In what could easily be circled as one of the biggest regular season games in the league, the NHL's hottest side Anaheim Ducks and table-topping Washington Capitals met for the first time this campaign Monday night at Honda Center.
Chances were few and far between in a game that featured both the defensive, as well as goaltending prowess of both sides. Really it's about what should've been expected when two of the top three teams in goals-against got together, with Washington taking the result 2-1 in a shootout. Presenting the Best and Worst of Ducks vs Capitals:
Best: Sign Me Up For A Playoff Series Between These Two Teams
Not only for the obvious reason as to what'd mean about where Anaheim's season heads, but also because the hockey would be pure, edge of the seat, basket casing entertainment. For teams that are amongst the league's best defensively, there were chances to be had each way, with both John Gibson and Braden Holtby alternating with the spectacular.
One of the immediate areas of concern that would jump out for a future meeting is how many of the Capitals scoring chances ended up being high danger ones, while Anaheim's were chances, but mainly from further out. The teams had a 20-20 balance of scoring chances at even strength, but the Capitals won the high danger battle 12-5, and for the entirety of the game had 16/27 scoring chances as high danger while Anaheim had 7/24.
Worst: All Good Things Come To An End
Not only did the franchise record win streak come to a close, but the Ducks power play had their first bit of chastening as the Caps held them to just two shots on goal out of their attempts with the man advantage, and also limited Anaheim to a sole high danger scoring chance. Washington had allowed power play tallies against in just eight of their seventeen games since allowing a pair to Florida in their first game of February, killing at a 85.7% rate. Right in line with the win streak, Anaheim rode an 11-game run of getting at least one score on the power play.
All streaks come to a close, and Anaheim had shown signs of wobbling in recent games, needing overtime to top Edmonton, a shootout to take down Montreal, and having to survive a penalty parade against Los Angeles. The team is still playing well, but the words from head coach Bruce Boudreau after the game of emphasizing the team needing to 'play the right way' speak to a leader who recognizes there are some systems things that need to be cleaned up. A look at how those scoring chances breakdown points pretty clearly to it.
Best: Blanketing Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie
As has seemingly become their wont, the shutdown trio of Ryan Kesler between Andrew Cogliano and Jakob Silfverberg frustrated, limited, and won their matchup against Washington's top scoring group of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie. The Caps trio was only able to get a total of nearly two minutes free from the Anaheim third line, and all finished negative on the shot attempt balance at even strength. The Ducks were +3 for shot attempts while the Caps iced their scorers, and held them to just four scoring chances for the game.
As the game went on it became more and more clear that Anaheim's players (Kesler in particular) were starting to take up residence in the Washington scorer's heads. Ovechkin being especially demonstrative against the officials, Silfverberg getting away with a blatant trip of Oshie in the second period (although moments later taking an interference minor that he probably would've gotten away with were it not for his previous shenanigans), the unit was physical (ten of the Anaheim's 43 hits for the game) and it made an impact.
Worst: Washington Wins Decisively Two Other Major Line Battles
The problems arose for Anaheim against Washington's other scoring line, where leading scorer Evgeny Kuznetsov, Justin Williams, and Andre Burakovsky gave nearly whomever they were matched up against fits. Then there was the Daniel Winnik, Mike Richards, and Jay Beagle line that seemed to be the perfect energy unit whenever the Caps needed to turn things around. Both of these units were solidly positive generating attempts at five-on-five, with Burakovsky scoring the lone tally for the visitors in the opening minute of the third period.
The pairing of Cam Fowler and Kevin Bieksa got filled in by practically whomever they faced, only finishing on the positive side of the attempts ledger in the around three minutes against the Washington fourth line. Sami Vatanen and Simon Despres struggled in their just over five minutes against the Kuznetsov line as well, but the struggles of the top minute duo were particularly pronounced. This isn't to let the Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell lines off the hook either, who each lost or were held even in attempts against their Washington counterparts. Nick Ritchie was a tornado of physicality, seemingly wanting to hit everything in sight, but it seemed and instance where too much of his energy was misguided, and it lead to shuffling of where he fit up and down the lineup as the game progressed and Anaheim had their worst attempts differential (-15) with him on the ice.
3) Justin Williams
Mr. Game Seven continues to be a terror against Anaheim, and was the most impacting of generating all five of his individual high danger chances at even strength, and picking up his 45th point in 66 games in getting the secondary assist on the lone goal. He has 12 goals and 18 assists in 43 career games (regular season and playoffs) against the Ducks, and has points in seven of his last nine games facing them.
2) Braden Holtby
Considering he not only leads the league with 41 wins, Holtby's other stats are tremendous (seventh in save percentage at .923 and sixth in goals against average at 2.21 while facing the seventh-most shots in the league), it looks an awful lot like a Vezina season for the third-year Capitals starter. He plays much larger than his 6'2" frame would suggest, and made several tremendous saves when called upon. Not to mention, he's clearly read the book on Silfverberg in shootouts, and was emphatic in his gloving off of the right hash wrister.
1) John Gibson
While he didn't end up with the result, it's pretty easy to argue that this was the best start of the season from Gibson. It's just the fourth appearance of the year he's faced more than 30 shots, and the second time he's made more than 30 saves, finishing with a season-high 31. Perhaps even more impressive than the quantity is the quality of stops he made, denying all ten shots he saw from the high danger area for the game. Stylistically he's much closer to Jonathan Quick, whereas Frederik Andersen is more in the vein of Henrik Lundqvist in terms of athleticism vs positioning in making saves, but both can and have been successful. It was nice to see Gibson have such an outing against the best team in the league.