As the weather begins to change and temperatures are dropping in the nation’s capital, the city’s hockey team is beginning to heat up. With a 4-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Friday night, the Capitals won for the fourth straight game. The win moves Washington (18-11-1) into a first-place tie with Columbus in the Metropolitan Division. The victory also moves the Capitals past their nemesis, the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are one of six teams in the division with 32 or more points.
The Capitals have won eight of 10 games since they embarked on a short two-game road trip to Nashville and Colorado. One of the big reasons why is the play of goalie Braden Holtby. The seven-year NHL veteran stopped 27 shots on Friday night against the Rangers to give him 16 wins for the season. That ties him for second among all NHL goaltenders.
Aside from Holtby who gives the Capitals a chance every night, the play of star Alex Ovechkin has been impressive thus far this season. The perennial All-Star continues to lead the NHL in goals with 21 and has a total of 33 points to lead the Capitals. Ovechkin is the heart and soul of the Capitals, who will go for five in a row on Monday night when they take on the New York Islanders.
Ovechkin and Holtby have received plenty of help from C Evgeny Kuznetsov, who is second on the team with 31 points. In Friday’s win, Matt Niskanen scored his first goal of the season, the game-winner with less than four minutes to play.
“Hockey’s a lot more fun when you’re playing well, playing hard for each other like we are right now,” said Niskanen, a 10-year veteran who has been in Washington for four seasons now.
Niskanen’s goal was a big one coming with 3:22 to play after the Rangers had tied the score at 2-2. There are six teams in the Metropolitan Division that are separated by a mere five points. A regulation win was needed to push the Capitals further up in the standings. Washington coach Barry Trotz is not concerned where his team is in the standings just yet.
“I’m not getting too excited about where we are,” Trotz said. “This whole Metro division is a monster. We’re going to have to deal with it all year.”
Another plus for the Caps has been playing at home. The four straight wins all came in the confines of the Capital One Arena. Since Nov. 2, Washington is 10-2 at home and the team has won 13 of its past 18 games. Only five of those games have been on the road and the Capitals lost three of them.
Washington is going to have win on the road if they are serious about continuing their success. The Capitals have 10 games remaining in December – beginning with the Islanders on Monday – and six of those are on the road. The Caps will face nine different opponents – they play Boston twice – and just one can equal Washington’s 37 points. That is the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.
The Caps continue to start fast. For the fifth game in a row, Washington scored first. Jay Beagle scored just 14 seconds into the win over the Rangers. The Capitals are ninth in the league in scoring averaging 3.1 goals per game. The power play is eighth (21.2 percent). Washington won the last two games without RW T.J. Oshie who is third on the team in scoring with 23 points (13 goals).