For the fourth time in six games this season, the Washington Capitals surrendered the game’s first goal in the first period. Getting and maintaining a lead proved problematic for the Caps in the first five games of the season, but after a bit of a sluggish start, the Capitals were able to rewrite the script on Monday night against the Edmonton Oilers.
Washington responded with a goal of its own less than four minutes after the Oilers’ opener, and then the Capitals erupted for three goals on four shots in a span of just 3:55 in the middle period to salt the game away.
The Caps took a 4-2 decision from Edmonton to move to 2-4 on the season and halt a three-game losing run.
Four different Capitals found the back of the net on Monday, and Washington scored twice at even strength and twice on the power play.
“The first period, we were so-so,” says Caps’ center Nicklas Backstrom. “We turned the puck over a little bit too much, I think. But the second period, we got it going on the [power play], and we scored a couple goals 5-on-5 too, and that’s always good for our confidence. Hopefully, we can build off this.”
Ex-Caps center Boyd Gordon continued his torrid start with his fourth goal at 9:48 of the first, a frustrating goal against that resulted from some sloppy passing on Washington’s part. A poor pass attempt led to an icing call on the Caps at 9:17 of the first, then a series of lackluster passes in their own end prevented the Caps from exiting the zone cleanly.
Edmonton’s Justin Schultz flagged down a Mike Green pass in neutral ice and started the Oilers off in transition. He carried through neutral ice, gained the zone and fed Gordon in the slot. Gordon released a wrist shot that beat Caps goalie Braden Holtby to the stick side, giving the visitors a 1-0 lead.
The Caps responded a few shifts later. Washington defenseman Steve Oleksy adroitly kept the puck in the zone at the right point as Edmonton was attempting to break out of its end. Oleksy spotted Caps forward Brooks Laich down below the Edmonton defense, and fed him perfectly. Laich punched the puck through the legs of Edmonton goaltender Jason LaBarbera to make it a 1-1 game.
“Brooksie’s goal was huge for us,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “They’re a young team, a talented team. We knew we just had to play our way; don’t give them any chances because they can use it. They have pretty good offensive players and skilled guys out there.”
The Oilers limited Washington to just three shots on net in the first frame, and the Caps had difficulty putting tape-to-tape passes together with any regularity during the first 20 minutes.
“The biggest thing that’s frustrating is the passing for me,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “You’re passing it to your buddy and you put it in his feet, you put him in a difficult situation. We’ve got to conquer that, and we will. I’m glad at least we got through it tonight.”
In the second, the Caps were much more assertive in the Edmonton end of the ice, and it began to pay dividends.
With the two teams already playing four aside near the midpoint of the middle frame, Edmonton’s Ladislav Smid was whistled for tripping Caps center Mikhail Grabovski, giving Washington a brief 4-on-3 advantage.
Joel Ward won the offensive zone draw, then squatted in Alex Ovechkin’s “office” down low on the left side. Backstrom fed Ward with a perfect pass and the right wing blasted a one-timer that would make Ovechkin proud. The goal gave the Caps a lead they would not relinquish.
“I just had to put my stick down and take a crack at it,” says Ward. “Nicky gave me a pass that almost felt like one of those drills at the end of practice with a wide open cage.”
Shortly thereafter, the Caps padded their lead. Marcus Johansson curled out from behind the Edmonton net and found Ovechkin with time and space in the slot. Johansson passed to Ovechkin, who fired while Backstrom provided some netfront presence. Ovechkin’s sixth of the season made it a 3-1 game.
Troy Brouwer netted his first of the season on a Washington power play less than a minute later, and the Caps had all the offense they’d need.
“Both teams were very desperate,” says Laich. “They’re a team that’s struggling as well. And for us, losing three in a row in regulation is not acceptable at any time.”
Leading Men – Heading into Monday’s game against the Oilers, Washington had owned a lead for only 37:01 of the 305 minutes of hockey it had played on the young season.
The Caps grabbed the lead over the Oilers at 10:06 and maintained it the rest of the way, the longest they’ve had a continuous lead this season. Not only that, they added to it.
When Ovechkin scored at 13:18 of the second, it marked the first time this season that Washington owned a lead of more than a single goal.
Less than a minute after Ovechkin’s goal, Brouwer scored to give the Caps their first three-goal advantage of 2013-14.
Rapid Fire – The Caps managed only three shots on goal in the first period against Edmonton, but they needed only four shots in a span of under four minutes to score three goals in the second period.
The Caps were economical on Monday, netting four goals on just 20 shots on net just two nights after they could only muster one goal on 41 shots on goal in a 5-1 loss to Colorado.
Zero Heroes – Three of Washington’s four goal scorers in Monday’s game found the back of the net for the first time this season.
Laich, Ward and Brouwer all erased the goose eggs next to their names in the goal column. Among Washington’s top nine forwards, only Marcus Johansson has yet to score a goal this season, Johansson does have five assists in six games on the season.
“Those guys, you know they’re going to score sooner or later,” says Holtby. “Guys go on streaks of five or six games [without a goal] all the time throughout the year, it’s just at the start of the year right now that it’s so magnified. They’re still playing well; it’s just the bounces haven’t been going their way. It’s good to see a couple go in.”
Leader Board – Ovechkin’s nine points (six goals, three assists) are tied with Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby for the most in the NHL.
