Saturday was going to be a good night for hockey with the Capitals set to host the Chicago Blackhawks. It still was as I simulated it with the EA Sports Game NHL 20.
I kept the same offensive lines, but I switched up the defense. I tried Dmitry Orlov on the right last game, but Brenden Dillon ended up playing so much on that side I actually had to check to make sure I had not set the lineup wrong. Because of that, I switched Orlov back to the left and Dillon on the right. I also bumped Jonas Siegenthaler up to the top pair as he seems to play well with John Carlson and moved Michal Kempny down to the third.
Also, I gave Ilya Samsonov the start. There is a back-to-back upcoming this week, but since he had not started since March 5, I did not want to wait that long.
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Ilya Kovalchuk
Richard Panik - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway
Jonas Siegenthaler - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Brenden Dillon
Michal Kempny - Nick Jensen
For Chicago, I reached out to Blackhawks senior writer Chris Kuc for his projected lineup:
Duncan Keith - Nicolas Beaudin
Lucas Carlsson - Connor Murphy
Olli Maatta - Slater Koekkoek
Result: Caps 7, Blackhawks 2
1-0 Caps goal: Jakub Vrana from T.J. Oshie and John Carlson
2-0 Caps goal: Jakub Vrana from Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie
3-0 Caps goal: Evgeny Kuznetsov from Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin
4-0 Caps goal: Alex Ovechkin from Nicklas Backstrom
5-0 Caps goal: Nicklas Backstrom from T.J. Oshie and Dmitry Orlov
5-1 Blackhawks goal: Alex DeBrincat from Jonathan Toews and Nicolas Beaudin
6-1 Caps goal: Ilya Kovalchuk from Richard Panik and Dmitry Orlov
7-1 Caps goal: Jakub Vrana from T.J. Oshie and Nick Jensen
7-2 Blackhawks goal: Jonathan Toews from Patrick Kane and Alex Nylander
How the Caps won
1. The second line
Vrana, Backstrom and Oshie contributed a combined four goals and six assists in the win as they put on a dominant performance. Vrana was the best player on the ice and was rewarded with a hat trick, just the second of his career. Oshie also contributed the second four-assist game of his career.
2. The last minute of the first period
I don't know if it is possible to break the spirit of a hockey team in a video game, but if it is, that's what happened to the Blackhawks at the end of the first when Chicago allowed not one, but two goals in the final minute of the period.
With the score 1-0, Orlov blocked a shot in front. Oshie grabbed the loose puck and bumped it out to Backstrom in the neutral zone. Vrana joined him on the rush and Backstrom found him in the slot. With the aid of a screen by Carlsson in front of his own netminder, Vrana fired a wrister past Crawford for his second goal of the game.
That goal came with 50 seconds remaining in the period. Before Chicago could escape with just a two-goal deficit, however, the Caps came pushing again. Ovechkin fired a shot that was too hot for Crawford to handle and it bounced in and out of his glove. Wilson grabbed the rebound, wheeled around and fed Kuznetsov on the back-door.
Check out the time stamp for his goal.
With less than one second remaining, Kuznetsov gave the Caps the 3-0 lead.
That goal was too much for the digital moral of the Blackhawks as they collapsed with an early goal in the second that ended Crawford's night.
3. Ilya Samsonov
For most of the game, I did not think much of Samsonov. I thought he was fine, but unremarkable. Then I saw the shots. Not only did Chicago pour on 35 shots on goal, but they really came on strong in the final half of the game when the score had gotten out of hand. Washington was a bit passive with the huge lead and the Blackhawks began to dictate the play. Samsonov was brilliant with few rebounds and quick movements in the crease to square himself to the shooter.
I know what you're thinking
When you see a 7-2 score from a video game, most people who are familiar with these things will probably think it's time to turn up the difficulty. Two things. First, the last game was a 4-2 win over an awful Detroit Red Wings team. I took that to mean the difficulty was right where it needed to be. Clearly I was wrong. Second, I drive myself insane with the game sliders.
For those who are not familiar with how these games work, adjusting the difficulty is not as simple as just turning it from east to medium to hard. In addition to the overall difficulty, you can change pretty much every aspect of the game from shot accuracy to the frequency of penalties to how often a goalie covers up the puck or keeps it in play. And there are separate sliders for both you and the computer. Whenever I play, I always tinker with the sliders literally after every game. Oh, this was too easy, this was too hard, there were too many of these penalties, not enough of these, etc.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying, yes, I know I need to adjust the difficulty. I will be tinkering with this every game like a mad scientist tinkers with his super evil doomsday potion or...you know, whatever it is that mad scientists tinker with.
Only three power plays in this one for Chicago which is an improvement over the six given up to Detroit. The penalty kill killed off all three including a two-man advantage in the first period. Jonas Siegenthaler was called for tripping when he went down to block a shot. I was annoyed about it at first until I saw the replay.
Yeah, that's a slide tackle. Fair call.
Things got nasty
When the score was out of hand, the game got a little nasty. Toews came in very late to bump Samsonov after he had frozen a puck. Dillon grabbed him and that started a scuffle in front of the net that erupted into a surprise fight between Hagelin and Murphy. Murphy has only six NHL fights in his career, but that was more than Hagelin's one. According to Hockey Fights, Hagelin last fought in 2017 as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final against Viktor Arvidsson of the Nashville Predators.
Murphy ultimately got the takedown, but Hagelin got a few good punches in.
Later in the game, Saad snapped and decided he wanted to fight somebody despite not having any fights in his NHL career. He tried to pick a fight with Vrana for some reason, but Vrana wasn't having it. Dillon, however, was very willing. He stepped in for his teammate and the fight went about as well as you would expect for Saad, as in not well at all.
Koekkoek also challenged Ovechkin. If there was a button you could push to make one player laugh at another, I would have pushed it. With all due respect to Koekkoek who has played in 149 more NHL games than I ever will, Ovechkin ain't fighting you. Move along.
Speaking of Dillon....
I liked him on the right. At one point he poked the puck away from Toews on the rush down the right and I was sold. Orlov also looked much better playing on his natural left side. This is what the defensive pairs are going to look like for now. Sorry, Radko Gudas.
First NHL point
Assuming he did not get a point the night before in Ottawa, Beaudin's assist would be his first NHL point. I'm sure he is thrilled by the news.
What a backcheck!
Everyone stop what you're doing and check out this beautiful, goal-saving backcheck by Ovechkin on Toews.
Washington was scheduled to host the Edmonton Oilers on Mon. March 16.
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NHL 20 Caps simulation: Offense comes alive in blowout of Blackhawks originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington