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Takeaways: Capitals Get Back To Identity With Statement Win Over Canes

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Capitals Canes

WASHINGTON, D.C. — After 40 days without a win at Capital One Arena, the Washington Capitals saw their style of hockey return to home ice in a big way.

Going into Thursday’s tilt, Washington knew it had a tall task at hand against the Carolina Hurricanes. They’re not only the top team in the Metropolitan Division, but they’re outstanding on defense and have the fewest goals against and best PK in the league. And with the Capitals in the second Wild Card and the Columbus Blue Jackets a bit too close for comfort, the team needed a big win — and they got it.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, Martin Fehervary, Alex Ovechkin and Dmitry Orlov scored, while Vitek Vanecek notched his third of the season en route to a convincing 4-0 win on Pride Night. It ended a six-game slide at home and a three-game losing skid.

“It was a struggling month, and we just want to turn the page and start over. Today was a huge game,” Ovechkin said postgame to ESPN. “Mo coming back, it kind of give us a breath. You can see the effort from everybody. I think today was a solid game — it started with Vitek and all the boys.”

Here are all the takeaways from the victory:

Kuznetsov, Ovechkin Spark The Capitals Power Play

The Capitals did an outstanding job of generating pressure at both ends of the ice, which in turn, helped them draw quite a few penalties — five to be exact. And ultimately, Washington capitalized against the best penalty kill in the league.

Evgeny Kuznetsov called his own number and sniped a quick shot past Frederik Andersen to make it 1-0 near the end of the first period on a 5-on-3. It was Kuznetsov’s 16th goal of the season, and he now has points in three of his last four games. The 29-year-old played a strong overall game, was aggressive at both ends and utilized his skating ability and vision to generate chances.

In the second period, T.J. Oshie and John Carlson set up Alex Ovechkin from the office for another PPG. It was Ovechkin’s 33rd goal of the season. He needs to average 33 goals each season over the duration of the five-year contract he inked over the summer to catch Wayne Gretzky. Ovechkin hit that mark in just 54 games. The Capitals captain also needs just three more goals to pass Jaromir Jagr for third on the NHL’s all-time goals list.

Vanecek Shuts The Door, Defense Solid

Not only did the forecheck generate a lot of pressure, but Washington was able to shut down Carolina. A huge reason for that was Vitek Vanecek’s play between the pipes.

The Czech netminder has picked up right where he left off following his return from injury. Vanecek was tracking the puck, reading plays and coming up with timely saves. He made the right calls, managed the puck well and also used poke checks and big pad stops to shut Carolina. He ended up stopping all 36 shots against, including 17 in the third period.

It marked the 26-year-old’s third shutout of the season and his second in his last four games overall. He is now 11-7-5 with a .920 save percentage and 2.26 GAA through 26 games.

“It feels good… just trying to help the team,” Vanecek said. “They helped me a lot today, blocking shots. We battled hard today, and it was a good game.”

Beyond Vanecek, the defense was stellar and able to limit Carolina’s scoring opportunities, blocking shots and playing well in the neutral zone, while making smart plays and applying pressure. Martin Fehervary had a strong game in his own right as he rebounded from a recent tough stretch. The rookie blueliner was physical, skating well and keeping the puck out of trouble, and also joined in the rush and got a goal to boot.

The Capitals were also perfect on the PK, shutting down all three Canes power-play opportunities. Carolina has the fifth-best PP in the NHL, so for Washington to shut that down without their top penalty killer in Carl Hagelin was notable.

“First, it’s really tough without Carl. Every guy is feeling it in there. He’s such an important part of our team in the room and on the ice, so we miss him. You take a guy like that out of the lineup and you’re going to feel it,” head coach Peter Laviolette noted. “It was nice to see the penalty kill step up the way it did against a real good power play. I thought we were really good through the neutral zone. As they tried to set up, I thought we had good pressure. We made good reads, we blocked a lot of shots out there tonight. So all the things that you need to do for a penalty kill to be successful, I thought it was really good.”

Mantha Makes Return For Capitals

Anthony Mantha finally got back in the lineup for his first game since Nov. 4, and he looked solid on the forward lines. The 26-year-old was fast, reading the ice and able to keep up and get back in the swing of things while skating on the top-6.

Mantha ultimately finished the night with one shot, one hit, one takeaway and one block through 16:17 minutes while skating on the second line with Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. He also logged time on the second power play.

“Mentally felt awesome. It was a long four months, little over four months, so just getting ready for a game felt good,” Mantha said. “Then stepping on the ice for warmups, you see the fans for the first time in quite some time. It was awesome. Physically, it went pretty well. Obviously a little bit of fatigue at the end there, but [it’s] to be expected. Thought the game in general went pretty good, too.”

Sammi’s Top Shelf Takes

  • Garnet Hathaway picked up an assist on Fehervary’s goal, giving him 20 points on the season. That’s a new career-high for the hard-hitting winger.
  • Dmitry Orlov picked up his eighth goal of the season in the McNugget Minute to end regulation. That matched his total from last season.
  • Ovechkin led Washington with four shots.
  • Tom Wilson brought the physicality, leading the team with four hits.
  • Daniel Sprong logged 8:36 minutes in his return after four games as a healthy scratch.
  • Stick taps to John Carlson, who used Pride Tape in-game. Players also used the tape in warm-ups.
  • Speaking of Carlson, he picked up a helper and has four points in his last two games.
  • Conor Sheary picked up two assists and looked good filling in for Hagelin on that fourth line with Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway.
  • T.J. Oshie picked up a helper and has points in two of his last three outings.
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