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Caps cruise behind two-goal nights by Connor McMichael and Alex Ovechkin

Caps cruise behind two-goal nights by Connor McMichael and Alex Ovechkin

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

In recent weeks, the Washington Capitals have started to alter their offensive philosophy. It has taken time for the changes to take root, but their new mentality was on full display during a 6-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night at Capital One Arena.

The Capitals have scored six goals just twice this year — both times against the Devils. This time, center Connor McMichael scored two times for the first multigoal game of his career, captain Alex Ovechkin added two more and Charlie Lindgren stopped 37 shots as Washington cruised to a victory.

On Tuesday morning, Capitals Coach Spencer Carbery declined to go into detail on what the Capitals have tweaked, but what he was willing to say is that they are placing a higher emphasis on shot volume — not at the expense of shot quality but with the goal of finding a better balance between the two. Not surprisingly, that has led to more players going to the net. When they know the puck will get there, the theory is, they are more willing to get to the areas of the ice where the majority of the goals are scored.

Among Washington’s 10 goals in its past two games — including Saturday night’s 4-3 win at Montreal — seven have come from players who were in position to take advantage of an opportunity around the net. Those 10 goals represent a relative bonanza for a team that ranks 30th in the 32-team NHL in goals per game.

“It’s helping that we’re getting some results, so now it’s becoming a lot more consistent,” Carbery said. “They’re seeing, ‘I want to get rewarded, too, so I know where I need to go and I know what’s going to take place before I go there to have a lot of confidence that pucks are going to end up there.’ ”

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McMichael provided proof of concept with his opening tally just 39 seconds into Tuesday’s game. As defenseman Rasmus Sandin carried the puck up the ice, he was followed closely by McMichael and Aliaksei Protas. Devils goalie Nico Daws (20 saves) made the initial stop on Protas, but McMichael — who was crashing the net in search of a rebound — pounced on the loose puck to put Washington (25-21-8) ahead.

The Devils (28-23-4) evened the score late in the first period on a goal by Alexander Holtz, who was waiting on the doorstep and received a cross-zone pass from Simon Nemec that he redirected past Lindgren. Nemec’s flashy pass went through Capitals defenseman Joel Edmundson’s legs.

Nemec, a rookie defenseman whom the Devils drafted with the No. 2 pick in 2022, found himself on the wrong side of the highlight reel on McMichael’s second goal. In the second period, McMichael took the puck from the Devils’ Tomas Nosek at the blue line, deked past Nosek, deked past Nemec, faked a shot and then tucked the puck past a sprawling Daws for his 10th of the season.

As McMichael put it, “I’d probably say that was the nicest goal I’ve scored in the NHL.”

Though the Devils outshot the Capitals 17-7 in the second, Lindgren’s performance kept Washington ahead. On a penalty kill midway through the period, the Capitals were stuck in their defensive zone for nearly the full two minutes, and Lindgren made four saves in quick succession — to go with key blocks from Protas, winger Tom Wilson and defenseman John Carlson — to prevent New Jersey from tying the score.

“We were able to sort of hang on,” Carbery said. “But you could feel that if there was another 20 minutes that looked like that second period, that it was going to probably not end favorably.”

Carbery challenged his team to put the game away in the third period — Lindgren described it as a call to “put our foot on their neck” — and the Capitals responded with a four-goal outburst.

“When you’re sitting back and trying to protect a lead, I think it can get a little bit dangerous,” Lindgren said. “It’s nice to see our group not do that and actually just attack.”

Proof of the value of getting to the net arrived again early in the period, when center Dylan Strome scored his team-leading 21st goal. From the right faceoff circle, Ovechkin fed Strome as he skated toward Daws, and though Daws stopped his first shot, Strome sent the rebound past him as the netminder tried in vain to get back across the crease.

Ovechkin extended his point streak to nine games with the primary assist on Strome’s tally. He notched his first goal of the night at 8:44 to pad Washington’s lead, then added another with a back-post tap-in on the power play with just 33 seconds left. He has eight goals in his past eight games, 16 on the season and 838 in his career.

As if the Capitals needed any more proof that their new offensive mentality was paying dividends, Mike Sgarbossa scored Washington’s third goal from just outside the crease at 12:27. Sgarbossa wheeled around behind Daws and popped out to the front of the net unmarked, just in time to jam home a pass from Max Pacioretty and notch his first goal since Dec. 17, 2021.

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Washington entered Tuesday’s game four points behind the Devils in the Metropolitan Division, albeit with a game in hand. The Capitals’ odds of making the playoffs remain long, but wins such as Tuesday’s are what will be required if they’re going to have a chance.

“Right now, it feels like it’s playoff hockey,” Lindgren said. “Right now, we know how important the games are. It’s playoff hockey for us, and I thought we did a really good job tonight.”

Notes: Center Nic Dowd left the game late in the first period and was ruled out with an upper-body injury. Carbery said Dowd will be evaluated Wednesday. …

Defenseman Ethan Bear replaced Martin Fehervary (lower-body injury) in the lineup and skated 12:12. Playing on his off side, Trevor van Riemsdyk (23:19) took Fehervary’s spot on the top pairing with Carlson. Fehervary is week-to-week after being injured Saturday.

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