Coming home from a pair of subpar road performances in Nashville and Colorado earlier in the week, the Caps opened up a four-game homestand against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night. The Capitals were in need of some standings points, to be sure, but they were also in need of a good start and a strong and consistent 60-minute effort with everyone pulling on the rope, and pulling in the right direction.
After Saturday's morning skate, Caps coach Barry Trotz challenged his top players to play like top players.
"I think we've had too many passengers," Trotz said. "Everything starts with our best players. Tonight, we're going to need our best players to be the best players, because everybody else will follow."
That's exactly how it turned out. Braden Holtby turned in a typically solid performance in net, stopping 30 of 31 shots he faced, and the Caps' top six forward and top four defensemen were all excellent in an impressive 3-1 win over the Wild.
Video: Kuznetsov, Holtby lead Capitals past Wild, 3-1
"It was addressed that we weren't playing with enough grit, enough intensity," says Caps winger T. J. Oshie. "We weren't playing for each other enough, and that kind of hits home when you're a guy that brings energy every night. After Colorado, after that was said, I had a little extra determination [on Saturday night] to get the boys going. I didn't really need to; everyone was rolling on their own."
Oshie had a goal and an assist, and he and linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Chandler Stephenson were dialed in from their first shift of the night, as was the Evgeny Kuznetsov line with linemates Alex Ovechkin and Devante Smith-Pelly.
"They set the tone, they led the way," says Trotz. "That's good; they're a proud group. I was harsh after the Colorado [loss]. They understood that, and they responded really well. That's the response you want to see. I thought we skated. I asked them, 'Let's skate, let's work, let's pay in a more confined area, let's get some zone time, let's put all our work in the right areas,' and we did. I sort of had a checklist, and they checked it off."
There were no passengers. In addition to the top six forwards and the top four defensemen, the bottom six and the third pairing also turned in strong, workmanlike performances in the victory.
Video: Barry Trotz Postgame | November 18
Special Delivery - The Caps scored a pair of power play goals, and limited the Wild to one power-play goal in four opportunities. Although Minnesota did manage that one extra-man tally, the Caps also killed off three straight Wild power plays from late in the first to late in the second period, preserving what was a one-goal lead at that point of the contest.
"We'd like our overall penalty kill percentage to be higher," says Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen, "but if you can build that trait into your team where when you really need [a kill] in a game, you can bear down and be aggressive and kill those penalties. That's a good characteristic to have.
"[We killed] the last three tonight, to keep the lead and keep us moving in the second and the third. It's a work in progress - the penalty kill is - and we'll keep working at it."
While Washington's overall penalty kill pct. is 77.6% (25th in the NHL), the Caps have safely ushered two points into the bank on several occasions this season by killing off penalties, and sometimes a string of penalties, with the game on the line.
"Their power play was better than our power play, and that's pretty well the difference," says Wild coach Bruce Boudreau. "They score two [with the extra man] and we score one. The [goal] by [Dmitry] Orlov, Backstrom just went in front of [Stalock] at the right time where he lost it. Until the third period, I thought it was a pretty evenly played game."
The third period was telling, too, in that the Caps did not try to sit back with their one-goal lead. They were aggressive at moving the puck northward, and they continued to put offensive heat on Minnesota. Eventually, that heat resulted in a late power-play goal that doubled Washington's breathing room.
A decade ago this week, Boudreau took over from Glen Hanlon behind the Washington bench, his first NHL coaching gig. That's right around when Washington's dominance on the power play began, and the Caps are still a formidable group with the extra man.
"Their sticks are perfect," says Boudreau, referring to Washington's left/right balance with the extra skater. "That's been the key to their team for 10 years now on the power play; everything works. They've gone from [Alexander] Semin to [Troy] Brouwer to Oshie, and it always worked. From [Marcus] Johansson with Backstrom, Ovechkin; from [Mike] Green to [John] Carlson. It's been seamless transitions for them."
Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room | November 18
Saturday Night Special - Holtby's remarkable run of Saturday night success continued with his win over the Wild on Saturday. In 77 career appearances (76 starts) on Saturday nights, Holtby is now 51-16-9 with nine shutouts, a 2.11 GAA and a .927 save pct.
This season, Holtby is 4-0-0 in his four Saturday night starts, with a 1.50 GAA and a .958 save pct.
Video: Caps 365 | November 18
This One Goes To Eleven - Holtby earned his 11th victory of the 2017-18 season on Saturday night, doing so in his 15th start of the season and in the Capitals' 21st game of the campaign.
Last season, Holtby won his 11th game on Dec. 5 vs. Buffalo, in his 19th game and the Caps' 24th game of the season.
When he won the Vezina Trophy and tied the NHL record for most victories (48) in a season in 2015-16, Holtby won his 11th game in his 15th start of the season, which was Washington's 19th game of the season.
Down On The Farm - The ECHL South Carolina Stingrays earned a 4-3 overtime win at North Charleston Coliseum on Saturday night, prevailing over the Greenville Swamp Rabbits.
Taylor Cammarata scored twice in the third period to knot the score and send the game to overtime, where Steven Whitney netted the game-winner. Nick Johnson also scored for the Stingrays, who got a 21-save effort from goaltender Parker Milner (2-0-1).
The 8-2-2-0 Stingrays are back in action on Sunday afternoon, facing off against the Gladiators in Atlanta.
Up a level, the 8-7-0-2 Hershey Bears have a Sunday afternoon game as well. Hershey is in Providence where it will face the P-Bruins in a Sunday matinee.
By The Numbers - Carlson led the Caps with 24:55 in ice time … Kuznetsov led the Caps with seven shots on net; he and Niskanen led the way with eight shot attempts each … Brooks Orpik led the Caps with eight hits … Taylor Chorney led Washington with three blocked shots … Kuznetsov won six of nine drops (67%) while Backstrom won 10 of 16 (63%).