POSTGAME NOTEBOOK: Caps 4, Wild 3
Caps end road skid in rugged game in Minnesota, Ovechkin continues to excel at Xcel, Siegenthaler draws back in, moreby Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com
Wild Nights - Despite the fact that it featured a pair of teams from opposite conferences who hadn't faced one another in nearly a calendar year, Sunday night's game between the Caps and the Minnesota Wild had the feel of a playoff contest. Right from the opening puck drop, it was a hotly contested game with plenty of vitriol and post-whistle pushing and shoving.
The Caps fell down early on a Ryan Donato breakaway goal, but they quickly got right with some help from a couple of Minnesota penalties in short succession that gave Washington an extended two-man advantage. Alex Ovechkin tied the game on the 5-on-3, and it was the first of three Capitals goals in a span of just 3 minutes and 38 seconds, two of them from Ovechkin.
Those three goals in short succession ultimately provided the Caps with most of the fuel for their 4-3 win over the Wild.
Video: Ovechkin scores twice, Capitals edge Wild
Washington never trailed thereafter, taking its third win in four games and rebounding nightly from a 3-0 shutout loss on Thursday in Winnipeg in the opener of a two-game road trip. Early in the season, the Caps routinely followed losses with wins; they didn't go consecutive games without collecting points until the last two games of the season's first half. Sunday's win prevented the Caps from dropping two straight, and it kept their gap over second-place Philadelphia at three points in the Metro Division standings.
The Caps host the Flyers on Wednesday in the final regular season meeting between the two teams.
"I just liked the physicality, I liked the compete, I liked our guys sticking together in scrums," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "I liked some of that stuff about our game in terms of building our group."
A bit later, Reirden elaborated further with specifics, praising Caps defenseman Brenden Dillon for his fight with Minnesota's Ryan Hartman. Dillon was coming to the aid of his fellow pre-deadline acquisition, winger Ilya Kovalchuk.
"To me, lots of good things happened tonight, and we'll take the two points on the road," says Reirden. "We're definitely a work in progress, but the stuff that doesn't necessarily get recognized in stats is that the guy that Brenden Dillon fought two-hands Kovalchuk in the crease. And so who fights him? Dillon. Those are our two new guys sticking together, about our team standing up for one another. That's the stuff that's going to make the difference a month from now and in the next few weeks when we're playing Metro competition here and there.
Video: Reirden Postgame | March 1
"You can drop all the plays you want and show all the video you want, but when guys care for each other, and they want to take care of their teammate, that's when you got something that you can build on and so that was a real positive for me tonight."
Minnesota, revitalized after a late-season coaching change that elevated former Caps assistant coach Dean Evason to the interim head coach position, proved to be quite a handful for Washington. The Wild poured 40 shots on the Washington nets, but Braden Holtby stopped 37 of them to earn his third straight win. The Caps' much maligned defense bent but did not break, allowing only one goal at 5-on-5 to a Minnesota club that had erupted for 17 goals in its previous three games, matching a franchise mark for most goals scored in a three-game span.
"We played a great game, a great hockey game," says Wild goaltender Alex Stalock. "They got some timely goals - some quick ones in the first - but we played the game we wanted and didn't come away with the result we wanted.
"It was a fun atmosphere, a fun game, and it's good to play against teams like that."
Coming into Sunday's game with three straight wins, the Wild was in position to climb into a playoff spot for the first time since early December if it could overcome the Caps.
"There was a different buzz in the building, it felt like," says Minnesota winger Zach Parise. "Maybe it's because we clawed ourselves back into contention, but there was a little more excitement in the building. So it was a different atmosphere at home than it had been the last few games. That made it fun for sure."
Minnesota hosts Nashville on Tuesday, another chance for the Wild to climb over the Preds, who are one point ahead of them on Monday morning.
As for the Caps, they matched Minnesota's desperation and ended a four-game road losing streak, their longest of the season. But it sure wasn't easy.
"It was a hard one," says Holtby. "They worked hard, really hard. Deano's got them buzzing over there, so it's a challenge - a good challenge. It was a good, hard-fought game and one where we'll take the two points, but it didn't come easy."
Barn Burning - Ovechkin has now played 10 career games at Xcel Energy Center, and he is averaging better than two points per game in the St. Paul barn. In addition to his two goals, Ovechkin set up Tom Wilson's game-winner for a three-point game, his fifth multiple-point game in his last six in Minnesota.
"I don't know," says Ovechkin, asked why he has so much success here. "I think the guys get emotional because lots of guys are from here. You could feel it in the locker room; everybody got excited and you take that energy from your teammates."
Ovechkin has had four multi-goal games in Minnesota, including a pair of hat tricks. In his last six games at Xcel, he has totaled 11 goals and six assists for 17 points.
