The Washington Capitals needed a game like this.
Before another capacity crowd, the Capitals finally looked like, well, the Capitals, unleashing a 5-0 shutout on the unsuspecting Edmonton Oilers, winning their sixth straight game in the process. It's the first time since Jan. 14 the Caps have won by more than one goal.
Rookie Braden Holtby, making his tenth NHL start, blanked the worst-in-the-league Oilers on 22 shots. The quirky rookie, a fan favorite, ran his record to 6-2-2 for the Caps this season.
Alex Ovechkin scored twice, as did Eric Fehr, making his return to the ice after missing 22 games with an injured shoulder. Alexander Semin also scored, giving him goals in three straight games.
Washington's six-game run matches its longest of the season (Oct. 30-Nov. 11). The Capitals also have won three straight at home, their longest such streak since mid-November.
It was a night of milestones. In addition to Holtby's first NHL shutout, Ovechkin notched his 600th point on his first goal. The Great Eight passed Michal Pivonka on the team's all-time list to take sole possession of third in team history, behind Peter Bondra (825) and Mike Gartner (789).
Jason Arnott's assist on the play was his 900th career point, and defenseman Dennis Wideman's assist on Semin's goal was his 200th career point.
Washington went 2-for-5 on the power play, a good sign as the season winds down that maybe, just maybe, the Caps are pulling out of their team-wide scoring doldrums.
The win keeps the Caps (38-20-10, 86) just two points behind Philadelphia (who beat Edmonton Monday night) for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and two points ahead of Tampa Bay for first in the Southeast Division. The Lightning defeated Chicago Tuesday in a shootout to keep pace with the Caps.
Some people are never happy though. In the aftermath of the win, among the jubiliation of free wings there were also plenty of comments on Twitter and other message boards that this was "only the Oilers", the team with the fewest points in the league. But let's not make light of what happened at Verizon Center last night.
The Capitals soundly defeated a lesser opponent that find themselves in the middle of a road trip. They did it -- at home -- with dynamic scoring, success on the power play, stingy defense and solid goaltending. It's recipe that we've seen bits and pieces of this season. But rarely -- if ever -- have we seen the complete package.
Regardless of the opponent, the Oilers are still an NHL team, and nothing comes easy in this league.
The Caps are now 8-2 in their last ten games, and appear to be on a serious roll with 14 games left until the playoffs. There's room for improvement, but all the one-goal wins look conspicuously like "Playoff Hockey".
It's taken a while for the Caps to adjust to playing a more defensively-oriented game. Having now found success with that style, if they can add few of the elements that made them the highest scoring team in the league last season they could still fulfill the destiny that so many Caps fans, the owner, and the players themselves assumed they would when they reported for training camp in September.
And maybe even the doubters will enjoy it finally.
CAPS NEWS NETWORK THREE STARS
3. Eric Fehr. Welcome back Fehrsie. Two goals, giving this offense a boost it needed with Nick Backstrom sidelined.
2. Alex Ovechkin. Two goals, including a power play marker from the post. Sweet.
1. Braden Holtby. We have a rule around here: Shut out = First Star. It's a rule.
CAPS NOTES: Mike Green (head/ear) was placed on LTIR and is not eligible to return until March 22.
Nicklas Backstrom (hand) missed the contest, breaking his consecutive games played streak at 341.
Washington is 32-0-3 when scoring at least three goals.