Down 3-1 heading into the third period, and owning a power play on the fresh sheet for the first two minutes of the third, it seemed imperative for Washington’s touted power play to get an early goal in the third to give the Caps a chance to scratch their way back in Friday night’s game against the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.
Marcus Johansson set up Alex Ovechkin for a great one-timer look on that extra-man opportunity, but the Caps’ captain fanned on the shot attempt and the Caps were unable to strike with the extra man.
Not to worry.
The Caps scored two five-on-five goals in the third period to eke out a point and finished off the Wings in the shootout for a 4-3 win. Michael Latta’s first NHL goal came with 8:06 remaining in the third, enabling the Caps to squeeze a point out of a game in which they trailed by a pair going into the final 20 minutes.
Detroit spent the first few minutes of the game dumping pucks from the neutral zone into the Washington end of the ice, but the Caps found their way onto the scoresheet first.
Laich drove towards the net down the right side of the ice and fired a shot on Howard, who made the stop. But Laich followed up his own rebound and chipped a backhander behind the Detroit goaltender for his third goal of the season.
Playing in his first NHL game at Joe Louis Arena, Michigan native Steve Oleksy notched the single assist on the goal at 5:50 of the first.
Washington winger Jason Chimera drew a holding call on Detroit’s Brian Lashoff less than two minutes later, giving the Caps a chance to open up a wider lead, but the Caps couldn’t cash in.
Detroit drew even on its first power play of the game. Johan Franzen pinged one home off the near post, putting the puck in a teacup with a sharp wrist shot as the Caps were 17 seconds shy of killing off Tom Wilson’s cross-checking minor.
Franzen struck again at even-strength just over two minutes later, converting a pretty feed from Tomas Tatar to enable the Wings to take a 2-1 lead to the room after the game’s first 20 minutes.
Each team killed a penalty in the middle portion of the second period, but then Wilson went off for holding with 2;06 remaining in the middle stanza. The Caps came within a dozen seconds of killing that one, but Danny DeKeyser’s one-timer from the right dot eluded sprawling Caps goalie Braden Holtby to make it a 3-1 game with 18 seconds left in the second period.
Ovechkin drew a holding call on the Wings’ Niklas Kronwall at the 20-minute mark of the second to give the Caps a power play at the outset of the third.
During the second intermission, Caps coach Adam Oates and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe chatted about shuffling up Washington’s top two lines. The changes had an instant positive effect and helped propel the Capitals to their second straight win.
Johansson was reunited with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom while Martin Erat was moved onto a line with Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer.
Less than 20 seconds into their first shift of the game together, Backstrom left the puck for Johansson in the left wing corner, and Johansson set up Ovechkin for a goal at 3:19 of the third that pulled the Caps to within a tally of the Wings. Similar to Franzen’s first goal, Ovechkin made a perfect shot and rang it in off the iron.
“Before I got the goal,” explains Ovechkin, “I had an empty-netter and I missed the puck. That was a surprise that I was that open in that moment. Anyway, Oates made a change and it is working. Lats scored a big goal for us, and it’s a big win.”
Nearly 10 minutes after Ovechkin’s goal closed the gap to 3-2, Latta found himself on the ice with Chimera and Joel Ward just past the midpoint of the third. With his parents in attendance, Latta beat Howard to make it a 3-3 game. Latta’s first NHL tally came in his 10th game in the league.
After taking a pass from defense partner Karl Alzner, Caps defenseman John Carlson floated a wrist shot on net. Latta was in position to collect the rebound and backhand it into a yawning cage.
“That’s awesome,” says Carlson of Latta’s timing on his first NHL goal. “It’s just something we work on. Karl makes a nice, hard pass on my tape and allows me the time to get around that weak side forward that’s in the middle and [Latta] made a great play picking it off of his feet and putting it in.”
As usual, Holtby made some strong stops to keep his team within striking distance. He made 34 saves to earn his ninth win of the season.
“They’re a skilled team,” says Holtby of the Wings. “They’d be a team you’d have to play a few times before you could really figure out a good plan against them. Next game, we’ll probably have a better idea. They have a great chemistry, too, their whole team.
“Credit to us that we stuck with it through the whole game and kept battling the whole time. They got some pretty good scoring chances and we had some big plays from our [defenseman] and some sticks and it got us the win.”
Both teams were unable to notch the game-winner on overtime power play opportunities. Backstrom scored the only goal of the skills session to make winners of Washington.
“It’s a good win for us,” says Carlson. “We’ve got a tough stretch [coming up] and it’s nice to have one of these character wins. Obviously [the Wings] were coming hard at us and they had a few [power play] goals. It’s not easy to be on the road and battle back from a few goals [down] and I think it shows a lot of character out of our team.”
“It’s a huge win,” says Ovechkin. “Good team effort. Everybody knows what they have out there and how good they are. They get a 3-1 lead and we just made a push and it worked. We did a good job in our zone and the [defense] stepped up big time without Greenie. They controlled the puck and gave us a good first pass.”
Green On The Blueline Without Green – With Mike Green on the sidelines because of a lower body injury, 25-year-old Karl Alzner was Washington’s most experienced defenseman in terms of NHL games played on Friday night. Alzner came into the contest with 275 games worth of NHL experience, tops among the six defensemen in the Capitals’ lineup against the Red Wings.
