The Capitals pushed their franchise record home winning streak to 15 straight games on Saturday with a 2-1 overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers, but as has been the case of late, it was neither easy nor pretty.
Nicklas Backstrom netted the game-winner in overtime, Braden Holtby made 30 saves and the Caps combined to mostly muzzle the Philadelphia attack, as they did throughout the season's series with the Flyers. Washington won the special teams battle, and that was ultimately the difference in the game.
Video: Backstrom delivers game-winning goal in OT
Facing a desperate Philadelphia team that's facing an uphill climb for a playoff berth, the Caps again found it difficult to establish a forecheck and to generate offense in the first frame. For the first time in two and half months, Washington has gone three straight games without scoring in the first period.
In the second, the Caps were playing fast and threatening to blow the lid off the game as they've done so often at Verizon Center this season, but Steve Mason's netminding and the Caps' own penchant for penalties (not all of which were deserved on this night) got in the way, and the two sides went to the third still scoreless.
Philly's Sean Couturier staked his team to a 1-0 lead with a nifty redirection from the slot before the third period was two minutes old, and one expected the Flyers to pull back and try to eke out a 1-0 road win by lining five guys up on their own blueline.
But speaking of their own blueline, Dmitry Orlov cranked a rocket of a shot past Mason from just inside that line, tying the game at 1-1 less than two minutes after Philly initially grabbed the lead.
Washington killed off two minor penalties in each of the three periods of regulation, the last of which came with less than four minutes remaining in regulation.
Video: Caps players talk after a 2-1 OT win vs. Philly
"A really sharp, committed effort," says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen of the team's penalty killing outfit. "I thought we pressured at the right times and then we had to be committed to being in shots lanes and making ourselves big. We had to block a few, and Holts was there, [too]. A really committed effort by the [penalty killing] guys today. It won us the game, I think."
Washington had just one power play per period during regulation, and the Caps' extra-man unit struggled during those six minutes, managing just one shot on net. But with the four-on-three power play format in overtime, the Caps manufactured the game-winner with the help of all four skaters on the ice.
"Even if it wasn't our best game," says Backstrom, "I thought it still was good that we got two points. That's what we take from this."
Six-Pack - Backstrom's overtime game-winner was the sixth of his NHL career, and it moved him ahead of Peter Bondra and Kelly Miller into sole possession of third place on Washington's all-time list for game-winners in the extra session. Only Alex Ovechkin (19) and Mike Green (8) are above Backstrom on that ledger.
Video: PHI@WSH: Backstrom snipes game-winning PPG in OT
Backstrom's goal was his 20th of the season, and he joins Ovechkin (27), T.J. Oshie (24) and Marcus Johansson (21) as the fourth Capital to reach that plateau this season. This season marks Backstrom's fourth 20-goal campaign in the NHL, and his second in succession.
Blackjack - Holtby has now recorded at least a point in each of his last 21 decisions (19-0-2), the third longest streak of its kind in franchise history. Jose Theodore went 20-0-3 over a string of 23 decisions in 2009-10, and Holtby himself had a 22-decision run (20-0-2) last season.
Over the life of his current run, Holtby has posted five shutouts, a 1.67 GAA and a .937 save pct.
Video: PHI@WSH: Holtby denies Couturier on the doorstep
Sweet Spot - The Caps are in the midst of a nice little sweet spot in the schedule where they play games every other day. Washington is at its absolute best when it plays on exactly one day's rest. The Caps are now 30-2-2 in such situations this season, with 10 more games of that ilk remaining on the schedule ahead.
Playing with exactly one day's rest this season, Holtby is 19-2-2 with six of his eight shutouts, a 1.61 GAA and a .940 save pct. Over the course of his NHL career, Holtby is 77-17-9 with 14 shutouts, a 2.05 GAA and a .929 save pct. in 109 appearances (108 starts) on exactly one day's rest.
