On Saturday night in Boston, the Caps went to the shootout for the third time in four games this week, and for the fourth time in 22 games this season. Thanks to a dazzling shootout strike from Jakub Vrana and some key stops from Braden Holtby, the Caps were able to overcome a terrific 42-save performance from Boston goaltender Jaroslav Halak, and Washington came home with a 3-2 shootout triumph.
Washington is blessed with a great deal of skill, and it typically runs with T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom in the skills competition. Vrana is one of the many skilled players on the Caps' roster, but his Saturday night shootout attempt in the top of the fifth round was only the second of his NHL career.
The next time he fails to score in the shootout will be the first.
Vrana's sleight of hands score on Halak pushed the Caps' road winning streak to five, and all five have come in overtime (three) or the shootout (two).
"We have lots of great shootout players and I've been watching them and obviously learning from them," says Vrana. "I had a chance to see how [Halak] reacted a couple of shootouts before me, so I just took advantage of it."
Video: WSH@BOS: Vrana toe-drags, roofs shot in shootout
Bring It On Back - With a 15-3-4 record on the season, the Caps haven't turned in many clunkers this season. But no one was pleased with the team's performance in Friday night's 5-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, one of very few substandard outings for the Caps of late. That loss ended Washington's 13-game point streak (11-0-2), but the Caps were clearly driven to respond with a much better effort on Saturday in Boston, and they did.
"This one was important for me because we didn't play well [Friday] night," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "What was our response going to be? We haven't had a lot of those situations where we've had to respond this year, so we're still learning what we have in our room. That was my big question for the players: What is our team? What are we going to do in a situation against a good team, on the road, back-to-back, a little bit of adversity with some injuries and different stuff? What do we have in this room?
"That was the question that was posed before the game, and I think our character, and belief, and desire as a full group showed through pretty strongly tonight."
The Caps endured a seven-game slide (0-5-2) last January, but over the last half decade or so they've not had sustained losing runs or streaks where they're not bringing in a steady diet of standings points.
"I don't think we were very happy with our game [Friday] night," says Caps goalie Braden Holtby. "It was almost like we put a lot of emphasis on this game [against Boston] and got ahead of ourselves. So it's been one of those things where we knew we had better, especially structurally better, and I thought we were really good at that for most part all game. That led to a lot of zone time, and then we stuck with it and scored a big goal at the end there."
Video: Postgame Locker Room | November 16
Boston coach Bruce Cassidy was asked whether Washington was the best team the Bruins have seen thus far this season.
"Yeah, I think they are," was Cassidy's response. "I thought Pittsburgh came in here and played real well - the fastest team. This is speed and brawn. You can't judge this game the same as Pittsburgh, because I don't think our lineup was equal to theirs in terms of our typical manpower. We don't use that as an excuse, but if you're asking me how to compare teams, then you've got to bring that in, correct? But yes, they're a strong team. What are they, one year removed from the Cup? You can see why, and I give our guys credit. I thought we battled pretty hard most of the night against bigger men."
It's Getting Late - Including Oshie's tying tally with Holtby pulled for an extra attacker in the final minute of regulation, the Caps' 6-on-5 unit has scored four goals in just 22 games this season, tied for the NHL lead. Those goals have enabled the Caps to scrape a few points in games in which they otherwise might not have been able to do so.
"Obviously having [Ovechkin] over there on the side takes a lot of focus," says Oshie. "But with Tom [Wilson] in front of the net, he takes up so much room and can really get in the goalie's eyes and make things hard to see. So a lot of the goals are usually rebounds or goals around the net, and Tom does a great job of clearing some space for us to score some of those 6-on-5 goals."
Last season, the Caps scored three goals at 6-on-5 in 82 games, so they've already exceeded that total. The last season in which Washington scored more than four goals at 6-on-5 was 2009-10, when they netted five.
"We've had the same group for a while that's been doing that," says Reirden, "and we have a really good game plan in place. I think that we've been able to pull our goalie a little bit earlier than we have been in the past. It's something that we've looked at doing this year, and we've been able to get some results on it when we have possession - let's get him out of there earlier than we have maybe in past years.
"Our players aren't feeling the pressure at that time. They're out there, and they believe in what they're doing. And now we just need to execute it and get a bounce to go our way."
Sometime To Return - Assigned to AHL Hershey earlier in the week, forward Travis Boyd was recalled from the Bears early on Saturday, and he made his presence felt right away, scoring his first goal of the season with a deflection of a John Carlson point shot in the game's first period.
Boyd and his linemates - Brendan Leipsic and Chandler Stephenson - were excellent on Saturday against the Bruins.
"I think we were moving," says Boyd. "I had maybe a little bit of an advantage; I didn't have to play [Friday] night. We just had good energy, and presented with the chance to make plays, we've been doing that. I think we had a great night tonight."
Video: Postgame Locker Room | November 16
Despite averaging just over nine minutes per night in ice time, Boyd has produced five points (one goal, four assists) in seven games this season.
Bruin Beater - Holtby turned in another strong performance on Saturday, running his career record against the Bruins to a gaudy 17-3-0. Holtby is now 9-0-1 in his last 10 starts, and his win on Saturday was No. 267 of his NHL career, pushing him past Felix Potvin and into sole possession of 50thn place on the league's all-time wins ledger. Holtby is now one win behind ex-Caps goalie Don Beaupre (268) for 49th place on that list.
Down On The Farm - The AHL Hershey Bears earned a 2-1 victory over the Charlotte Checkers on Saturday night at Giant Center.
After a scoreless first, Liam O'Brien staked the Bears to a 1-0 lead by scoring Hershey's first goal in three games at 14:58 of the second. Joe Snively and Alex Alexeyev assisted.
The Checkers pulled even on a power-play goal midway through the third, but Mike Sgarbossa supplied the game-winner on a Hershey power play at 13:23 of the third with help from Christian Djoos and Garrett Pilon.
Pheonix Copley stopped 17 of 18 shots to improve to 4-4-3 on the season. Hershey is now idle until next Saturday when it faces the Sound Tigers in Bridgeport.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays made it a Saturday night clean sweep for the Washington organization with a 6-2 won over the Norfolk Admirals at North Charleston Coliseum.
Max Novak, Mark Cooper, Mitch Vanderlaan, Cameron Askew, Jaynen Rissling and Andrew Cherniwchan scored in support of Logan Thompson's 29-save effort in the South Carolina nets. Thompson is now 5-1-0 on the season.
The Stingrays host Norfolk once again on Sunday afternoon.
By The Numbers - For the second time in as many nights, Dmitry Orlov (29:28) led the Caps in ice time … Wilson and Oshie led the Caps with six shots on net each, and Vrana, Carlson and Oshie led Washington with eight shot attempts each … Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with seven hits … Backstrom led the Caps with two blocked shots … Backstrom won seven of eight face-offs (88 percent) in the game while Evgeny Kuznetsov won 13 of 15 (87 percent).