Washington’s six blueliners brought a combined total of 622 games worth of NHL experience into Friday’s game.
Carlson was brilliant all over the ice, logging a single-game career best 32:26 in ice time on the night. He was four seconds shy of being on the ice for half the game, and he also logged more than a dozen minutes of special teams time, 6:43 on the power play and 5:51 while Washington was shorthanded.
Making his Capitals debut after being recalled from AHL Hershey on Thursday, Tyson Strachan was very solid in replacing Green alongside rookie Nate Schmidt, who paced the Caps with 19:59 in even-strength ice time.
Oates had plenty of praise for his group of relatively inexperienced blueliners in the wake of their performance on Friday night.
“Carly played 32 and a half minutes,” exclaims Oates. “Alzie played a ton. They played great. Tyson came in and played a fantastic game for us for what we asked of him. He moved the puck great. Schmidtty is playing better every night I feel and [Alexander Urbom] is playing better every night. Stevie [Oleksy] did a great job tonight. Going into this building or the first time for a lot of guys, it’s hard. But they did a good job.”
Washington iced its greenest group of blueliners in about five years, since a 2-1 win at Toronto on Dec. 6, 2008. That was the night that Alzner scored his first NHL goal. The six defensemen the Caps dressed that night had barely more experience (675 total games) than Friday night’s group.
With 298 games in the league at the time, Shaone Morrisonn was the Caps’ most experienced defender that night nearly five years ago. He was followed by Milan Jurcina (222), Bryan Helmer (138), Sami Lepisto (12), Alzner (five) and Sean Collins, who made his NHL debut that night.
With the sidelined trio of Green, John Erskine and Jack Hillen, the Caps had nearly twice as much blueline experience (1,168 games) on the sidelines as they had in the lineup against Detroit.
Overpowered – Washington recently went 28 straight games without surrendering multiple power play goals in the same game. For the second time in the last four games, the Caps’ stellar shorthanded unit was dented for a pair of extra-man tallies on Friday night.
The Caps also permitted two power play goals in last Saturday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Coyotes in Phoenix.
With a kill rate of 87.3% on the season, Washington’s penalty killing outfit ranks second in the NHL.
Three Or More – Friday’s game marked the third straight game in which Washington has surrendered three or more goals. It’s the first time the Caps have allowed three or more tallies in four straight games since March 26-April 2 of this year. Washington went 2-1-1 in those four games and is also 2-1-1 in its current stretch
Highly Sought – Last year at this time, Caps defenseman Nate Schmidt and Wings blueliner Danny DeKeyser were both still in school and playing collegiate hockey. Schmidt was at U. of Minnesota and DeKeyser was at Western Michigan.
The two were probably the most sought after college players at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season, and both signed pro contracts at the conclusion of their respective NCAA seasons.
While Schmidt started his pro career with Hershey of the AHL late last season, DeKeyser was inserted directly into the Detroit lineup. He played for the Wings in 11 regular season games and also appeared in two games in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs before being sidelined with a broken thumb.
A native of Macomb, Mich., DeKeyser has averaged 21:35 a night on the Detroit blueline this season to rank third among Red Wings defensemen. He scored the first power play goal of his NHL career on Friday against Washington.
Schmidt played eight regular season and five playoff games for the AHL Hershey Bears last season, and also played in Hershey’s season opener in 2013-14. When he was recalled to Washington on Oct. 11 he had 14 pro games to his credit, including playoff games. He has now exceeded that total with 16 games with the Caps in ’13-14.
Schmidt has averaged 19:08 per night with Washington this season.
Seven Down – Detroit came into Friday’s game with a rare and improbable six-game losing streak (0-1-5) on home ice, a skein the Caps extended to seven straight on Friday.
“Very surprising,” says Oates, who spent the first four seasons of his NHL playing career with the Wings. “Just goes to show how fickle the game is. It is the same team that won a zillion in a row [at home] a little while ago. They’re a very good hockey team over there, they’ll be fine.”
The Wings haven’t won at Joe Louis Arena in a month now, since a 2-1 win over Columbus on Oct. 15. They can take some solace in the fact that they’ve been pulling points at home; their last two losses at The Joe came via the shootout and the three before that occurred in overtime.
“That happens to everyone,” says Holtby. “You look at the league, it’s so even. It can happen to anyone. Obviously it does surprise you with Detroit, but I think that everyone knows they’ll be there in the end.”
Down On The Farm – Whilst the Caps were in Motown taking on the Wings, Washington’s ECHL affiliate team – the Reading Royals – were across the state in Kalamazoo taking on the Red Wings’ ECHL affiliate, the K-Wings.
Reading jumped out to a 1-0 lead late in the second period on a goal from Yannick Tifu, but the K-Wings scored twice in the third to send Reading to a 2-1 defeat. Brandon Anderson made 16 saves for the Royals in a losing effort.
Reading is back in action on Sunday when it visits Toledo.
By The Numbers – Backstrom led Washington with six shots on net and he won 14 of 22 draws (64%) … Strachan paced the Caps with five hits … Carlson led the way for Washington with three blocked shots … DeKeyser led the Wings with 26:35 in ice time … Pavel Datsyuk (24:37) and Henrik Zetterberg (24:23) both skated more than 24 minutes in Friday’s game, tops among all forwards on both sides … Drew Miller led the Wings with six shots on net.