Power Move - For the second time in as many games, Washington's power play unit came through with the game-winning goal in a tight affair. Although the Caps' total of 147 five-on-five goals, they've managed only 13 five-on-five strikes in eight games since the conclusion of their bye week.
The Caps' power play unit ranks fifth in the league at 22.1% on the season, and it is 21-for-64 (30.9%) over its last 25 games, scoring at least once with the extra man in 18 of those 25 contests.
Washington has netted only one five-on-five goal in its last two games, winning both contests.
Killing Machines - The Caps also rank fifth in the NHL with an 84.9% kill rate on the season. They snuffed out all six Philadelphia power play chances in Saturday's game, and they were a perfect 15-for-15 against the Flyers' power play in the four-game season's series between the two clubs. The Caps are 21-for-24 (87.5%) on the kill in eight games since returning from their bye week.
Back In The Saddle Again - For the third straight game, the Caps got a key piece of their team back in the lineup after a brief absence because of injury. Right wing T.J. Oshie returned to the lineup after a four-game absence on Saturday, and he skated 19:19 on the night while recording two shots on net and blocking a couple of shots.
Oshie created the critical net-front screen that enabled Backstrom to slip his game-winning shot behind Mason.
Shutdown Street - With Oshie back in the lineup, Tom Wilson dropped back down to the fourth line with Daniel Winnik and Jay Beagle. That trio drew the assignment of shutting down Philadelphia's top trio of Claude Giroux with Wayne Simmonds and Jordan Weal, and they handled the job quite nicely.
As he usually is, Wilson was a burr in the Flyers' collective saddle right from the outset. Although he skated just 12:59, he made his presence felt virtually every shift. In the second period, Wilson blocked a Michael Del Zotto blast with his derriere, and also scampered back on a backcheck to neutralize what might have been a strong scoring opportunity for the Flyers.
Wilson led the team with nine hits on the night, and Winnik logged a single-game season high of 17:02 in ice time.
Video: Coach Trotz after 2-1 victory over Flyers
"The Beagle line should get some props," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "They had a lot of time against Giroux. Tom did a really good job of keeping that line in tow. He sort of set the tone.
"Simmonds and Giroux are emotional players; they're physical, they're in your face, they play hard and Tom and Beags and Winnie - who we don't talk enough [about] - I thought had a real terrific game. They did a real good job shutting that line down."
Down On The Farm - The AHL Hershey Bears squeaked out a 2-1 win of their own over a heated division rival on Saturday night, taking down the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at Giant Center.
After the Baby Pens took a 1-0 lead midway thorugh the first period, Hershey defenseman Colby Williams tied the game at 1-1 with his fourth goal of the season at 13:51 of the first, Stanislav Galiev and Christian Thomas assisting.
Galiev netted what would prove to be the game-winning goal - his 18th of the season - at 18:40 of the second. Tom Gilbert and Thomas recorded the assists on the Galiev goal.
Pheonix Copley stopped 36 of 37 shots to earn his second win in as many nights for the Bears, running his record to 17-6-3 on the season.
Hershey concludes a busy weekend on Sunday afternoon when it hosts the Springfield Thunderbirds at Giant Center.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays earned a 4-1 road win over the Colorado Eagles on Saturday night. Rob Flick scored twice and Scott Tanski and John Parker added single markers to support the 28-save efforts of Parker Milner (18-12-1) in the South Carolina crease.
The Stingrays are headed back east now, and they will be idle until Saturday when they host the Florida Everblades at North Charleston Coliseum.
Video: PHI@WSH: Orlov fires a slap shot past Mason
By The Numbers - Orlov's goal was just the second from the Caps' defense corps in the team's last 17 games … Niskanen led the Caps with 23:53 in ice time … Niskanen and Backstrom led the Capitals with three shots on net each … Ovechkin, Wilson and Evgeny Kuznetsov paced Washington with five shot attempts each … Backstrom led the Caps with five blocked shots, and he was 11-for-15 (73%) on the face-off dot.