So You’re Telling Me There’s A Chance – After 20 minutes of play on Thursday in Carolina, the Washington Capitals were down. Down 2-0 on the scoreboard before the middle of the first, down to five healthy defensemen, down a man (with defenseman John Carlson in the box for a carryover minor) and down in their own end of the ice for the majority of the first frame.
Carolina, winners of six of their previous seven and the Southeast Division leader, entered the game with an 8-0-1 mark when it scored the game’s first goal and a 6-0 mark when leading after 20 minutes of play. And the Canes went into the second period of Thursday’s tilt owning a combined 21-6 advantage in the middle period of home games this season.
Facing all that adversity and starting a stretch in which they’ll play six of seven and nine of their next 11 games on the road, the Caps somehow rebounded to take a much needed 3-2 regulation win from the Canes.
The Caps started out the second by simply killing off the remaining 1:12 on the Carlson minor. Then they went to work on establishing some semblance of a forecheck and a modicum of offensive zone pressure, something that was lacking in the first.
Joey Crabb’s first goal in more than a month cut the lead in half at 5:56 of the second, a huge goal at a juncture of the game at which the next goal figured to have significant meaning.
For most of the rest of the second period, the Caps merely held serve. Carolina had 21 shot attempts to 15 for Washington in the first, and the Canes out-attempted the Capitals by 17-12 in the second. The Canes had 32 shot attempts to just 17 for the Capitals in the third for a whopping overall advantage of 70-44 on the night.
Carolina center Eric Staal was detected hi-sticking Caps defenseman Tom Poti at the 20-minute mark of the second, giving Washington a full two-minute power play opportunity on a fresh sheet of ice to start the third period.
Halfway through the man-advantage, an Alex Ovechkin one-timer evened the score at 2-2. Once again, the Caps edged their way precariously toward the end of regulation, patiently waiting for the break that would give them a chance at grabbing the lead for the first time.
That break came when Carlson spotted Ovechkin coming over the boards on a line change. The Caps’ defenseman threaded a brilliant pass from his own blueline across the ice and to the opposite blueline, hitting Ovechkin in stride. Ovechkin came in on a breakaway and beat Canes goalie Dan Ellis, but he bounced the puck off the near post. Fortunately for the Caps, the puck sat near the goal line, and Washington center Mike Ribeiro was able to nudge it across to give the Caps a 3-2 lead with just 2:16 remaining in regulation.
“That’s the kind of situation where you want to kill yourself if it doesn’t go in,” says Ovechkin. “But thank God the referee makes the right call and it goes in. It doesn’t matter if I score or if Ribs scores. Right now, the most important thing is to get back on track and stay in the fight for a playoff spot.”
“I wasn’t sure, going to the bench,” says Ribeiro, of the goal that was affirmed by video review. “I actually missed my shot there. But the video doesn’t lie there. If you look at it at top speed, it doesn’t look like it’s in.
“We’ll take that, and I’ll take that, too. I’ve been so-so the last few games, and maybe this will give me a little bit of a boost going forward.”
The Caps managed to hold off the Canes over the final 136 seconds, but it wasn’t easy. Carolina spent most of the last two minutes in the Washington end of the ice, firing nine shots towards the Caps net and goalie Michal Neuvirth. Only two of those shots were on goal, five were blocked and two missed the net.
Somehow, the Caps got out of town with two points.
“It shows character,” says Caps coach Adam Oates of his team’s win. “Good for them. We got through that little wave [in the first period]. We stayed strong. You make mistakes. Neuvy hadn’t played in a while, probably wants the second one back and we fought through it. Great. He played solid, really solid after that.”
“We can’t be happy,” says Canes coach Kirk Muller. “We had a really well executed first period. [We did] a lot of really good things. We let them back in it. Second period, we got away from it. We had long shifts, turnovers. We stopped shooting the puck. These are things we’ve got to learn from. When you get a chance to bury a team, you’ve got to keep in the program and go for that third goal.”
Good Barn – Neuvirth has always played well in Carolina. He notched his first NHL shutout here against the Hurricanes on Oct. 27, 2010. On Thursday, he made his first start in more than a month and fought through the rustiness to deliver his first win since Jan. 27. Neuvirth's last start was on Feb. 7 in Pittsburgh; this was the longest gap between starts for him in his NHL career.
“I felt a little bit rusty, a little bit nervous,” admits Neuvirth. “It never happened to me [going] without a game for that long. But I battled hard and I’m really happy we got the win. It’s a huge win. Every game is a big opportunity for a big win and we did it.”
Neuvirth is now 4-1-1 lifetime against the Hurricanes. During his career in Raleigh, Neuvirth is 3-0 with a 1.53 GAA and a .952 save pct.
First Point – Aaron Volpatti threaded a perfect pass to Crabb for the Caps’ first goal of the night, picking up his first point as a member of the Capitals in the process. The assist was the second for Volpatti in his NHL career and his first since Jan. 24, 2011 when he supplied the primary helper on a Henrik Sedin strike in a 7-1 win over Dallas while playing with Vancouver.
