Capitals weekly roundup: Ending the week strong

By Zach Rice

*This column does not include Washington’s 5–3 loss to Edmonton on Wednesday night*

It’s safe to say the Caps are struggling. After dropping eight of their last thirteen, Washington is fourth in the Metropolitan, the lowest they’ve been all season. Thankfully, two overtime victories this week salvaged what could’ve been one of the worst stretches of Caps hockey in recent memory. 

The Caps started the week off on the right foot with a win over the Winnipeg Jets, who’ve faced countless interruptions thanks to COVID. The Caps fell down 2–0 early, but goaltender Vitek Vanecek played fantastically, and the Caps scored three consecutive goals to take the lead. However, in true Caps fashion, they gave up a goal to the empty-netted Jets to send the game to OT. Just 26 seconds into overtime, a breath-taking play by Evgeny Kuznetsov set up Tom Wilson, who cashed in his own rebound to give the Caps the win.

The next game against the Bruins was…traumatizing. Washington got physically destroyed, as the B’s landed 36 hits on the Caps. In the back and forth battle, the Caps squared the game up at three goals apiece with under ten minutes left in the third. All signs were pointing towards overtime until Nic Dowd tripped Bruins defenseman Derek Forbert. With 45 seconds left in the game, a Boston power play goal sealed the deal for the Bruins.

Washington was able to rebound against the underwhelming Senators, even though it took overtime to do so. After falling down 2–0 in the second period, the Caps were in desperate need of a third period rally. Two goals by Ovi helped send the game to OT along with a ten save, scoreless third period for Vitek Vanecek. Nicklas Backstrom came to the rescue in OT by beating Senators goalie Matt Murray with a sweet backhand.

After what seemed like a momentum-changing win, the Golden Knights humbled and shut out the Caps, thanks to Vegas goaltender Robin Lehner. Lehner put up a remarkable 34 saves in what was one of his most impressive performances this season. Despite Vanecek’s excellent 28 saves on 29 shots, he was handed an undeserved loss. 

The next game saw the Caps get off to a poor start at home yet again. The Sharks had a 2–0 lead heading into the third period, so the Caps were forced to try to mount another treacherous comeback. 14 seconds into the third, Daniel Sprong cut the lead in half. The Caps were building momentum and were on the verge of tying up the game, until a goal by Jonathan Dallen gave the Sharks a two goal lead. An empty netter put an end to a dreadful homestand.

Unlike the Commanders, the Caps were dominant in Dallas. Stellar play from the centers led to five goals piled up against former Caps goalie Braden Holtby. A 29 save shutout from Vitek Vanecek backed up the offensive outburst as the Caps rebounded with the strong road win.

In the third meeting of the season against the rival Penguins, the Caps emerged victorious in an overtime thriller. After a high-stick to the chest ended the night for Vitek Vanecek six minutes into the game, Ilya Sasonov came in and took over. Sammy saved 43 of the 45 shots that he faced, and the game headed to OT as a result of a scoreless third period. With just 43 seconds left in overtime, Orlov scored his second goal of the game to give the Caps the win and the 2-1 season series lead. 

Here are three takeaways from an unhinging week of Caps hockey:

Alex Ovechkin should be the frontrunner for the Hart Trophy

At 36 years of age, Ovechkin is second in the NHL in points and tied for second in goals. Since last season, Ovi has erased the false narrative that he is old and washed— yes people were calling him washed after last year’s playoffs —by having a season that is reminiscent of his 112 point season as a 22-year old, in which he became the second youngest MVP ever. If Ovechkin plays at this pace the rest of the season, he should become the oldest Hart Trophy winner ever. 

Is it time for a Marc Andre-Fleury trade?

Every week is another week where everything could change at the goaltender position for the Caps. Right now, it seems like the right time for the Caps to trade for a veteran goalie, and recent reports from NBC and other sites suggest that Marc Andre-Fleury could become a Washington Capital soon. The disappointing Chicago Blackhawks likely won’t be in the playoffs this season (honestly, considering how wide open the Wild Card in the West is, anything is possible unless you’re Seattle or Arizona), and Fleury really provided them with nothing. The Caps acquiring Fleury would be a perfect move to ring-chase. With the lowliness of the Blackhawks and the uselessness of an aged goalie, it shouldn’t be difficult to make ends meet with Chicago.

Silver linings from the Vegas loss

The 1–0 loss to the Las Vegas Golden Knights was the first time the Caps were shutout this season. Fortunately, the level of play from the Caps wasn’t the problem. 34 shots were fired at Robin Lehner, who was a brick wall in net. Another positive from the loss was Vanecek played very well, and thankfully, the Caps were able to bounce back with some nine combined against the Stars and Penguins.

 Hot Take: The Caps are a goalie away from being contenders

Even though the Caps have been struggling at much more than just the goalie position, a goalie and getting hot at the right time is all they need to become contenders. The lack of playoff experience and inconsistent performances by Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek won’t get the job done. Fleury, who has won three Stanley Cups, is exactly what it takes for the Caps to get to the next level.