Minnesota has been in the league since 2000-01, and the Caps have recently found this building to their liking as well, although that certainly was not the case early in the Wild's existence. The Caps were shutout in each of their first two visits here, and they scored a total of just one goal in their first three games against the Wild in Minnesota.
On Ovechkin's second goal, he skated on a line with fellow Russians Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Kovalchuk. That trio had been used for a shift or two in Kovalchuk's two previous games with Washington, but this time they struck quickly off an odd-man rush in transition, Ovechkin finishing a tic-tac-toe sequence with a one-timer from the left dot following a pair of precision feeds from his linemates.
"I see [Ovechkin] wide open," laughs Kuznestov, when asked what he saw on the play.
"That was something that I've been trying," says Reirden of sending the Russian troika out together. "I've done it a couple times for just one or two shifts and then they were feeling it. Obviously, that's great for Kovalchuk to get his first point [as a Capital] and kind of get going. I think he's had a number of chances every game, and it just hasn't found the back of the net. They were feeling a little bit, so I went back to them a few more times.
Video: WSH@MIN: Ovechkin one-times Kuznetsov's pass
"That's the nice thing about having a player of that caliber, that you can move them up and down and put them in different spots. Obviously Tom [Wilson] is killing a lot of penalties; he's in different spots. Now I can move my lines around a little bit, and I wasn't sure how it was going to go. I've done some research on this one. They haven't played a lot together with the national team or anything, so that's something that I wanted to see a little bit and we'll see moving forward, some different combinations that I think can keep the opposition on their heels."
Back In The Saddle - After sitting out each of the last three games and four of the last five as a healthy scratch, sophomore defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler was back in the Washington lineup on Sunday, skating the left side of a pairing with Nick Jensen.
Siegenthaler finished the night with 15:25 in ice time, with nearly half of it (7:33) coming in the second period. He blocked three shots on the night, led all Caps with 5:07 of shorthanded ice time (Minnesota had a total of 6:30 in power play time on the night), and earned the Washington Nationals batting helmet from his teammates as the player of the game.
A Pirate Looks At Forty - The Caps earned their 40th win of the season on Sunday, following Boston and Tampa Bay as the third team in the league to reach that plateau this season, and doing so in their 65th game of the 2019-20 season.
The Caps got to 40 wins three games earlier than they did last season, and five games earlier than they did in 2017-18 when they went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Down On The Farm - The AHL Hershey Bears were doubled up at home on Sunday afternoon, falling 6-3 to the Charlotte Checkers at Giant Center. The Bears never led, and they were outscored 2-1 in each of the game's three periods.
After falling down 1-0 early, Hershey responded quickly when Matt Moulson netted his 20th goal of the season at 2:56 of the first frame with help from Joe Snively and Philippe Maillet.
The Bears were down 4-1 late in the second period when Brian Pinho notched his 19th goal of the season at 18:17, Colby Williams and Shane Gersich assisting.
At 6:14 of the third, Maillet netted his 15th of the season to make it a 4-3 game, getting help from Daniel Sprong and Williams. That was as close as the Bears would get; Charlotte scored twice in a span of just 56 seconds midway through the third to go back up by three and win going away.
Pheonix Copley stopped 28 of 34 shots in the Hershey nets, falling to 17-8-5 on the season.
The 35-18-3-3 Bears are idle until Friday when they travel to Hartford to face the Wolf Pack. Hershey will play a set of back-to-back road games in Connecticut's capital city on Friday and Saturday. The Bears lead second-place Providence by two points in the Atlantic Division standings, and they are three points up on Hartford. Both teams hold a game in hand on Hershey.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays earned a 6-4 road win over the Maine Mariners on Sunday. Steve Whitney scored twice, and Tim Harrison, Alec Marsh, Matthew Weis and Andrew Cherniwchan added single markers to account for the Stingrays' six-pack attack.
Parker Milner made 26 saves in the South Carolina nets, improving to 20-4-2-1 on the season.
The 43-11-3-1 Stingrays are one of two of the league's 26 teams to nail down a playoff berth. Although it owns the league's best record, South Carolina holds a three-point lead over Florida in the South Division standings, and it also holds a game in hand on the Everblades, the other team that has already secured its spot in the Kelly Cup playoffs.
Next up, South Carolina goes from Maine to Idaho; the Stingrays have three games with the Steelheads in a span of four nights, starting on Wednesday night.
By The Numbers - Carlson led the Caps with 27:12 in ice time … Ovechkin led the Caps with four shots on net and nine shot attempts … Nic Dowd and Dmitry Orlov had two hits each to lead the Caps, who were credited with only eight hits on the night … Siegenthaler led the Caps with three blocked shots … Washington won only 23 of 60 draws (38 percent) in the game.