HOCKEY IS FINALLY BACK Y’ALL. After over 4 long months, the Caps have finally played a game against a real opponent. While it was just an exhibition game, there was a lot to unpack in their first game since the pandemic shut down the entire sports world.
With Samsonov unable to make the trip with the team due to injury, the question immediately became whether Holtby would be backed up by Vanecek or by Copley. For today at least, the decision was made to go with the rookie, Vanecek.
Additionally, since it was an exhibition, each team was allowed two extra skaters. For the Caps, that was Boyd and Gudas.
The addition of Boyd is important as he will almost certainly be taking Lars Eller’s spot when he (understandably) leaves the bubble for the birth of his child. With that in mind, let’s get into the actual game.
An eventful first period opened with an early Orlov tripping penalty that gave the Caps the opportunity to showcase their Top Ten penalty killing unit. Keep in mind, statistics indicate that Penalty Killing is going to be at an all time high in this restart – and this will be a theme not only during the game today, but as the tournament goes on.
Led by Siegenthaler and Jensen’s disruptive play on the back end, the Caps were able to kill off the early disadvantage. Shortly thereafter, the Caps went to the powerplay leading to this Ovi goal, the first one we’ve seen in what feels like forever.
This kicked off a furious 2:07 stretch which featured two goals, one for each team. Ovechkin got involved in the second goal with an absolutely sick pass across the center of the ice to Kuznetsov.
After that, things calmed down a bit as the teams dug in and started playing more defensively.
The Caps showcased their gritty play throughout the afternoon, out hitting the Hurricanes 24-18, blocking 9 shots, and killing 4 of 5 penalties, with their only failure to kill a penalty coming on a 1:48 long 5-on-3. This was especially on display in the second period, during which they took 59% of shot attempts at 5v5 and held Carolina to just 7 shot attempts (via Natural Stat Trick). The few shots that did get through were stopped by Holtby who, aside from the hiccup in the first, stopped every single one of them.
The only goal of the period was scored by the captain himself (his second of the game). Of course, 90% of the work was done by a guy David Pastrnak dubbed the best goal scorer in the league, Tom Wilson.
The Caps big rig out muscled Jacob Slavin and found Ovechkin right in front for the easy one-time goal.
The star of the third period was the youngster Vitek Vanecek who took over after Holtby played the first 40 minutes. Vanecek played exceptionally well, stopping 13 of 14 shots, allowing only a 5-on-3 goal, where he was essentially screened by Radko Gudas. He made several pretty tough saves, keeping the Caps’ one goal lead intact through the end of the game.
There was some stressful news for Caps fans as Norris Candidate John Carlson was missing from the bench after taking an awkward spill into the boards. While we will hopefully have more information later on, it appears that his absence was largely precautionary.
All in all, it was a solid win for the Caps. They did the little gritty things that need to be done in the playoffs and were backed up by solid goaltending. While they had a few hiccups in the face-off dot and the occasional turnover, they were able to overcome it with the scoring from their Top Line. And to that we say: