For the last 20 games prior to this evening, the Caps had not been much of a threat when given a power-play opportunity. Their conversion rate was a measly 9.7 in those outings, equating to a seven-week long slumber. Tonight the man-up group awakened in a huge way, providing all four goals in a 4-2 triumph over Toronto.
Sure, I was excited by the power-play performance, but I was also happily impressed by the way the Caps skated against the Maple Leafs. Three weeks ago at Air Canada Center, the Leafs raced by the Caps repeatedly, showing a large advantage in overall team speed. This time around, the Caps did a much better job of stepping in skating lanes early and not allowing the Leafs to get their flow game in a groove.
Dennis Wideman had a whale of a night. As I type this post-game report he is still being credited with his first career hat trick, although he believes his last goal clicked off of Brooks Laich. The NHL offices will review the goal and make the final decision. Either way, Wideman had a hand in all four goals tonight, and a hot hand it was!
The Caps jumped to the lead with Toronto rookie defenseman Jake Gardiner in the penalty box in the first period. Mike Knuble was spinning to his forehand in front of James Reimer and his shot attempt was deflected, turning out to be a perfect pass to Wideman, who zipped a snapshot past Leaf goalie James Reimer on the glove side.
Wideman would earn more thunderous applause from the Verizon Center faithful when he blasted home his second of the night in the early stages of the 2nd period. Reimer had no chance to stop this slapshot from the mid-point because of the tandem-screen set by Knuble and Laich. The execution was perfect on that one, a goal that Craig Laughlin enjoyed breaking-down with his telestrator on CSN.
The Leafs would answer back a bit after the midway mark in the middle frame. Tyler Bozak had a prime scoring chance at the post turned away by Tomas Vokoun, only to see Phil Kessel sneak in from the blindside to tap-in his 18th of the year from two inches in front of the goal-line.
The power-play magic would continue for Washington thanks to Nicklas Backstrom. With the Caps skating 5-on-3, good puck movement set up Wideman about 30 feet in front of Reimer. Just before he hammered another slapper, he saw Backstrom unguarded five feet away from the goal. The defender put the pass right where it needed to be for a Backstrom re-direct, which was almost stopped in spectacular fashion by Reimer. The puck glanced in off the goalies stick to make it 3-1 Caps after two periods.
Leafs defender Cody Franson brought his team back to within one goal, with a long wrist shot from the point that bounced past a screened Vokoun. It was close to being offside, but skillful stickhandling by Franson kept the play alive.
Toronto was not thrilled with the officiating tonight, thinking that they deserved a few more power-plays of their own. Instead they wound up giving Washington one more chance with the man-up with a little under three minutes to go.
The puck was moving quickly around the perimeter, when John Carlson put a pass in Widemans wheelhouse. His powerful shot flew past Reimer on the glove side, just as Laich was pivoting his body to set a screen. It turned out to be the insurance goal on win 15 for the Caps, no matter who gets credit for it.
IF its Wideman, then he would be the first Capitals defender to notch a hat trick since Sergei Gonchar did it against Montreal way back in 2000, a game I remember very well.
Washington has won three of its last four as it heads into a rare idle weekend. See you back here for a visit from the Flyers on Tuesday.
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