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Posted at 12:05 AM ET, 01/23/2011

Caps conclude road trip with a win, 4-1, over the Maple Leafs

By Katie Carrera

This time the Toronto Maple Leafs wouldn't force extra time with a late comeback against the Washington Capitals, who earned a big 4-1 victory at Air Canada Centre. They head home having claimed five of six available points on this week-long road trip.

There were a few hiccups, some miscues early and weathering-the-storm-type play after the Maple Leafs scored in the third period to make it 2-1, but for the most part the Capitals were able to show everyone watching "Hockey Night in Canada" how stingy they can be these days. It definitely didn't hurt, either, that Alex Ovechkin played well in all three zones and notched his first hat trick of the season or that Braden Holtby had a stellar effort in his second-straight start with 35 saves.

Like he did against the Islanders, Holtby received the support of his teammates, who blocked 27 shots against the Maple Leafs.

"That's what we've been doing and it's been fairly successful," Coach Bruce Boudreau said of the manner in which the Capitals won in his hometown. "It might not be the most exciting brand of hockey in the world but everybody seems to like winning hockey these days. That's what we have to do."

It didn't take long to know that Holtby was tuned in for this contest, particularly with the calmness he displayed when making a save on Tyler Bozak during a two-on-one for the Maple Leafs after Mikhail Grabovski came out of the penalty box about six minutes into the game. Saves like that can rub off on teammates.

"He was great," Ovechkin said of Holtby. "He stood up and he made some big saves and give team energy. He's going to be great in the future."

Said Holtby: "You can usually tell before the game if you're feeling right or not and to get a save off the start like that, it definitely brings the momentum in your favor. Plays like that can go either way. They're a matter of inches and luckily tonight it hit the top of my pad and the game kind of changed from there."

Once again the Capitals were able to get off to a strong start and when Ovechkin tipped Jeff Schultz's shot from the point past Jean-Sebastien Giguere to make it 1-0, Boudreau had a good feeling.

"You knew that eventually he was going to break out," Boudreau said. "I thought, 'Okay, he gets that goal early, he's going to be going.' And I thought he was as good as he's been all year."

--To go along with his first hat trick of 2010-11, Alex Ovechkin recorded his first multi-goal game since Oct. 30 in Calgary when he potted two goals. It must be the "Hockey Night in Canada" spotlight. His goal in the first period was just his second in the opening frame this season.

In addition to taking eight shots in his 20:52 of ice time, Ovechkin was credited with two hits and three blocked shots.

--Matt Hendricks scored one of the prettiest goals of the season as he turned Giguere inside out on a breakaway to give the Capitals a 3-1 cushion in the third period. While Hendricks was pleased to get the highlight-reel goal, he was happier with the win. More on Hendricks' tally tomorrow too.

"Five out of six points is very good, we lost that one point in Philly there but we battled. We played hard, we stuck to the system for the most part and we were successful," Hendricks said. "Braden Holtby played great for us, made some huge saves again tonight and it feels good to be on a little roll."

By Katie Carrera  | January 23, 2011; 12:05 AM ET
Categories:  Alex Ovechkin, Braden Holtby, Bruce Boudreau, Toronto Maple Leafs  
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Next: Capitals provide Braden Holtby with plenty of support against Toronto


is anyone else impressed with the D/goatlending since the end of the 'streak'?
16g, 1.78gaa, .942sv%

Posted by: Capt_Kirk_in_AZ | January 23, 2011 12:39 AM | Report abuse

make that 15 games

Posted by: Capt_Kirk_in_AZ | January 23, 2011 1:03 AM | Report abuse

ill be on the record for saying this system is not a good fit for the Caps. With this system, the Caps will no longer be a dominant team. Lets see how this system does against more of the top teams before pronouncing it as a good fit.

Old system with the new PK and Caps will go much further.

Posted by: theAnswerIs42 | January 23, 2011 2:08 AM | Report abuse

A must see: The last 5 minutes of the NHL Network feed with Toronto's announcers.

