Twenty minutes into Wednesday’s Thanksgiving Eve tilt with the Ottawa Senators at Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals had the visitors on the ropes. But the Capitals’ miserable second period performance breathed new life into the Sens and Ottawa accepted Washington’s gift, leaving town with a 6-4 victory.
“We saw a very good hockey team in the first period with 18 shots and three goals and did a lot of things right,” notes Caps forward Brooks Laich, “and for the rest of the game we saw a very bad hockey team. Bad decisions, bad penalties, getting outworked. We looked very unstructured in the last 40 minutes, and that’s unfortunate because that was one of our best first periods of the season.”
Washington was seeking to pick up where it left off on Saturday night when it dominated the Toronto Maple Leafs territorially, teeing up 101 shot attempts and getting 50 of those on net despite a 2-1 shootout loss.
The Caps had some decent possession shifts early in Wednesday’s game, but the Sens had the best chances in the game’s first few minutes. Washington netminder Braden Holtby had the answer on those early chances, making strong stops on Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur in the early going, and on Colin Greening and Jason Spezza a bit later on.
The Capitals had the game’s first extra-man opportunity when Chris Neil was jailed for slashing at 9:33 of the first. Washington had nothing doing on that first power play, but it scored the game’s first goal less than a minute later.
In the midst of a line change, Eric Fehr picked the pocket of Sens defenseman Joe Corvo near the half wall in the Ottawa end and the puck went right to Michael Latta. Latta tried to carry to the net, but was tripped. Fehr collected the disc and wristed it high over the glove hand of Sens goalie Craig Anderson to put the Caps up 1-0 at 12:10 of the first.
A mere 25 seconds later, Caps defenseman Mike Green took a holding call to put Washington on the penalty kill for the first time. Near the midpoint of the Sens’ man-advantage, center Kyle Turris won a left-dot draw back to Ottawa defenseman Patrick Wiercioch, who floated a shot from center point that clicked off Ryan and into the Washington net.
Ryan’s game-tying tally came just 78 seconds after Fehr’s goal.
Just 10 seconds after Ryan’s goal, Ottawa’s Zack Smith was sent off for hooking. The Caps cashed in this time, regaining the lead on a Marcus Johansson back-door tap in. Alex Ovechkin’s pass from the left dot took a favorable bounce off Troy Brouwer’s leg and right to Johansson, whose goal came just 38 seconds after Ryan’s.
Less than a minute later, the Caps opened up some breathing room. Washington gained the zone and Jason Chimera put the puck toward the net. Joel Ward fought off his check and put the puck in front. Brooks Laich beat his man out of the corner and put a backhander behind Anderson for the Caps’ second goal in a span of just 47 seconds and a 3-1 Washington lead.
In the game’s first 20 minutes, Washington enjoyed a 25-17 advantage in shot attempts and an 18-11 bulge in shots on goal.
The Sens, losers of five of their previous seven by a combined score of 26-15, were clearly teetering. Coming into Wednesday’s contest, Anderson was 1-5 in his previous seven starts and he was dented for four or more goals in five of those games. Washington’s second period mission was a simple one: get more pucks on the beleaguered Ottawa goaltender
But the Caps weren’t up to the task, and instead they turned in about as poor a second period as one could imagine. The Capitals took three minor penalties in the second, rarely had the puck, burned a lot of energy chasing the Senators around, and they yielded whatever territorial advantage they had achieved in the game’s first frame.
Ottawa constantly swarmed the Washington net in the second period, and only some good saves from Holtby and some misfires on the part of the Senators enabled the Caps to get out of the middle stanza at 3-3.
Fehr went off for hooking at 6:17 of the second, and the Senators’ Chris Phillips rifled a slapshot past Holtby off the rush just 19 seconds later to shave the Caps’ lead to 3-2.
Exactly a minute after the Phillips strike, Green went to the box again for hooking. Washington managed to kill that one off, but Ottawa’s Colin Greening scored on a 3-on-2 rush, ending a 32-game drought with his first goal of the season at 10:36, exactly a minute after the Caps had killed Green’s third minor of the game.
Washington was never able to regain its footing. In what turned out to be an anemic second period performance, the Senators outshot the Caps 19-3 and had an incredibly lopsided 32-6 advantage in second period shot attempts.
Four of the Capitals’ six shot attempts in the second came before the Fehr penalty. In the final 14:26 of the second period, the Sens lead in shot tries was 26-2. In the final 7:51 of the period, Ottawa had 16 shot attempts while the Caps had none. Washington basically spent the final eight minutes of the period dodging bullets in its own end of the ice.
The Capitals’ penalty woes continued in the third. Fehr tripped Ryan at 5:34 of the final frame, and a Spezza shot glanced off Mika Zibanejad in front and beat Holtby to put the Senators on top for the first time at 6:05.
Less than a minute after falling down 4-3, the Caps went on the power play because of an unwise Phillips minor for interference. But Washington was unable to strike. Even worse, an Ovechkin giveaway led to a Milan Michalek breakaway chance and Caps center Mikhail Grabovski took a tripping minor on the backcheck.
