Alex Ovechkin scored a hat trick and Nicklas Backstrom added a pair of assists to propel the Washington Capitals to a 4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Air Canada Centre. The victory keeps Washington within a point of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the lead in the Southeast Division, and five points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Capitals–who have been hampered by slow starts throughout this season– again scored the game’s first goal, and were helped by some superb goaltending by Braden Holtby, who has been called up from the Capitals’ farm club in Hershey. With Michael Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov hampered with groin ailments, Holtby made several key saves to keep Toronto from gaining any type of momentum, and thus earn the game’s First Star.
Ovechkin, mired in a season-long slump, broke out with three goals as the Ovi-Backstrom-Chimera line continues to roll. Ovechkin often gets double and triple-teamed when he has the puck in the offensive zone, but with Chimera’s speed on the opposite wing, and Backstrom’s ability to create space, Ovi’s game continues to evolve by going to the crease and deflecting shots and putting rebounds in the net.
The Caps defense played ‘solid’, but I thought there were too many quality scoring chances in front of Holtby for my taste; to me that says the defensemen are not doing a good enough job of limiting space for opponents. I saw some of this happening in their last game against the Islanders also. Second line Center, Marcus Johansson, continues to excel with his superb all-around play, and I really look for him to provide more scoring the remainder of the season and in the playoffs. John Carlson is quietly becoming not just one of the best defensemen on the Caps, but in the NHL.
I really feel like this year’s team is starting to revamp its foundation, relying more on solid defensive play and timely scoring, as opposed to using offense and team speed to win games. Just imagine how much better and more potent the team will be once Alex Semin returns.