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Capitals goalie Holtby shuts out Jets again

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets saw this rare two-game home series with the Washington Capitals as a chance to deliver a statement and a near-fatal blow to a club that dashed their postseason hopes a year earlier.

Instead, the Capitals and goaltender Braden Holtby marched into MTS Centre and shut out the Jets for the second time this month, taking a 4-0 decision Thursday. The teams meet again Friday here, where the Jets have seven wins in 15 games.

"We executed a lot of good things," Washington coach Adam Oates said. "We'll enjoy it for a little bit, and [Friday] we'll refocus. We're going to have to refocus, because [Winnipeg] will be better [Friday]."

The two-game get-together presented the Jets a prime opportunity to effectively close out the Capitals' fading Stanley Cup Playoff hopes. Fresh off a 3-1 home win against the Boston Bruins two nights earlier, Winnipeg had fashioned a 6-1-1 run that pushed them into the heart of the Eastern Conference race. Washington began the evening seven points out of a playoff spot, nine points behind the Southeast Division leaders.

The Capitals used goals from Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johansson in the opening 16:22 to establish a 2-0 lead they carried over the remaining two periods until Alex Ovechkin's late team-leading 13th goal that put him atop the League with nine power-play tallies. Nicklas Backstrom poured on another goal with 1:38 left.

"We need to play better," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "That would be the first thing. We've given up seven goals in two games and haven't scored once. They are playing chess, and we are playing checkers.

"We didn't play very well," Noel continued. "How many 'A' games [did we have]? What would the grades be? We couldn't make a pass, couldn't make a play, couldn't make three plays to get up into the offensive zone. Spent too much time in the [defensive] zone. By the time we got into the offensive zone, we had no energy. And on and on."

Winnipeg, whose 20 shots were a season low, benefitted from the Carolina Hurricanes' 4-1 home loss to the New Jersey Devils that left the Hurricanes stranded two points behind the Jets for first place in the Southeast. Washington closed to within five points of Carolina.

"It helps us right now," said Ovechkin, who had a goal and two assists. "We know we can catch them. It's going to be hard [Friday], but right now we have to take a rest and concentrate [on Friday's] game."

Washington regained the services of defenseman Mike Green, who missed 10 games with a groin injury. Green’s returned followed Brook’s Laich season debut Tuesday night in a 2-1 loss at the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"Having [Green] back allows [John Carlson] to back off his minutes," Oates said of Green, whose 22:44 ranked second to Carlson. "We keep [Carlson] a little fresher, a little sharper, and it trickles down from there."

Brouwer said, "We just continued to push forward. Our penalty kill was really good, which was what we needed. It's nice to get the two points [Thursday], but we can't give them two points back [Friday]. We take what we did late in this game and try to roll it over and keep the momentum [Friday]."

Holtby (20 saves) returned to MTS Centre and blanked the Jets here for the second time this month, his fourth shutout this season. Holtby, whose third-period stop on Antti Miettinen's in-close opportunity denied a struggling Winnipeg attack its best chance, shut out the Jets on 35 shots March 2.

"I think we talked about getting pucks deep and behind them," Miettinen said. "They had three guys lined up on the blue line. So, I think we turned a lot of pucks over there, turned a lot of pucks over in our zone too. And we’re just not getting enough pressure in their zone."

Washington’s 20 shots against are a season-low, and the Capitals are the only team to shut out the Jets this season. The Capitals' 29th-ranked penalty kill escaped three third-period Winnipeg power-play opportunities.

"I just feel comfortable here," Holtby said. "It was strange. It was a different game than we usually [have], shots-wise. Usually there are a lot coming from everywhere. It seemed liked they were waiting for their moment, but if you give up [20] shots, you should probably win the game. It's a credit to how well we played."

Winnipeg netminder Ondrej Pavelec stopped 21 shots but fell into an early 2-0 hole. The Capitals struck 3:06 into the opening period when Brouwer, Laich and Mike Ribeiro manhandled the Winnipeg defense behind Pavelec's net and forced a pass into the left circle. Brouwer snapped his 11th goal through Pavelec's pads.

Washington expanded its lead late in the first period when Winnipeg defenseman Dustin Byfuglien wheeled a pass along the end boards that Evander Kane fumbled along the right boards. Ovechkin grabbed the loose puck, faked a shot, then fed Johansson, who tipped the puck past Pavelec at 16:22.

Winnipeg managed to begin the second with more energy, but Washington gradually slowed a Jets attack that produced four shots in the period.

"Obviously between periods they were going to get talked to by their coach, and they're going to come harder," Oates said. "We had to be ready for that and match their intensity and we did a good job of it."

A Pavelec minor penalty late in the third period stalled a Winnipeg power play and ended any chance of a comeback. Ovechkin took Backstrom's right-corner feed to the far circle and one-timed a shot that beat the goalie with 5:54 remaining. Backstrom fired a late shot from the high slot for his fourth goal.

Noel admitted he could not immediately explain Winnipeg’s lack of success against a team his club must face less than 24 hours after this defeat.

"We're all responsible," Noel said. "All the players and all the coaches, everybody. We're all looking and trying to figure out a solution. Sometimes there are no clear-cut answers. That's the beautiful thing about this job. It's all about finding solutions, that's the beauty, and sometimes they're not there in front of you, so figure out. I'm going to watch the tape and figure it out. That's what I do."

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