Red-hot Capitals put up 5-spot again, shut out Hurricanes
WASHINGTON (AP) Capitals coach Barry Trotz thinks his team is tough for anyone to handle when all its lines are clicking.
It’s a pretty easy case to make right now.
Washington got contributions up and down the lineup and put up another 5-spot in thumping the Carolina Hurricanes 5-0 on Tuesday night for their fourth consecutive win. Washington has won 10 in a row at home and scored five-plus goals in the last nine of those games, with the offense coming from just about everywhere.
Alex Ovechkin scored his 26th goal of the season, Brett Connolly his 11th, Lars Eller his 10th, Evgeny Kuznetsov his 12th and Marcus Johansson his 17th as the Capitals gave Carolina goaltender Eddie Lack a rude welcome back in his first start since Nov. 6. Washington became the first team to put up five-plus goals in nine straight home games since the Calgary Flames in 1990.
Braden Holtby made 23 saves to give Washington back-to-back shutouts, keeping the Caps riding high atop the NHL.
”We’ve got it going right now,” said defenseman Matt Niskanen, who had two assists. ”Guys are feeling it. Scoring up and down the lineup. Goalies have been good. Lot of things to like.”
What’s not to like? Ovechkin is four goals back of Sidney Crosby for the league lead, and Holtby’s seventh shutout tied him with Peter Budaj of the Kings for the most this season. Philipp Grubauer needed 38 saves to shut out Los Angeles on Sunday, but team defense has been sharp of late, too.
The power play scored twice and the penalty kill was a perfect 3 for 3 Tuesday as a lazy, imperfect showing looked like another dominant blowout on the score sheet.
”We didn’t play maybe like it says on the sheet,” Johansson said. ”Sometimes you’re not on your game and you have to find ways to win anyways, and I think we did that.”
The Capitals reached 80 points in their 55th game and have some breathing room atop the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference with their bye week coming up in a few days. Players are already on guard about not getting too confident or comfortable.
Carolina has no such option with its winning streak over at three. Last in the Metropolitan, the Hurricanes are still just four points back of the second wild-card spot.
”Well, 3-1 in our last four, so I feel pretty good,” coach Bill Peters said. ”I don’t feel good right now, but big picture, five-game segment, we’ve got a chance to get eight points out of 10 and that’s the way I look at it.”
Lack is trying to salvage a season derailed by concussion problems but allowed five goals on 28 shots in his first game in three months. Peters was glad to get the Swedish goalie into a game, saying ”he’s put a lot of work in in order to get to this point.”
Work is ongoing for the Capitals, whose only real concern right now is playing some of their best hockey long before the playoffs begin. But one of the main things that cost them in a second-round playoff loss to the Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins last spring was a lack of secondary scoring, and they have that now.
”We’re getting scoring from all lines,” Trotz said. ”That’s good for us. It makes us a hard team to play.”
NOTES: Ovechkin has 27 points in his past 23 games. … Connolly, who signed a one-year deal for $850,000 in the offseason, has six points in his past four games and is one goal shy of his career high. … Washington is 31-4-4 when scoring first and has put up the first goal in 16 of its past 18 games. … Hurricanes F Jeff Skinner was in the lineup after not practicing Monday.
Hurricanes: Travel to Dallas to face the Stars on Saturday in a matchup of teams looking to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Capitals: Look to make it five in a row when they host the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday.
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .