Nathan Gerbe’s third-period goal proved to be the difference on Thursday, sending the Washington Capitals to their third loss in four games to start the 2013-14 season. After the Caps and the Carolina Hurricanes traded goals in the game’s first 40 minutes, Canes winger Gerbe took advantage of Washington’s inability to settle and break the puck out of its own end at 5:59 of the third, and the Caps weren’t able to answer after.
“I thought it was a good hockey game,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “I thought both teams played well. I thought we did a lot of good things; tough break on the winning goal. Our execution wasn’t good on that goal. But other than that, the pace was pretty good of the game. The second half of the game I thought we played hard. I’m sure we’re going to look at it and find stuff, but all in all I thought the game was okay.”
Washington got off to a strong start in the game’s first 20 minutes. The Caps had 21 shot attempts to 16 for the Canes in the first frame, and they had a 21-12 advantage in that category in the final 18 minutes of the period. Carolina had just one shot attempt at even strength in the final half of the first.
Oates kept his maligned third line of Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr and Joel Ward together for Thursday’s game, and his patience paid early dividends on Thursday.
Fehr floated a harmless 100-footer on the Carolina net from the red line, and Canes goalie Anton Khudobin easily set it aside. Chimera just as easily beat rookie Canes defenseman Ryan Murphy to the rebound, spun and fired it through Khudobin’s five-hole for a 1-0 Washington advantage at 5:33 of the first.
Despite a plethora of minor penalties doled out to both sides over the remainder of the initial stanza, the Caps nursed that 1-0 lead to the first intermission. It marked the first time in the young season that Washington owned a lead at an intermission.
Washington wasn’t able to extend its lead – the Caps have yet to own a lead of more than a single goal on the young season – but it was able to answer back within a minute of the Canes’ tying goal near the 13-minute mark of the second.
After the Canes drew even at 1-1, the Caps needed just 54 seconds to regain their lead. Caps defenseman Steve Oleksy took a shot from center point and Caps captain Alex Ovechkin deflected the puck past Khudobin to make it a 2-1 game.
Washington put its slim lead in peril just 43 seconds later when Ward went to the penalty box for a delay of game (smothering the puck) infraction. The Caps were 26 seconds shy of killing that penalty when blueliner John Erskine took an interference call, putting the Caps down two men for just under half a minute.
Canes rookie Elias Lindholm decisioned Caps center Nicklas Backstrom on the ensuing draw, and two passes later ex-Cap Alexander Semin’s shot beat Washington goaltender Braden Holtby just inside the left post to make it a 2-2 game. Carolina needed only five seconds of that 5-on-3 time to knot the score.
Holtby stopped a Radek Dvorak shot just before the six-minute mark of the third, and he tried to leave the puck for his defense behind the net. But the disc took a hard carom off the back wall, and Dvorak swooped in and swiped it from Caps defenseman John Carlson before the latter could get it on his stick and settle it.
Dvorak fed Justin Faulk in the high slot, and Holtby stopped Faulk’s wrister. Carlson had the puck briefly in front of the net, but Jordan Staal pokechecked him. The puck bounced off Holtby’s left pad and right to Gerbe, who tucked it through Holtby’s legs for his third goal of the season.
“It didn’t bounce great for [Carlson] in the corner and [Dvorak] got his stick on it,” explains Oates. “And then Holts made the save. The rebound was in a really difficult position, and I think [Carlson] just tried to shovel it back to Holts. It was one of those things where the puck trickled right to [Gerbe’s] forehand and trickled right through Holts’ pads.”
The Caps have owned a lead in the second period or later in each of their three losses this season.
“I don’t think it’s time to push the panic button yet,” says Oates. “I’m sure it’s something we’re going to talk about.
“I think we could be 4-0 and we could be 0-4. Calgary was probably our worst game out of the four, and we figured out a way to win it. You want to just keep playing correct. Sooner our later it will start turning and go your way. Guys will get off the goose eggs and start feeling better about themselves. Before you know it you’re playing good hockey and getting wins.”
Captain Fantastic – Ovechkin netted a goal for the fourth straight game to start the season, the first time he has done so in his NHL career. He has five goals in just four games this season; Ovechkin needed 13 games to score his first five goals in 2012-13.
Dating back to last season, Ovechkin now has scored in 20 of his last 25 regular season games. He has totaled 28 goals and 43 points in his last 27 regular season contests.
Four Aside – There were a lot of overlapping penalties in Thursday’s game, resulting in five stretches of four-on-four hockey totaling 3:41 on the night.
Although the Capitals and Hurricanes were each credited with five power plays on the night, only one of those Washington man advantage opportunities ended up being a full two minutes in length. The Capitals’ five power play chances totaled 6:01 in combined length.
Defensive Debut – Blueliner Alexander Urbom made his Capitals debut on Thursday, punching in for 16:12 on the night. He was credited with three shots on net and one blocked shot. Playing in his 15th career NHL game, the former Devil logged his third-highest single-game ice time figure of his career.
Urbom was paired with Oleksy.
“It felt good,” says Oleksy of the pair’s first game together. “I feel me and Bomer developed some chemistry as the game went on. I felt he had a great game. It makes it easy to play with a guy like that. He’s under control and made good plays.
“I felt our breakouts were pretty good, especially for only getting a small opportunity to practice together. And he talks, which is huge. The communication is big and I felt that really helped our game in our own zone.”
Happy Anniversary – Exactly 28 years ago Thursday in a game against the Minnesota North Stars at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, Oates made his NHL debut. He also notched his first NHL points with a goal and an assist, victimizing Minnesota netminder (and future Capital) Don Beaupre in a 6-6 standoff with the Stars.
More than a decade ago, I asked Oates about that goal. Here’s what he had to say then, when the memory was roughly 50 percent fresher than it is now:
“It was my first NHL game. Every kid’s dream who plays the sport is to play in the NHL. My first game was in Detroit and it was great because my family was there. In the second period, I scored the first goal of the season. It was a rebound and I just banged it in. It was pretty cool back then.
“A couple of shifts later, I set up John Ogrodnick for a breakaway and he scored. So you think, ‘Wow, this game is going to be easy!’ And then I think I went 25 games without a point and was sent back to the minors. It was kind of an auspicious start, that’s for sure.”
The Wings were terrible that season; they finished 17-57-6, good for 40 points and last place in the Norris Division. Their five goaltenders (Greg Stefan, Mark LaForest, Eddie Mio, Corrado Micalef and Chris Pusey) combined for a 5.04 GAA and an .845 save pct. on the season.
As bad as the Wings were over a two-decade stretch from 1966-67 through 1985-86, that ’85-86 team stands as the worst in Detroit history in seasons of 70 or more games in length. The Wings were outscored by 159 goals, just a hair under two goals per game.
From the ashes of that season, Oates rose to a 19-year Hall of Fame career and the Wings also rose, climbing to 78 points and an improbable berth in the conference final just a season later in 1986-87.
First-Round Bonanza – Teen-aged Canes rookie Elias Lindholm netted his first NHL goal at 12:58 of the second period, flicking a shot from above the left circle that glanced off Carlson and just missed Holtby’s outstretched glove.
Lindholm, Carolina’s first choice (fifth overall) in the 2013 NHL Draft, had help from Jeff Skinner and Murphy on the goal. Skinner was the Canes’ first choice (seventh overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and Murphy was Carolina’s top pick (12th overall) in the 2011 NHL Draft.
The 18-year-old Lindholm’s first tally came in his fourth NHL game. Lindholm has half as many goals now as his father Mikael netted during his 18-game NHL career with the Los Angeles Kings in 1989-90.
Helping Hands – Carolina has netted nine goals on the young season thus far, and Skinner has assisted on five of them, including a pair in Thursday’s game. Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk had an assist on Gerbe’s game-winner; Faulk now has four assists in as many games in 2013-14.
By The Numbers – Carlson paced the Capitals with 24:18 in ice time on the night … Ovechkin led all skaters on both sides with eight shots on net; Gerbe had seven to pace the Canes … The Capitals won 39 of 71 face-offs (55%) on the night with Mikhail Grabovski (10-for-14, 71%) and Backstrom (14-for-20, 70%) leading the way … Troy Brouwer and Tom Wilson led the Caps with four hits each … Faulk led the Canes with five hits and 28:03 in ice time.