Caps’ top line pops for 11 points in easy victory
WASHINGTON — The Washington Capitals’ top line is humming, and that spells trouble for the rest of the NHL.
Tom Wilson scored twice, Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom registered goals, and the trio combined for seven assists Wednesday as the Capitals used a first-period scoring flurry to cruise to a 6-2 victory over the sliding Chicago Blackhawks.
Washington (17-11-1) has won six of seven since coach Barry Trotz moved assist-machine Backstrom back to the top line, where his passes, more often than not, have found Ovechkin, while Wilson has been a surprising contributor.
“They sort of took the game over,” Trotz said. “That line carried us tonight. It’s a hard line to play against. They’re having some pretty good production right now.”
The Capitals chased Blackhawks goalie Anton Forsberg with three goals in a 3:28 span of the opening frame. The run kicked off when Washington used a picture-perfect, tic-tac-toe passing play to set up its first goal at the 11:54 mark, with Wilson and Ovechkin assisting on Backstrom’s fourth goal of the year and his first tally since Oct. 14.
“He’s proud, he wants to score like everyone else,” Trotz said. “It has to be a sense of relief for him.”
Wilson put the Capitals up 2-0 just under three minutes later, sliding a shot under a seemingly surprised Forsberg’s right pad. Only 29 seconds later, Wilson’s breakaway shot was turned away by Forsberg, but the rebound went through Artem Anisimov’s legs and right to Ovechkin, who didn’t miss from point-blank range.
Washington’s captain now has eight goals in his past seven games.
“It was clicking early,” said Wilson, who finished with a career-high four points after an empty-net goal late in the third period. “I’m playing with two of the best players in the world. It was fun to kind of all get on the board quick there. We’ve been feeling pretty good.”
Washington’s third goal was enough for Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, who brought in backup netminder J.F. Berube from the bench.
“We let their top guys do what they wanted to do early in the game,” Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews said. “When we got down, they just seemed to feed off it. They kept coming.”
The Blackhawks (12-11-5) shook up their lines to get some more offense, and even though they fired 39 shots at Braden Holtby, the changes didn’t result in a lot of good scoring opportunities.
“Maybe it looked like we had some looks there, but the quality of our chances, the volume of our shots hit (Holtby) right in the chest,” Quenneville said. “It was almost like we gave the puck back to them just by putting it dead to net with no purpose. That was tough.”
Lance Bouma poked in a rebound of a Connor Murphy shot to make it 3-1 late in the first period, and Toews scored a breakaway goal off a turnover for the Blackhawks late in the third period to pull Chicago within 5-2.
Berube finished with 12 saves for Chicago, which is 0-3-2 in its last five games.
“It’s a different story every night,” Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. “No one is going to feel sorry for us. Obviously, it’s not been good enough and we need to be better.”
Brett Connolly and Evgeny Kuznetsov also scored for the Capitals, who have won six of seven to move into a tie for second place in the Metropolitan Division.
“Our offense is clicking right now,” Holtby said. “I thought our line of Nick, Ovi and Tom were great tonight. They were really feeling it. Tom’s really come into his own, so that’s good to see.”
NOTES: Washington has won seven straight home games against Chicago. ... Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said there was a “likelihood” that G Corey Crawford would return to the lineup Sunday against Arizona. Crawford has been on injured reserve since Nov. 30 with a lower-body ailment. ... Capitals RW T.J. Oshie (upper body) did not play. C Chandler Stephenson saw action after missing one game with an upper-body injury. ... D Taylor Chorney and C Tyler Graovac were the Capitals’ scratches, and the Blackhawks scratched D Michal Kempny, D Jordan Oesterle and C Tanner Kero. ... Chicago returns home Friday to face the Buffalo Sabres. Washington closes its season-high, five-game homestand Friday against the New York Rangers.