Helping Hands – Backstrom notched three assists in the game for the 22nd time in his NHL career. He has had at least one helper in four of Washington’s six games this season.
With eight points (one goal, seven assists) on the season, Backstrom is tied for third in the league’s scoring race.
21 is 22nd – Laich’s goal was his 283rd point as a member of the Capitals, tying him with the illustrious Craig Laughlin for 22nd on Washington’s all-time list.
In the interest of fairness, it must be pointed out that Laich’s 283rd point came in his 571st game with the Capitals, while Laughlin needed just 428 contests to amass his 283 points in a Washington sweater.
Ah, those were different days.
Powering Up – Last season, the Caps’ power play unit never went more than a dozen opportunities without finding the back of the net. Tonight, the Caps came into the game without a power-play goal in nine straight extra-man opportunities.
It took Washington nearly half the game to earn that first power play opportunity tonight, but it took the Caps just 19 seconds to find the back of the net and end the extra-man skein at 0-for-9.
The Caps cashed in on their second power-play chance of the night as well, using just 14 seconds of the allotted two minutes. At that stage of the game, the Capitals had tallied twice in a total of just 33 seconds worth of power play time.
Washington has had multiple power-play goals in the same game in three of its six games this season. The Caps are 8-for-22 (36.4%) with the extra man in 2013-14, good for second in the NHL.
Managing Minutes – With Washington able to take, add to and maintain a lead by the midpoint of the second period, Monday’s game took on a different complexion than any of the five contests that preceded it this season.
Because of that, Oates was able to spread the ice time around more evenly amongst his 18 skaters, something he had not had the luxury of doing previously this season.
Ovechkin led Washington forwards with 20:58 in ice time and each member of the fourth line (Martin Erat, Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson) recorded a single-game high in ice time for the season on Monday.
“It was great to see our third and fourth line getting rewarded with some good minutes,” notes Holtby. “They played hard; it set the tone for our game. I don’t think we had our best first two periods, but we stuck with it. We scored some big goals. I think the biggest plus of the night was how we came out in the third. You could see the confidence that those goals in the second gave us.”
The difference was most notable in the minutes doled out to the defensemen. John Carlson paced all Caps blueliners with 21:35 on the night, the lowest team-leading figure for a Capitals’ skater in any game this season.
Oleksy’s 17:37 was at the other end of the ice time spectrum for the six defenseman; and the spread of just 3:58 in ice time between the defensemen was by far the lowest the Caps have had in any game in the young 2013-14 season.
“As much as possible,” begins Oates, “you want to get as many minutes and spread it out as much as you can. Because the season is so long and the schedule gets so tough, you wear guys down and that’s how injuries happen. When you have a game where you can get the lead and maintain it, and you can get other guys some minutes, it’s great.”
Blueline Bombers – Exactly one-third (16 of 48) of Washington’s shot attempts on the night came from its six defensemen. The team’s third pairing of Oleksy and rookie Nate Schmidt accounted for half (eight) of those sixteen shot attempts.
Oleksy had one shot on goal, two that were blocked and one that missed the net. Schmidt, playing in his second NHL game, skated 19:13 on the night and even logged 1:55 in shorthanded ice time. He had two shots on net, one that was blocked and one that missed.
“I thought they played great,” says Oates of his third pairing. “Stevie’s pass to Brooksie was huge for us. It was a great play, great vision, great poise on the blueline holding the line.
“We’ve got three guys with under 35 game experience playing in the league, and your hat has to go off to them. It’s tough sledding out there and you’re seeing guys for the first time in your life. No one has played Edmonton before and they’ve got a lot of talent there. I thought the guys did a great job.”
Century City – Johansson’s assist on Ovechkin’s game-winning goal was his fifth of the season and also the 100th point (33 goals, 67 assists) of his NHL career. He notched his 100th point in the 189th game of his NHL career.
Mr. October – Monday’s win against the Oilers was the second in as many career decisions for Holtby against the Oilers. It was also his first career NHL win in the month of October (1-3).
Gord’s Goal – Gordon bit the hand that once fed him when he scored the game’s first goal at 9:48 of the first period. Gordon’s goal was his fourth of the season, tops among all Oilers. He is now half way to matching his single-season career high of eight, established in 2011-12.
Washington had three picks in the first round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, and Gordon was the third of those choices (17th overall). He debuted with Washington as a 19-year-old in 2003-04 and spent the first seven seasons of his NHL career in the District.
In two career games against Washington – one with Edmonton and one as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes – Gordon now has two points (one goal, one assist).
Gordon scored his first career power-play goal for Edmonton earlier this season, doing so in his 487th career NHL game.
Third First – When Edmonton’s Will Acton closed out the scoring on the night by netting his first NHL goal at 18:18 of the third period, it marked the third time in as many games on this homestand that the Caps surrendered the first goal of an opponent’s NHL career.
Last Thursday, Carolina’s Elias Lindholm netted his first career NHL marker against Holtby. On Saturday, Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon victimized Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth.
By The Numbers – For the sixth time in as many games this season, Ovechkin led the Caps in shots on goal (four) … Ovechkin also led the Caps with five hits … Carlson paced the Capitals with three blocked shots … Taylor Hall led Edmonton with six shots on net … Mike Brown led the Oilers with six hits … Justin Schultz led all Edmonton skaters with 22:57 in ice time.