“Big goal, huge goal for us,” says Oates of Crabb’s goal. “The game had kind of leveled out and we needed something. Aaron took it down the wall and got by the [defense], and great little pass, shot, goal. It gave us a lot of life and we got through the second period just down one.”
Volpatti moved up to the left side of the top line for most of the rest of the game, skating with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Volpattis finished the night with 11:58 in ice time, the most ice he has had in a game this season since he logged 13:03 on opening night (Jan. 19) against Anaheim while he was with Vancouver.
“Obviously everyone wants to play those minutes,” says Volpatti. “Unfortunately I couldn’t capitalize with those guys. But playing with those guys you want to try to get them the puck as much as possible. For me, I can create a little bit of room out there for them, too.”
The only two Caps skaters who have yet to collect a point this season are defensemen Jack Hillen and Cameron Schilling, but both have played limited minutes in just a single game each thus far.
Pretty Primaries – Volpatti and Troy Brouwer authored terrific primary assists on goals by Crabb and Ovechkin, respectively. But the prettiest pass of the night was likely the one from Carlson that sprung Ovechkin on the breakaway that led to the winning goal. Carlson got the secondary helper for his effort.
Man Down – The Caps lost rookie defenseman Tomas Kundratek early in the first period of Thursday’s game. Caps blueliner Karl Alzner checked Canes forward Jeff Skinner into the boards behind the Washington net, and Kundratek skated past just as Skinner was going down. It looked as though Kundratek’s right ankle or lower right leg might have gotten rolled beneath Skinner’s body as the latter went down.
Kundratek is listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury. Although he has averaged 16:41 per game in ice time coming into Thursday’s contest, Kundratek had logged more than 20 minutes in each of his previous six games before Thursday. He skated a single-game career high of 24:13 in Tuesday’s 4-0 loss to the Hurricanes at Verizon Center.
Kundratek is expected to return to Washington to undergo an MRI on Friday.
Workhorse – With Kundratek out, there were many minutes to be absorbed. Steve Oleksy, playing in just his sixth NHL game, stepped up and took care of business. Oleksy logged 27:55 on the night to lead all skaters on both sides.
“I felt great,” says Oleksy. “As a hockey player you prepare for that. You never know what’s going to happen in the course of 60 minutes. I train, I’m ready to play as much as I possibly can. As a hockey player, it helps to get into the game. You feel more a part of it.”
Oleksy skated 8:07 in the first, 10:56 in the second and 8:52 in the third. He skated an eye-popping 25:07 at even-strength, 4:18 more than any other Capital and 5:03 more than any member of the Hurricanes.
“I can’t say how proud you are of the guys,” says Oates. “Steve Oleksy played almost 30 minutes. Man, that’s incredible. I’m really proud of them all. All of them, they all did a yeoman’s job in a tough barn. Last 10 minutes, on the [penalty kill], everything. They all did a great job.”
The 700 Club – Ovechkin’s power-play tally early in the third was also the 700th point of the Caps’ captain’s NHL career.
Ovechkin joins Peter Bondra (825) and Mike Gartner (789) as just the third Capital ever to record 700 or more points in a Capitals sweater.
Matching Set – The Caps are now 4-7-1 in a dozen road games this season. Their four road wins have all come against Southeast Division opponents, with one in each of the four Southeast cities. The Caps are 0-6-1 on the road against teams outside the Southeast Division.
Rare Draw – Caps winger Eric Fehr doesn’t take many face-offs, mainly because he has had some shoulder issues over the course of his career.
With the Caps and Canes playing 4-on-4 in the middle of the third period on Thursday, Fehr and Joel Ward were the Washington forwards on the ice. When Ward was tossed from the circle on the draw, Fehr had to step in and take the face-off against Carolina’s Eric Staal. Fehr lost the draw.
It was Fehr’s first face-off of the season, his first since the 2010-11 season and just the 19th of his eight-year NHL career. Fifteen of Fehr’s 19 draws came in his first four seasons; he has taken just four face-offs over the last four seasons. Fehr is 4-for-19 (21%) lifetime in the circle, and his last face-off win came in 2009-10.
Sorry Sawbuck – Crabb’s goal ended a streak in which the Caps had surrendered 10 straight goals dating back to the first period of Sunday afternoon’s 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers.
Starting with Crabb’s goal, the Caps responded with three straight unanswered goals of their own.
Biting The Hand – Playing against his former teammates for the third time, Canes winger Alexander Semin scored his first goal against Washington at 1:14 of the first period. Semin has a goal and two points in three games against the Capitals this season.
By The Numbers – Crabb made the most of his night, scoring in just 5:40 of ice time … The Capitals blocked 21 shots on the night, with a dozen of those coming when they were needed the most, in the third period … Ovechkin led the Caps with 4:23 in power-play ice time … Karl Alzner led the Caps with 3:28 in shorthanded ice time … Ovechkin led the Caps with six shots on goal … Matt Hendricks paced the Capitals with six hits … Oleksy led the Caps with four blocked shots … Carolina’s Jordan Staal won all nine draws he took in the game’s first period, and finished with 12 wins in 16 draws (75%).