After saying (at the end of the 2nd period) that the Caps defense in front of Holtby was "neat and tidy," they gave VERY high praise for the Caps' new, high quality defense-to-win play. Guaranteed to give any Caps fan a feeling of pride (and perhaps some confidence that a good playoff season is in store for the team).

Posted by: OccasionalCritic | January 23, 2011 2:10 AM | Report abuse

The Caps lost to Montreal because they couldnt score enough. They lost to the Pens the year before because of their poor PK.

How does this new system address this?

Posted by: theAnswerIs42 | January 23, 2011 2:34 AM | Report abuse

LOL yeah, actually you are the one who should take the blinders off. The Devils have a different coach now, they're not coached by the clueless John MacLean anymore.

So that means the 5-0 loss was a lot WORSE than the Philly loss today.

Posted by: joek443 | January 22, 2011 10:58 PM | Report abuse

Sorry joek443 - YOU are the one that needs to take the blinders off. It's the same John Maclean team they smoked at home 7-2 and 5-1 at home as well. So they had a hiccup on the road. They get another chance in March albeit with a new coach. Don't knock this team for one bad road loss. Of course road wins and losses means nothing come playoff time so trying to even make a comparison is clueless. Look I'm not trying to make a battle with you. We both care about the Caps alot but give credit where credit is due rather than nitpicking all the time. Believe me it's something I've done in the past. I choose to see the positive but I don't make myself oblivious to where this team can improve either.


Posted by: Jonathan6 | January 23, 2011 2:46 AM | Report abuse

Sorry folks aren't satisfied. 5 of 6 points on the road. Something like 26 blocked shots tonight. PK was perfect -- again. And I'd agree that the Caps D was neat and tidy.

This was not the greatest offensive display, but it was four goals and a fine defensive effort. Once our shooters get back in the groove there will be more. Sorry they're not scoring at will for y'all but they've got time yet to peak at the right time of season.

Posted by: Justafan | January 23, 2011 2:46 AM | Report abuse

@Justafan - Amen :)

Posted by: Jonathan6 | January 23, 2011 2:48 AM | Report abuse

ice breakers goal shakers, bro.

Posted by: Justafan | January 23, 2011 2:51 AM | Report abuse

I just got finished watching the game off the DVR. I wasn't hiding.

That may have been the best game I've ever seen Ovechkin play and I probably would've said that if he didn't record a point and we lost.

I pumped my fist for the first time this season after about the 4th excellent defensive play he made. He looked like a total hockey player tonight. And he even resembled a smart player. He worked harder along the boards and was in position pretty much all night. He made at least 3 Selke-caliber plays in the d-zone.

If that is a sign of things to come, I'm a believer in the guy and I'll gladly eat crow if it becomes even a semi-consistent thing.

That was an incredibly enjoyable game all-around.

Hendricks was awesome.

Holtby was stellar.

Alzner and most of the defensive corps were excellent.

Ovechkin with possibly the best all-around game of his entire career.

Team defense, goaltending and getting dirty in front of both nets... for the win.

Posted by: tmac2yao | January 23, 2011 6:52 AM | Report abuse

And it's kind of sad that it took a goal-scoring drought, a losing streak and multiple playoff failures to realize that it has to be defense first. All of those things contributed in one way or another to a greater focus on defense, PKing, good positioning in all 3 zones, etc...

That high-risk, fly the zone, run 'n gun crap is exciting and all it probably works well at the AHL level where the level of talent doesn't allow it to catch up to you as much but it's flawed hockey and it's not winning hockey.

Ideally, you learn to play defense first and are also a great offensive team. Let's just hope that Boudreau doesn't try to go pond hockey on us again if and when we get healthy and/or goal-scoring becomes less of an issue. I'm still skeptical whether this coaching staff can keep this team in line defensively going forward but time will tell.

Again though, the leader of this team played a complete hockey game last night. That was a joy to see.

Posted by: tmac2yao | January 23, 2011 7:00 AM | Report abuse

Great game. It's nice to see Ovie look like the best player on the ice....rather than the worst.

