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Caps' Top Players are Bested by Vancouver's Best, 3-2

October 29, 2013

Washington will have to wait until next season to end its victory drought in Vancouver. The Sedin twins and linemate Ryan Kesler bested the Caps’ top players in a pair of consecutive shifts in the third period, scoring on both to turn a 2-1 Capitals lead into a 3-2 Canucks win on Monday night at Rogers Arena.


Coming off a 5-2 loss to the Flames in Calgary in which their performance in the game’s first shift and in the contest’s first 13 minutes ultimately doomed them, the Caps had a couple of chances to grab some early momentum in Vancouver on Monday night.


Vancouver defenseman Alexander Edler hauled down Caps captain Alex Ovechkin as the winger was driving to the net on his first shift of the night, and Ovechkin was awarded a penalty shot just 79 seconds after opening puck drop as a result. Ovechkin got Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo to bite on his move, but was unable to lift the puck over the veteran Vancouver netminder and the game stayed scoreless.


“I make a great move and I beat him,” laments Ovechkin, “but I didn’t finish it up. It’s all my fault.”


A mere 22 seconds after the failed penalty shot, Caps right wing Joel Ward drew a holding call on Canucks defenseman Ryan Stanton, who had to take the minor to prevent a 2-on-1 rush from developing. Washington’s power play was unable to find the range, and Ward was whistled for interfering with Edler before the Stanton minor ran its course.


Vancouver drew first blood just past the midpoint of the first frame. Canucks winger Zack Kassian came down the right wing wall and managed to get to a puck that clanked off the skates of Caps defenseman Nate Schmidt. Kassian collected the disc and shot past Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth on the short side to give the home team a 1-0 lead at 11:31.


Washington’s torrid third line managed to get that one back just over three minutes later. Ward made a strong play along the right wing wall to win the puck in the Vancouver zone. He sailed a shot that went wide but caromed right to Schmidt at the left point. Schmidt passed to partner Mike Green, who floated a wrister that Luongo got a piece of, but Jason Chimera was on the spot to deposit the loose change and make it a 1-1 game.


The Caps spent much of the middle period white-knuckling in their own end of the ice. Washington won only three of 13 (23%) second-period face-offs, and Vancouver owned a lopsided 29-12 advantage in shot attempts and a whopping 16-3 bulge in second-period shots on goal as a result. The Caps managed to kill a couple more penalties and Neuvirth stood his ground to enable Washington to nudge the game into the third still even at 1-1.


Momentum was there for the taking as the third period got underway. Neuvirth stopped Henrik Sedin in tight to keep it even, and soon after the Caps finally gained that elusive momentum they had been seeking since the puck dropped two nights earlier in Calgary.


Chimera hustled to a puck the squirted into the Vancouver zone early in the third, reaching out and making a desperate one-handed pass to linemate Mikhail Grabovski in the middle of the ice. Grabovski ripped a wrist shot that eluded Luougo and gave the Caps a rare lead at 2-1 just 1:52 into the final frame.


Washington had vied for so long for that elusive momentum, but it was unable to maintain it.


Vancouver’s top line was on against Washington’s top line of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson, and the Canucks got the best of that matchup not once, but twice.


The Canucks tied the game just 61 seconds after the Grabovski goal. Neuvirth stopped a Stanton point shot, but the rebound seemed to hang in suspended animation until Ryan Kesler corralled it and fired it past Neuvirth to make it a 2-2 game.


The next time the Capitals’ top unit was on against the Sedin twins and Kesler was the very next shift for both groups, and the Canucks’ top trio worked Washington for what proved to be the game-winning tally.


After Backstrom lost a defensive-zone draw, Washington chased the Canucks around in the Caps end of the ice for more than a minute, but was ultimately powerless to stop the Sedins. Neuvirth made three saves, but finally Daniel Sedin ended that shift – it was 1:18 in length – by firing a shot past Neuvirth from the high slot for a 3-2 Canucks lead at 5:01 of the third.


Vancouver netted the game-tying and game-winning goals with its best players on the ice against Washington’s top players, and it did so on consecutive top-line shifts within a span of 2:08.


“That’s a real tough one,” rues Backstrom. “Two bad shifts from our line and it cost us the game, I think.”


“The first two lines have to play much better offensively,” says Ovechkin. “Our line was minus-2 in the third period. We can’t give them that kind of chances. It starts with me, Backy and Jojo. Blame it on us.


“Two shifts cost us the game. You get a 2-1 lead and you have to play simple. And we didn’t.”


“We put ourselves in a good position,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “We scored a big goal and we squandered it.”


 The Caps are now 1-6-1 in their last eight visits to Vancouver, and they’ve been outscored by a combined 35-18 in the process.


“The Sedins kind of took over on the last two goals,” notes Chimera. “No matter who we have out there against them, we’ve got to take care of the puck. We didn’t do a good job of doing that. When you play against the Sedins you’ve got to get pucks out. They are guys that hang around offensively, and when they get a second chance they’re going to hurt you.”


Neuvirth’s Night – Neuvirth was mostly sharp in his first start since Oct. 12 and just his second of the season. Gunning for his first win in a starting role since April 9 at Montreal, he was victimized for a short-side tally from fourth-liner Kassian in the first, but he kept the Caps close and gave them a chance to win it.


