WINNIPEG – Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby would be happy to visit Winnipeg more frequently.
Holtby made 30 saves as the Capitals beat the Jets 6-1 on Friday, a victory that followed a 4-0 win against Winnipeg on Thursday.
“Anywhere you can come and get two wins, it’s a pretty good city,” Holtby said after Alex Ovechkin scored twice for the win that lifted the Capitals (14-16-1) past Tampa Bay into third place in the Southeast Division.
“For some reason, we play really well here as a group. Probably three of our best games all year have come in this building. It’s good because they’re the guys we’re chasing.”
That third game was a 3-0 shutout March 2. The Jets managed a 4-2 win in Washington near the start of the season.
Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer, Jay Beagle and Mike Green also scored for the Capitals and team scoring leader Mike Ribeiro had two assists.
Dustin Byfuglien scored the lone goal for Winnipeg (16-14-2), which kept its tenuous hold on first place in the Southeast with closest rival Carolina idle.
For Holtby, this could be a turning point. He said the Caps also played well in Pittsburgh before coming to Winnipeg for a rare back-to-back series, although they didn’t win.
“We’re getting in the groove. You can feel it in the dressing room. the guys are confident and guys are ready to make a push here. It’s a good feeling and that’s what we’ve been waiting for all year.”
Byfuglien scored Winnipeg’s only goal in the third, winning a standing ovation as he stopped what looked like another shutout.
The Jets outshot the Capitals 31-24 and showed a lot more life than Thursday, although the result was the same.
“What can you say, they scored goals and we didn’t,” said Jets coach Claude Noel who described it as a bump in the road and a learning experience.
“At one point the shots were 30-17 and we were down 5-1 but that’s what you get sometimes.”
He also wasn’t as down on the level of play as he was after Thursday, when Winnipeg came out flat and stayed that way
“We didn’t execute some things but for me the will was there, the game was really out of reach. It was a tough game to be part of. . .
“I still like our team and we’re still at the top of our division, we’re still a team that I believe will make the playoffs and that’s where we’re going. The world is not going to end tomorrow, I don’t think.”
Laich, who only returned to the Capitals on Thursday from an injury at the start of the season, scored first Friday. He raised one past Ondrej Pavelec’s glove side from the left faceoff circle at 12:10.
The Jets had a few more chances at the Washington net but couldn’t get past Holtby.
Evander Kane came close, but a few seconds later at the other end of the ice Brouwer and Ribeiro broke away and Brouwer picked the same corner of the net as Laich.
“We got more pucks to the net, which is something we wanted to do,” said Kane.
“We had some scoring opportunities but we didn’t have enough. Everything they touched kind of went in.”
The second period followed the same pattern as the first.
Beagle scored after taking a pass from Ward in front of Pavelec. It was enough for Noel, who pulled Pavelec for backup Al Montoya at the 5:50 mark. Pavelec finished with six saves on nine shots.
But he didn’t fault his starter, who has kept the Jets in a lot of games this season when it looked like they were outclassed.
Pavelec said the Jets didn’t deserve to win.
“We have to go back to our plan and play the way we want to play,” he said.
“It’s disappointing, (there’s) no excuse for it that’s for sure, but tomorrow’s another day and another game Sunday.”
It was certainly disappointing for fans, who were chanting “shoot the puck” at the Jets at one point as they struggled on the power play.
Montoya, who had 12 saves, didn’t fare any better that Pavelec. Ovechkin fired a screamer of a wrist shot into the Winnipeg net about two minutes after the goalie change.
Green then slapped one past Montoya to start the third period.
Noel tried mixing up his lines Friday night. Chris Thorburn moved up to the third line with Nik Antropov and Kyle Wellwood and later Blake Wheeler was skating with Kane and Olli Jokinen, but nothing seemed to work for the Jets.
It was Byfuglien who broke through with a puck that was fired from the boards near the goal-line and sliced past Holtby on a sharp angle to catch the edge of the net.
Ovechkin then slapped one past Montoya on Washington’s final power play of the game at 15:58 for his second goal of the night.
Noel had some parting advice for his players ahead of a game at home to Tampa Bay.
“The best thing our players can do is get away from hockey and go see a movie and clear your head, because we’ve got a game on Sunday,” he said.
Notes: The Jets have a record of 5-6-0 against Southeast Division rivals this season.