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NHL: Winter Classic-Chicago Blackhawks at Washington Capitals

Capitals’ Barry Trotz, courtesy of Geoff Burke- USA Today Sports

Barry Trot recorded his 700th career win behind the bench and Kevin Shattenkirk made his Washington debut, as the Capitals beat an injury-plagued Rangers team 4-1. Despite a number of injuries and a reshuffled lineup, the Rangers took the early 1-0 lead, but Washington’s tenacity saw them score 4 unanswered goals, en route to victory. The Rangers had nothing offensively, going 0-4 on the power-play, and had issues matching the Caps’ increasingly physical play.

Quick Stats:

First Period Scoring-

  • 5:08 NEW YORK GOAL Brady Skjei; Assists: Adam Clendening, J.T. Miller

Second Period Scoring-

  • 7:28 WASHINGTON GOAL Marcus Johansson; Assists: Dmitry Orlov, Evgeny Kuznetsov
  • 16:26 WASHINGTON GOAL Brett Connolly; Assists: Matt Niskanen, Lars Eller

Third Period Scoring-

  • 1:15 WASHINGTON GOAL Marcus Johansson; Assists: Evgeny Kuznetsov, Matt Niskanen
  • 17:57 WASHINGTON GOAL (PP) Nicklas Backstrom; Assists: Marcus Johansson, John Carlson

Three Stars-

  1. Marcus Johansson, WAS: 2 Goals, 1 Assist
  2. Evgeny Kuznetsov, WAS: 2 Assists
  3. Matt Niskanen, WAS: 2 Assists

 

Impressions:

  • Injuries and a decline in production forced Alain Vigneault to shuffle his lineup. Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein were already ruled out pregame and Mika Zibanejad was suddenly scratched after tonight’s warmups, as he was still feeling the effects of the hit he took to his arm late in the Columbus game. AV went with Stepan centering Nash and Fast, Hayes with Kreider and Zuccarello, Miller with Vesey and Grabner, and a 4th line of Lindberg in between Pirri and Peumpel. Steven Kampfer also slotted into the third defensive pairing with Adam Clendening. Initially, the changes seemed to take, as the Rangers enjoyed a great first period in which they outshot the Caps. The Rangers’ lone goal was a beauty, with Clendening starting a break out and linking up with JT Miller to eventually feed Brady Skjei for the tap-in at the doorstep. From the second period onward, however, the offense disappeared. I think the deflating moment for the Blueshirts was the greasy goal scored in front by Michael Grabner that was called off after video review determined that the play was barely offside. I was obviously concerned with how stagnant the team was, but I was even more put off by the fact that AV didn’t tinker with the lines after the team seemed to fall flat. Yes, Zibanejad’s absence complicated matters, but he could have put Miller back with Hayes and Grabner or Stepan with Nash and Zuccarello. These are lines that have proven to work, so why not revert back to them?
  • Special teams was a disaster again tonight. The Rangers went 0-4 on the power-play and Rangers’ announcer Sam Rosen mentioned that this was the teams 10th game out of 11 without a power-play goal. This just isn’t going to cut it. Against a good team like the Caps, and with Hank actually playing really well despite what his stat line says, specials teams play is what makes the difference. Yes, the nullified Grabner goal hurt a lot, but a conversion on even one of these man advantages totally changes the complexion of the game. The team’s PK unit also broke again tonight, although it was due to a horribly unlucky deflection of Brady Skjei’s stick that allows Nick Backstrom to find the back of the net.
  • The Rangers suffered a few defensive breakdowns and were way too soft through the neutral zone. It seemed like the Caps’ goals all came from defensive zone breakouts in which they got through the neutral zone quickly and went straight to Hank’s net. There were never really any sequences of intense end zone pressure where Ovi and company would pepper our net with shots. Each of the Caps’ first three goals exemplified this. The first goal was the result of poor rebound control and our D allowing Marcus Johansson to capitalize. The second goal was can be chalked up to passive play by Brady Skjei. He can’t let Brett Connolly establish himself in front of our net and sweep the puck in past Hank. And finally, Johansson’s second goal saw Washington transition quickly through the neutral zone and ending with Backstrom feeding Johansson in front of goal as Steven Kampfer was caught puck-watching. I’m hopeful newly acquired Brendan Smith and the potential return of Kevin Klein can help to fix these mistakes for our next game against the Bruins.
  • Physical play was a huge subplot to this game. I’ve been concerned about the Rangers’ lack of physicality ever since they were grinded to a pulp in 5 games by the LA Kings in the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals. This team just doesn’t that element to their game. It cost them the chance at a Cup a few seasons ago and its one of the reasons why they aren’t a legitimate contender now. I watched as the likes of Tom Wilson, Alexander Ovechkin and Daniel Winnik threw the body around with authority. In the first period alone, both Derek Stepan and Chris Krieder had to be taken out of the game and evaluated after taking big hits, with Kreider missing nearly 10 minutes of action. Later in the game, Ovechkin jammed Jesper Fast’s shoulder into the boards.  Sure, Clendening admirably fought Daniel Winnik after taking exception to a hit, Rick Nash tried to assert himself physically and cause a couple dust-ups, and Ryan McDonagh took a penalty for taking Tom Wilson down to the ice but this wasn’t productive physical play. This is exactly why I wanted the Rangers to trade for Brian Boyle. They have no grit whatsoever.
  • There were a couple milestones reached for the Capitals tonight. Head Coach Barry Trotz recorded his 700th career win, becoming only the 6th man to achieve that feat. Trotz has been in the league for many years and is regarded as a great coach and a great man, so congratulations to him. And of course, Kevin Shattenkirk made his Washington debut tonight, and registered a relatively quiet game. I have no ill will to Shattenkirk, but I have to say it was pretty sweet taking the lead right away with him on the ice. 
  • Injuries are suddenly an issue again. Zibanejad had to be scratched after warmups, Krieder missed nearly 10 minutes of action with a lower-body injury and was ineffective in his return, and Jesper Fast is having his shoulder evaluated by the team’s medical staff. With 2 top-6 defensemen already out, the Rangers suddenly find themselves in danger of being very unhealthy with only 19 games left before the postseason.