Posted by: C-way | January 23, 2011 7:09 AM | Report abuse

Can somebody help me understand the new defensive system? I'm not a sophisticated enough observer of the game to precisely determine what the Caps are doing differently. I understand basic stuff like "they are blocking more shots" -- I get that. But at a deeper level, have they changed their positioning in front of the net? Are they doing something different in the neutral zone? Is one of the forwards hanging back? If somebody could me become a smarter hockey watcher, I would much appreciate it!

Posted by: CapsLust | January 23, 2011 7:13 AM | Report abuse

The new defensive system is predicated in standing up at the blue line, not attempting too many high-risk stretch passes, clogging up the middle in the neutral zone to make passing more difficult (1-3-1), having the d hang back more in the offensive zone, trying to establish the cycle with dump and chase and parking a forward in front of the goalie or at the post, not cherry-picking in the neutral zone, and clogging up their own crease.

Posted by: JIMALLCAPS2 | January 23, 2011 8:15 AM | Report abuse

Darth Snow the super GM has effectively taken Nabby out of the NHL for the season it seems:
What a jerk! Nabby is refusing to show up on the Isle (no surprise), and the Isles don't seem to want to place Nabby back on waivers. Poor Nabby stuck in waiver limbo. And what effect will trying to nab Nabby off waivers have on the team? Probably not good. For the folks who hate on GMGM, count your blessings we don't have Darth Snow.

Posted by: JIMALLCAPS2 | January 23, 2011 8:28 AM | Report abuse

@ CapsLust:

I hate to mix my sports, but the Caps' change is akin to a basketball team changing from being a full-court press/fast break team intent on creating turnovers and quick scoring chances to a half-court offensive & defensive team intent on gaining control of the ball and working for shots.

Transitioning back to hockey, the Caps, after they lose the puck in their offensive end, are no longer focusing on trying to get the puck right back by backchecking hard and trying to jump into the passing lanes, but instead are trying to get back on defense to the neutral zone, where they try to slow up the opponents' attack and hopefully generate turnovers there -- but at the very least will try to make their opponent carry the puck through five defenders in order to start their offense.

Likewise, on offense, the Caps are relying more on dump-chase-and cycle in order to create offensive chances close to the goal, instead of run-and-gun hockey in which they hope to get pucks through from the points and the backs of the circles.

The Caps' former style of play *can* win games and even titles (and BB has indicated that it remains in the Caps' "toolkit"). But it's a high-risk, high-reward style of play -- if a Cap misreads the play momentarily, or is slightly out of position, or if the puck takes an unlucky bounce or a Caps skater slips down, the opponent can get a good rush up the ice.

The new defensive system has more redundancies -- with Caps back on defense and attempting to slow down opposing skaters in the neutral zone instead of backchecking and trying to create turnovers in the Caps' offensive zone. And the Caps' rededication to the cycle game is intended to wear down opponents and continually harrass the opposing goaltender.

The trap won't generate the firewagon brand of hockey (that, let's admit it, we love to watch), but it makes life tougher on opponents and, coupled with the Caps' tremendous offensive talent, should make the Caps tough to beat 4 times in a 7-game series once it becomes more ingrained. And the firewagon will still roll out every once in awhile...

Posted by: tfirey | January 23, 2011 8:54 AM | Report abuse

How can a team win the Cup with a second line center who is a minus 5 with 6 goals and 5 assists this far into the season?

Posted by: dull | January 23, 2011 9:09 AM | Report abuse

For the folks who hate on GMGM, count your blessings we don't have Darth Snow.

Posted by: JIMALLCAPS2 | January 23, 2011 8:28 AM |


Amenn to that! Sucks for Nabby and the Isles both, but I can't blame him for not wanting to play on what is arguably the worst team in the NHL at this moment.

Also agree that this was one of OV's best all-around games in recent memory: Not only a force on O but solid on D as well. Blocking that Phaneuf slapper had to be painful, though.