“It was a tough game,” says Neuvirth. “They put a lot of pucks on net. It wasn’t an easy game; they’re a pretty good team around the net. I think we took too many penalties and I think we got tired a little bit.”


Neuvirth’s huge save on Henrik Sedin from point blank range just seconds before Grabovski’s goal seemed like it might loom large until the Caps surrendered that momentum on those two fateful shifts early in the third.


Even after Washington surrendered the lead in the third, Neuvirth made a brilliant stop on Caps-killer Mike Santorelli to keep the Caps within one. Neuvirth made 38 saves on the night, the most he has made in a game since he stopped 39 in a 2-1 overtime loss against Ottawa on April 25.


Hot Stick – Chimera’s goal was his third in the last three games, matching his career high goal streak. He has now had goals in three straight games four times in his NHL career.


With four goals in 12 games on the season, Chimera has one more goal than he totaled in 47 games last season.


Chimera also has seven points (four goals, three assists) on the season, half of his total of 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) from last season.


Special Teams – Washington’s penalty-killing outfit has now killed off 25 successive power plays dating back to the team’s 5-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche at Verizon Center on Oct. 12.


Despite facing a season-high six shorthanded situations, the Capitals managed to kill off all six penalty-killing missions on the night. But having to kill so many power plays took the Caps out of their rhythm, and Backstrom’s tripping call at 16:53 of the third in a one-goal game forced the Caps to kill a sixth penalty at a time when they needed to be vying for the tying goal.


“It takes a lot of momentum for sure,” says Chimera. “Anytime you spend that much time in the box, especially on that last one. It kind of kills us. You get a kill with three minutes left, it’s hard to get any momentum and get that tying goal. You can’t take too many penalties and survive in this league. If they don’t get a goal, they get momentum from it and I think that’s a big thing.”


The Capitals boast the league’s second-best penalty-killing corps with a kill rate of 90.7% through the season’s first dozen games.


On the other side of the special teams coin, the Capitals went 0-for-4 on the power play. They have now gone three straight games without a power-play goal, matching their longest dry spell of last season. The Caps’ longest drought between power-play goals last season was a dozen straight man-advantage chances without a goal. They’ve currently gone 11 straight chances without finding the back of the net on the power play.


“I think we controlled the puck well,” says Ovechkin of the Caps’ power play. “When we made a shot on net, it just didn’t go in. I think Green had lots of opportunities; he just missed his shot. I think if he gets one goal, it’s going to be a different game on the power play.”


The Caps have dipped to fifth in the NHL in power play prowess with a success rate of 24.4% on the campaign.

Penalty Shots – Ovechkin’s penalty shot try was the eighth of his NHL career and his first in more than three years, since Oct. 9, 2010 against the New Jersey Devils and goaltender Martin Brodeur.


Ovechkin is now 2-for-8 in career penalty shots. He scored in the aforementioned try against Brodeur, and also beat Philadelphia’s Ray Emery in a Jan. 17, 2010 penalty shot.


Ovechkin holds Washington’s franchise record for most career penalty shots; no other player in club history has more than three.


For Luongo, the stop on the penalty shot was his 21st in 24 career penalty shots tries against him.


Four of the last five games between the caps and the Canucks have featured a penalty shot. On Oct. 13, 2008 at Verizon Center, Washington’s Michael Nylander beat Luongo on a penalty shot in a 5-1 Capitals victory.


When the Caps lost a 3-2 game in Vancouver on Dec. 18, 2009, one of the reasons for the setback was Luongo denying Caps winger Alexander Semin on a penalty shot bid.


Caps winger Mike Knuble scored against Luongo on a penalty shot in a 7-4 Vancouver win on Washington’s previous visit here on Oct. 29, 2011.


52 Pickup – Green notched just his second even-strength point of the season with the primary helper on Chimera’s goal. Green leads Washington defensemen in scoring this season with seven points, all assists.


Shooting Gallery – The Caps have allowed 30 or more shots on goal in seven straight games and 10 of 12 games this season. Washington has allowed 34.5 shots on goal against per game this season, 27th in the NHL.


Lineup Shuffle – Defenseman Alexander Urbom returned to the Washington lineup after sitting out the first three games of the trip as a healthy scratch. John Erskine was out of the lineup for the Capitals on Monday in Vancouver.


Urbom skated 14:43 and was plus-1 with a shot on goal in his return to the lineup on Monday.


Bobby Lu Voodoo – Luongo has had the Caps’ collective number for several seasons now. Since late in the 2003-04 season when he was a member of the Florida Panthers, Luongo has had some incredible success against the Capitals.


Including Monday night’s win, Luongo is now 14- 1 with a 2.22 GAA and a .927 save pct. in his last 15 starts against Washington.


By The Numbers – John Carlson led Washington with 24:14 in ice time. His 6:42 in shorthanded ice time led the Caps … Ovechkin’s four shot attempts (three on net, one missed) represent his lowest total of the season … Ovechkin led the Capitals with three hits … Washington won just 17 of 51 draws (33%) on the night … Kesler led the Canucks with six shots on net … Sixteen of the 18 Vancouver skaters recorded at least one shot on goal.