Photo: Patrick McDermott
The Capitals have the best record in the National Hockey League. They are playing their most impressive hockey in years. On Saturday, after not skating for four days during the Christmas break, the Capitals pounced on the hobbled Montreal Canadians for their seventh straight victory, with Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jay Beagle, and Jason Chimera providing the scoring.
“I think it’s huge for us,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “I think with this team, we showed tonight, we don’t need everybody going. We have secondary scoring. It takes a lot of the pressure off some our top guys.”
One of those top guys, in fact, is Schmidt. Since Brooks Orpik went down with a lower body injury in early November, Schmidt has been called on to play on the top defensive pairing with John Carlson, one of the team’s stalwarts for the past five seasons. Against the Canadians, Schmidt tallied two assists, tying his career high in points and helpers.
Thanks to Schmidt, the Capitals were able to jump out to an early lead when he fired a puck wide of the net that Kuznetsov deflected past Habs goaltender Mike Condon for the game’s opening strike.
“He’s one of those guys that can get to the inside, come to the outside, and be right in front of the net for us,” Schmidt said of Kuznetsov. “It’s something that we work on in practice a whole lot.”
After a string of somewhat lucky comeback wins, Capitals head coach Barry Trotz credited the first goal with jumpstarting Washington’s game and keeping Montreal stuck in the ditch.
“Us, we’ve had a successful run at the end, then we had this break, so we wanted to come out and extend it and carry it forward,” Trotz said. “On the other hand, Montreal hasn’t been going really well in terms of wins and loses. Sometimes you get that break and it’s cleansing. We knew they would come out with a real good effort tonight. We talked about trying to win the first period. It was important to try to remind them they’ve gone through some tough times and get in their head a little bit.”
With Kuznetsov’s goal, assisted by Schmidt, Washington was able to do just that. Schmidt later added an assist on Chimera’s bookend goal. It’s been 19 games since Orpik went down, but Schmidt has been able to thrive in his place.
“I think it’s just getting an opportunity to make plays with some of our high end guys,” Schmidt, who skated over 20 minutes and had his first career multi-point game in Washington’s 3-1 win, said of his success. “It’s just having the confidence to make those types of plays. I think playing time gives you a little bit more mojo, that swagger to your game to go out there and be able to do the things you know how to do.”
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