Next we get revenge against the fruity Rangers...

Posted by: Rhino40 | January 23, 2011 9:40 AM | Report abuse

on a scale from 1 to 10, how misinformed were the commentators last night? i can't even remember all the erroneous things they spouted about the caps. attention, people

Posted by: mcintire_will | January 23, 2011 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Again how does this new defensive system solve what went wrong against the Habs last year, and the Pens the year before that?

How will this new system generate more scoring chances against a "hot" goalie?

Does this new system explain for the drop off in the offensive weapons of the Caps? If so, then can they adapt and if not is it worth not utilizing them in their best way?

Does the new system explain for 1 goal less a game for the Caps and 1/4 point less scored against? If so, is this a good trade off?

Does the new system affect the Power Play?

Posted by: theAnswerIs42 | January 23, 2011 11:21 AM | Report abuse

"The Caps lost to Montreal because they couldnt score enough. They lost to the Pens the year before because of their poor PK."


Again how does this new defensive system solve what went wrong against the Habs last year, and the Pens the year before that?


Concerning scoring, the Caps' problems against Montreal were the product of (1) getting behind early because of turnovers and odd-man rushes that resulted in Montreal goals, and and then (2) the Caps, in catch-up mode, taking low-quality shots against Montreal's "prevent" defense.

The Caps' new approach is intended to lessen odd-man rushes by the opposition and generate higher-quality shots off the cycle and "dirty" goals for the Caps-- more in keeping with playoff-style hockey. This has been much-discussed on CI and elsewhere.

Concerning the PK, the Caps' adoption of a more aggressive/pressure strategy, and the resulting improvement in penalty kill percentage (79.8% in 08-09, 74.% in 09-10, and 86.3%/2nd in the NHL this year) have been discussed SO OFTEN that I can't understand why you would ask this question (twice).

Questions can be raised about whether these changes ultimately suit the Caps' talent, but I don't see how you can ask what the Caps are trying to do here. Lots of ink has been spilt and pixels generated on that...

Posted by: tfirey | January 23, 2011 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Look, the Caps last two wins are against teams down in the standings, that's a fact. The other fact is the Capitals are keeping their GA down and Ovi and Backs are getting their scoring touch back. Ovi has points in his last nine games or so and I'm not sure how many Backs has banked lately. They are mostly assists for Backs, but his confidence with the puck is starting to show. Think about this. Ovi and Backs have gone through arguably the worst scoring droughts of their careers and Ovi currently sits 9th in scoring and Backs at 14th. These last 30+ games should be interesting. Semin will probably be back the 1st game after the All-Star break as well as Brads. Things are looking up.

Posted by: fanohock1 | January 24, 2011 8:55 AM | Report abuse


Im going to have to disagree with you on the reason the Caps lost to the Habs. True there were a few odd man rushes that resulted in goals. There was a definite lack of a good forecheck on a smaller team and the lack of crowding the net has been covered extensively. Some also pointed out to a lack of grit on the Caps.

The last 3 games of the series, the Caps scored ONE GOAL! ONE! Thats not getting job done offensively.

Did I really ask about the PK twice? I didnt ask about it once. Reading is fundamental ... RIF!

Posted by: theAnswerIs42 | January 24, 2011 11:27 AM | Report abuse

PS for your education, here are the scores of the series...

Game 1: Canadiens 3, Capitals 2 (OT)
Recap | Box Score

Game 2: Capitals 6, Canadiens 5 (OT)
Recap | Box Score

Game 3: Capitals 5, Canadiens 1
Recap | Box Score

Game 4: Capitals 6, Canadiens 3
Recap | Box Score

Game 5: Canadiens 2, Capitals 1
Recap | Box Score

Game 6: Canadiens 4, Capitals 1
Recap | Box Score

Game 7: Canadiens 2, Capitals 1
Recap | Box Score

Only game 6 and 2 did the Capitals defense not get the job done.

Posted by: theAnswerIs42 | January 24, 2011 11:29 AM | Report abuse

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