Streaks Stopped – Washington’s twin winning streaks of five straight games and 10 in a row on home ice were both halted at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night at Verizon Center. Carolina handed the Caps a 3-1 setback to put an end to two Washington streaks, both of which were the team’s longest of the season.
The Caps’ 10-game winning streak on home ice was the longest streak of its kind anywhere in the league thus far this season.
“They were just a little hungrier tonight,” says Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik of the Canes. “It seemed like they were first on pucks and when there were 50/50 battles, they were coming out with them.”
After a scoreless first, the Canes took a 1-0 lead midway through the second. Carolina captain Jordan Staal picked off a John Carlson pass on a Washington power play, and Staal scored on a shorthanded breakaway to lift his team to a 1-0 lead.
Washington answered back with a Lars Eller goal late in the second, and it was anyone’s game going into the third period.
In the middle of the third period, Caps winger Tom Wilson was assessed a penalty for a hit on Carolina’s Derek Ryan, and the Canes got goaltender Scott Darling off the ice for an extra attacker on the delayed penalty. Caps goalie Braden Holtby made a blocker stop on a Justin Faulk shot, and Brooks Orpik swatted at – and made contact with – the rebound, leading the Caps to believe the officials would blow the play dead. But that didn’t happen, and Carolina’s Victor Rask whipped a shot past Holtby to put the Canes up 2-1.
“I know some of [the calls] are kind of tough when there are deflections and stuff like that,” says Orpik, “but that one we all thought was kind of a clear play on the puck. If I make that same play and it goes over the glass, that’s a delay of game penalty for sure. If that’s a delay of game penalty, then I think you have to call it possession.
“That was the argument we had, and [the officials] didn’t really give us any clarification. They moved on from it pretty quickly.”
Rask’s goal went into the books as an unassisted tally, which is puzzling because Carolina had possession of the puck for 20 seconds or so before the goal was scored, and usually only intervening possession by the opposition would nullify the awarding of assists. Faulk took the initial shot, and he normally would receive the primary helper on such a play.
“That’s another good point,” says Orpik, of the lack of assists on the goal. “We all were confused by it and frustrated. Especially when that winds up being the winning goal, it was frustrating.”
Three Straight – Eller’s goal marks the third straight game in which he has scored, matching his career high goal scoring streak. Eller has twice previously netted goals in three consecutive games, and his most recent run before the current one came from Nov. 8-13, 2014 when he was a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
Eller now has eight goals and 20 points on the season. His single-season career high in goals is 16, established in his sophomore NHL campaign of 2011-12. Eller’s career best in points is 30, established in the lockout-shortened season of 2012-13. Both of those marks are within Eller’s striking distance in the second half of ’17-18.
Darling One – Early in the game, the Capitals had some scoring chances against beleaguered Carolina netminder Scott Darling, who came into Thursday’s game with just one victory in his previous eight appearances (1-5-1). The Caps created a number of chances early, pouring 10 shots on Darling in the games first 9:07, with half of those coming from inside of 25 feet away. But Darling stopped them all, and his confidence grew as the game went on.
Washington’s final 50 minutes weren’t as prolific; the Caps managed 18 shots over that span, connecting only on Eller’s shot from the high slot with 3:55 left in the second.
“It was huge,” says Darling, of withstanding Washington’s barrage in the game’s first 10 minutes. “Getting some early saves, feeling the puck and making some clean saves gets you into the game right away. You know you’re feeling it, and you can just roll from there.”
Home-And-Home – The Caps and Canes go right back at it on Friday night in Raleigh, concluding a set of home-and-home games and facing one another for the third time in 11 nights. When calendar 2018 dawned, the Hurricanes were the only Metropolitan Division team the Capitals had yet to face, but after Friday’s game the two sides will meet just once more during the regular season. Carolina visits the Caps on March 30 to conclude the 2017-18 season’s series between the two longtime division rivals.
Washington will play three more sets of home-and-home games this season, all against Metro foes. The Caps have consecutive contests against Columbus on Feb. 6-9, they’ll see the New York Islanders on back-to-back dates on March 15-16, and they’ll play two straight games against the New York Rangers on March 26-28.
By The Numbers – Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with 22:40 in ice time, five shots on net, and 10 shot attempts … Orpik and Devante Smith-Pelly led the Caps with four hits each … Orpik led the Caps with four blocked shots … T.J. Oshie won four of five face-offs (80%) … Playing in the front end of a set of back-to-backs, Carolina defenseman Jaccob Slavin logged 27:46 in ice time to lead both teams. Slavin picked up a lot of the slack created by Brett Pesce’s unexpected absence from the Canes lineup because of an upper body injury … Twenty-one different players – 11 Hurricanes and 10 Capitals – took at least one of the game’s 55 face-offs.