Slide Stopper - Friday's game between the Caps and the Calgary Flames at Capital One Arena pitted a pair of teams coming off a weeklong break for the All-Star break/bye week, and it also pitted the league's coldest team (the Caps, 0-5-2 in their previous seven) and the league's hottest (the Flames, 9-0-1 in their previous 11).
It was far from a perfect hockey game on either side, but it was entertaining, it was competitive and neither team showed much in the way of egregious examples of rust from the week away from the rink. Most importantly from a Caps standpoint, Washington won it 4-3, stemming that seven-game slide.
Evgeny Kuznetsov won it for the Capitals with a power-play goal in the final minute of regulation after the Flames had whittled away at two-goal Washington advantage to tie it up midway through the third. The Caps power play was 1-for-4 on the night, but it looked sharp all night despite playing without Alex Ovechkin (league suspension). The Caps had an impressive amount of zone time, some great looks, and they hit iron on two strong chances with the extra man.
So it was somewhat ironic that Kuznetsov's extra-man game-winner came off the rush, just after John Carlson adroitly snuffed out a Mark Jankowski shorthanded attempt.
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | February 1
"Our power play I thought as excellent tonight without having a key component like Ovechkin," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "We hit the post a few times and didn't get rewarded for it, but we stuck with it. There was no frustration or anything like that. These types of games after breaks, especially power plays and different things, you're like half a second off in terms of your timing. That being said, we had some good chances and then we were finally able to convert. But he was skating at a different level tonight, and that was good to see from Kuznetsov."
Washington also got contributions from up and down the lineup and played a brand of hockey that was much closer to the way they want to play than we've seen in a month or so. Three of its four lines contributed an even-strength goal, the Caps were tighter defensively - particularly in the neutral zone and in defending the rush - and the Nicklas Backstrom line was effective in limiting Calgary's top line to one goal; that trio entered the contest with 18 goals in its previous 11 games.
"It's something that we discussed before we headed off to a break, that we needed to refocus, reset and re-energize ourselves," says Reirden. "I think we were physically and mentally taxed at that point, and from the looks of it we certainly took advantage of some of that and we were fresh. [We had] a really good bench tonight in terms of our energy, positive, and pushing together, everyone pulling together when you have a shortened bench.
"We were much more mentally sharp tonight than we had been for a while. Definitely good to get a win right away here on a big six-game homestand here for us."
Stepping In And Stepping Up - Nic Dowd sat out each of the Caps' last three games before the break, and he had skated in just seven of Washington's last 15 games before the break. Dmitrij Jaskin had suited up for just five of the Caps' previous 19 contests. But with Ovechkin out, both players were in the lineup against Calgary, and both found the back of the net for the first time in nearly two months.
Dowd staked the Caps to a 1-0 lead just three minutes into the game, deflecting a John Carlson point shot past Calgary goalie Mike Smith. After Calgary tied the game late in the first, Jaskin scored in the final minute of the frame to restore Washington's lead at 2-1.
Video: CGY@WSH: Jaskin buries rebound from doorstep
"It's huge not only for us but for the team," says Jaskin. "We need those goals from other guys, and it feels good."
Dowd's goal was his fifth of the season and his first since Dec. 2, and Jaskin's goal was his second of the season, his first on home ice as a member of the Capitals, and his first since Dec. 8.
"We knew that there was going to be an opportunity for some guys tonight with Ovechkin out of the lineup," says Reirden, "and they know that there is competition for jobs here especially as we push closer to the final 10 games or so. I discussed that earlier this morning, and I liked everyone's effort in terms of coming back after eight or nine days without being on the ice."
When The Whip Comes Down - Tom Wilson scored the Caps' third goal of the game in the first minute of the second, netting his 14th goal of the season. In doing so, he matched his single-season career best established last season when he scored 14 goals in 78 games.
This season, Wilson needed only 32 games to score those 14 goals. He's got 31 games remaining as he takes a run at the first 20-goal season of his NHL career.
Video: CGY@WSH: Wilson unleashes wrister from the circle
Last Minute/First Minute - Three of the four Washington goals in Friday's game came in the first or last minute of a period. After Dowd netted the opener at 3:00 of the first, Jaskin scored his goal with 35.7 seconds left in the first. Wilson's goal came just 54 seconds into the middle period, and Kuznetsov's game-winner came with 56.2 seconds remaining in regulation.
Conquering The West - Washington's win over Calgary on Friday was its first over a Western Conference foe since a 4-2 triumph over the Coyotes in Arizona on Dec. 6. The Caps entered Friday's game with an 0-5-2 mark in their previous seven games against the opposite conference, and Friday's win moves them to 9-10-3 on the season against Western opposition.
By The Numbers - Washington combined to block 27 Calgary shot attempts, a single-game high for this season. Fifteen different Caps skaters blocked at least one shot, and Carlson led the way with four … Carlson led the Caps with 27:37 in ice time … Kuznetsov and Wilson led the Caps with six shots on net each, and Kuznetsov led the way with eight shot attempts … Wilson led the Caps with six hits … Dowd won 7 of 11 draws (64 percent).
Video: Postgame Locker Room | February 1