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Caps start trip with win and block party, Eller finds redemption, Holtby takes another step forward, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps /

Get On The Good Foot - Although they didn't put their best foot forward on Sunday night in Chicago, the Caps left town with two points, starting a five-game road trip on the good foot. Washington struggled at 5-on-5, but won the special teams battle in decisive fashion to come away with a 5-3 victory.

On the strength of a T.J. Oshie power-play goal and a Nic Dowd shorthanded strike, the Caps took a 2-1 lead to the third. They padded the lead with an Alex Ovechkin goal early in the third, but the resilient Blackhawks dug in and tied the game before the midpoint of the third.

"They were battling back," says Oshie of the Hawks. "They put a lot of pucks on net on net tonight, and they were forechecking really hard. They just really didn't go away."

Chicago poured 44 shots on Washington goaltender Braden Holtby, who won his second straight start.

"They wanted it bad tonight; they played hard," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "You've got to give them credit; they have some speed and some young players. I think they have a good mix of young talent, so it was a battle for sure."

Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | October 20

In the midst of a seven-game homestand after starting the season with a loss to Philadelphia in Prague, the Hawks are now 2-2-1 on the homestand. Sunday's loss ended a modest two-game winning run for Chicago, but Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton was upbeat in the wake of the loss to the Caps.

"Pretty good effort, I thought," says Colliton. "We love the pressure we put on, especially from our forwards. I think our forecheck was as good as it has been. Our second period was excellent. It showed character to battle back.

"We give up a couple of goals that took some momentum away and made it hard on us, but overall I'm pretty happy with the effort we had. We talked about it in the room; there are some things that we can clean up and things to improve on, no question. But the base of that game was pretty good; we can build on that. We did a lot of things right.

"That's a pretty good team over there, and we're definitely not satisfied with the result. At home, we want to get to get two points, but I think that was one of our better performances of the season. Sometimes you don't get rewarded, but over time, if you continue to play well you do."

Redemption Song - With the Caps leading 3-2 midway through the third, Washington center Lars Eller made an ill-advised backhand pass at the Chicago line, and Hawks forward Alex Nylander read it, picked it off, and sent Patrick Kane into Washington ice on a 2-on-1. A left shot coming down the right side, Kane sold a return feed to Nylander, but instead snapped a wicked shot past Holtby to tie the game at 3-3 with 10:02 left.

Eller made up for his miscue on the very next shift, and in the game's final minute.

Centering for Carl Hagelin and Tom Wilson, Eller carried into Chicago ice and went all the way down the right wing wall and around the back of the net, leaving the puck for Hagelin, who fed Wilson for the go-ahead goal at 11:47, restoring the Washington lead at 4-3. It would prove to be the game-winner.

Video: WSH@CHI: Wilson goes top shelf to put Capitals ahead

"Thought it was a pretty awesome play by Lars there," says Oshie, "after the mistake, going out there and creating some offense. And then Tom put it in the back of the net to regain the lead."

At the end of a grueling, 78-second shift at the end of the third, Eller lofted a backhander from about 170 feet away, putting it right in the middle of the vacant Chicago net.

"That was an important shift," says Reirden, of the shift that produced the Wilson goal. "We make a mistake, and you talk about being resilient as a group, and you can talk about it all you want, but until you actually go through those situations [you don't know]. And he goes out there his next shift, and he responds, makes the right play, and sets up the goal. That's what's exciting about those type of wins, that you're able to come back after making a mistake, and rally behind each other and get it done."

One Step Up - Holtby made another strong step forward with his Sunday night performance, making a single-game season high of 41 saves, including several second chance and point blank opportunities from in tight, and nine shots while the Hawks were on the power play.

Although Holtby was unhappy with giving up the Kane goal, Reirden didn't see it that way.

"That was another move in the right direction, is how I would evaluate it for sure," says Reirden of Holtby's Sunday night outing. "That's an elite player that scores that goal on him. The stuff that goes on so quickly, the deception and the false information that a guy like Kane gives before he shoots that, that's why he is one of the best.

"It may have looked like it wasn't a great goal, but from ice level, if you could see the deception that he has within the shot, there is more to it than just the actual shot. Braden - I thought - was really, really good, and hopefully good signs of his turnaround from a tough stretch of the year."

Johnny Ace - Caps defenseman John Carlson supplied the primary helper on Ovechkin's goal, a laser sharp feed that extended his streak of consecutive games with an assist to seven. He has 18 points (three goals, 15 assists), joining Paul Coffey and Bobby Orr as one of only three defensemen in NHL history to record as many as 18 points in their team's first 10 games of the season.

Among all defensemen in Caps franchise history, only Mike Green and Scott Stevens (eight games each) have had longer assist streaks than Carlson's current run.

Block Party - The Caps combined to block 31 shots in Sunday's game, their highest total in any single game since they blocked 33 in a Feb. 4, 2016 game against the New York Islanders. Sunday's total is the third highest total ever recorded by the Caps since the league began tracking shot blocking in 1997-98.

Oshie, Wilson, Dmitry Orlov and Michal Kempny led the way with four blocked shots each. Thirteen of Washington's 18 skaters laid out to block at least one shot against the Hawks.

Video: Postgame | October 20

Hit Somebody - The Caps recorded a single-game high of 38 hits in Sunday's game, mostly because they didn't have possession of the puck nearly as often as they've had for most of their previous games in this still youthful season. Washington outhit Chicago 38-24, and only two Caps - wingers Jakub Vrana and Brendan Leipsic - weren't credited with a hit against the Hawks.

Dach Debuts - Two nights after facing No. 2 overall pick (in 2019 NHL Draft) Kaapo Kakko in a home ice win over the New York Rangers, the Caps went up against the No. 3 overall pick from 2019, Chicago's Kirby Dach.

The 18-year-old Dach suffered a concussion in a prospect tournament that sidelined him for the early portion of training camp, and he opened the regular season on a rehab assignment with AHL Rockford. The Hawks recalled him on Friday after three games with the IceHogs, and he centered a line with Dylan Strome and Kane.

"Really good, I'm very pleased," says Colliton of his rookie pivot's debut. "He looked comfortable. His play away from the puck was - I thought - quite good. He pressured it, caused turnovers, was safe with it, made plays but did it safely. So a good start for him."

Dach skated 13:41 on the night, finishing at minus-1 and getting credit for a blocked shot. He won the game's opening draw, but it was the only face-off he won in the contest, going 1-for-5 (20 percent).

By The Numbers - Carlson led the Caps in ice time for the 10th consecutive game, logging 25:04 … Jonas Siegenthaler led the Caps with 6:21 in shorthanded ice time … Ovechkin led the Caps with five shots on net, six shot attempts, and seven hits … Nick Jensen and Orlov were the only Washington skaters who did not record a shot on net … Evgeny Kuznetsov won five of eight face-offs (63 percent).

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