that's aggressive and is in your face, lots of hits.
"That's the type of game you have to be ready for. We talked about it being a man's game tonight, and I was really impressed with our start to the game, because they were ready to go. They've been hyping this game up, and we responded. I challenged our guys pretty good before the game, and got a good rfesponse to start with."
For the second time in as many games, the Caps jumped out to a 1-0 lead before the game was even a minute old. Washington executed a sublime breakout, and Dmitry Orlov was able to thread a feed through the center of the ice, springing Evgeny Kuznetsov into Vegas ice. Kuznetsov beat Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in a 1-on-1 situation, staking the Caps to an early 1-0 lead just 58 seconds after the opening puck drop.
Video: VGK@WSH: Kuznetsov nets early breakaway goal
Washington wasn't able to take advantage of a power play opportunity soon after that goal, but the Caps doubled their lead shortly after the Knights completed that kill. Vegas was deemed guilty of icing, and it won the ensuing draw in its own end. But Knights forward Jonathan Marchessault coughed up the puck along the half wall, and Caps winger Jakub Vrana put it on a tee for Tom Wilson. From the high slot, Wilson whipped a wrist shot past Fleury for a 2-0 Caps lead at 5:53.
Wilson's goal was the fourth Washington has scored within 10 seconds of an offensive zone draw in the last two games, but the Caps soon learned that knife cuts both ways. Braden Holtby made a good save to deny Paul Stastny from the top of the paint, but three seconds after the face-off to his left, the Golden Knights cut the lead in half. The Caps were credited with a win on the draw, but Knights winger Max Pacioretty pounced on the unsecured puck at the right hash mark, snapping it past Caps goalie Braden Holtby to make it a 2-1 contest at 8:57.
Late in the middle frame, the Caps briefly restored their two-goal cushion when Jonas Siegenthaler scored his first NHL goal on the first anniversary of his NHL debut. Travis Boyd made an excellent play along the right-wing half wall, using his body to keep a Vegas clearing attempt from leaving the zone. He then feathered a perfect feed to Siegenthaler on the weak side, and the big blueliner buried it for a 3-1 Washington lead at 15:32.
"It feels pretty good, even better with the win," says Siegenthaler. "It took me a year, so it feels great."
Video: VGK@WSH: Siegenthaler scores first career NHL goal
Seconds later though, the Caps went shorthanded and Vegas was oppressive on the ensuing power play. Washington was never able to gain control of the puck, much less execute a clear, and after Vegas moved it around the Caps' end for about 90 seconds, Knights winger Reilly Smith pulled his team to within a goal at 17:27, firing a one-timer past Holtby.
Seconds after the end of the second, T.J. Oshie was assessed a roughing minor when he took exception to a post-buzzer shove from Vegas defender Brayden McNabb on Nicklas Backstrom. The put the Knights on the power play to start the third, and with a clean sheet of ice. The Caps had difficulty with the Vegas power play early in the game, but they were resourceful in getting stoppages in two crucial penalty kill missions early in the third. That turned out to be significant in keeping the Knights from manufacturing the equalizer with those two extra-man opportunities in short succession.
"That's big," says Holtby. "That's probably their biggest strength is puck retrievals. All five guys work hard. They've got some options; they've got a good power play, obviously. I thought our guys did a good job. It was a good challenge to battle through."
After killing those off, the Caps drew a power play of their own, and restored their two-goal cushion when Nicklas Backstrom slipped a shot through Fleury from the right circle at 11:30.
Video: Postgame Locker Room | November 9
Vegas came unglued after that, taking a slew of penalties that gave the Caps a 4-on-3 and later a 5-on-3 power play. While The Knights were able to keep the deficit at two, they squandered valuable comeback time and energy in the process, and were never really able to issue a serious threat late. Backstrom blasted a shot from center ice into a vacant Vegas cage in the final minute, accounting for the 5-2 final.
"We gave up two goals early," says Vegas coach Gerard Gallant. "I think tonight we had more turnovers than we had in the past few games, and that really hurt us."