Smith briefly donned the goat’s horns for the Sens at 16:30 of the third when he incurred his second minor of the game for kneeing Caps defenseman John Carlson at the Ottawa line. Three seconds after Ward won the right dot, offensive zone draw, Carlson fired and scored from the point to make it a 4-4 game with just 3:27 remaining.
Washington was minutes away from earning at least a point in a game it had no business in winning, but it wasn’t to be. Smith took a pass from Chris Neil in neutral ice, cut through the tandem of Green and Nate Schmidt and then put a wrist shot through Holtby – a shot the Caps’ goaltender should have had – to restore Ottawa’s lead at 5-4 with 2:23 left.
“We can’t have that,” laments Johansson. “The games are too tight, and those goals are big. Like tonight, it’s tough to see that last one go in there when we just tied it up. It’s tough to bounce back from that.”
Ryan’s empty-netter in the waning seconds sealed the deal and sent the Caps to a fitting fate.
“We played a solid game in Toronto [on Saturday],” says Oates, “We played lousy tonight. Lousy. Not good decisions. We get a lead and we still don’t do the right things, even though [on] the third goal that we scored, we get the goal from doing the right thing. Brooksy’s [Brooks Laich] goal came from what we talked about all night long. We are up three to one and we turn it over twice the very next shift. That’s mental to me.”
“We had them,” says Carlson. “We were close to putting our stamp on it. But we let them back. It’s tough. We need wins right now and this is certainly one that we can look back on and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Because it’s not a good loss.”
Bad Night To Be Bad – While the Caps were squandering a 4-1 lead at home, Pittsburgh was rebounding from a 4-1 home ice deficit to earn a 6-5 shootout win over the Maple Leafs on Wednesday. Less than two weeks after the Caps briefly led the Metropolitan Division, Washington now trails the Penguins by seven points in the Metro.
The New York Rangers won on Wednesday in Florida, and the Blueshirts – despite their 3-7 start to the season – are now tied for second with the Caps.
Carolina won on Wednesday; the Hurricanes are just a point behind Washington and the Rangers.
Washington is now as close to the eighth-place New York Islanders as it is to the front-running Penguins. The Caps visit the Island on Saturday night.
Still Hot – Carlson now has 10 points (six goals, four assists) in his last 12 games. With six goals on the season, he is tied for fifth among all NHL defensemen and he is just one off the league lead in that department.
Carlson has accounted for six of the eight goals Washington has gotten from is defensive corps, and his 12 points is tied with Green for the team lead among defensemen. Carlson and Green are also tied for the team lead in average ice time per game at 24:01.
Scrappin’ Strachan – When Sens forward Chris Neil took a run at Schmidt to earn an interference minor late in the first period, Schmidt’s partner Tyson Strachan stepped up and challenged Neil to a bout. For his trouble, Strachan picked up an instigator minor and a 10-minute misconduct.
The fight against Neil was the 12th in 126 career regular season games for Strachan.
Because he spent the equivalent of nearly a period in the penalty box, Strachan’s ice time was limited to just 8:42 on the night. That’s easily the lowest ice time total he’s had in six games with the Caps this season.
When Aaron Volpatti fought Greening in the second, it marked the Caps’ 15th fighting major of the season, ninth most in the NHL. Strachan became the eighth different member of the Capitals to draw a fighting major this season.
Shorthanded Struggles – Ottawa netted three power play goals in Wednesday’s game, marking the first time since Feb. 7 – a span of 62 regular season games – that the Caps have allowed as many as three power play goals in a single contest.
Wednesday’s game is the sixth consecutive game in which Washington has surrendered at least one power play goal, the team’s longest such streak in nearly three years.
The last time the Caps allowed at least one extra-man tally in as many consecutive games was a seven-game run from Dec. 2-15, 2010. That streak coincided with the first seven losses in Washington’s notorious eight-game losing streak in the weeks leading up to the 2011 Winter Classic against the Penguins. The Caps allowed exactly one power play goal in each of those seven games, going 0-5-2 while its penalty killing outfit operated at just 73.1% efficiency.
During the Caps’ current six-game streak of shorthanded struggles, Washington has killed off just 16 of 25 (64%) of its penalty killing missions.
Skidding – The Caps have lost four straight games (0-3-1) for the first time this season and for the first time since the first four games of the 2012-13 season (0-3-1).
Washington has dropped three straight home games in regulation for the first time in nearly three years, since Nov. 25-Dec. 1, 2011. That three-game skid spanned the coaching administrations of Bruce Boudreau and Dale Hunter.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears also suffered a loss on Wednesday night, dropping a 4-2 decision to the St. John’s IceCaps at Giant Center.
Hershey got goals from Peter LeBlanc (his sixth) and Ryan Stoa (his fourth). David Leggio made 28 saves in a losing effort in the Hershey nets.
The Bears will be back in action on Saturday when they host Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in Hershey.
At 6-7-2-2 on the season, the Bears are now 13th in the 15-team Eastern Conference.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals took a 4-3 shootout decision over the Elmira Jackals at Santander Arena on Wednesday night.
Domenic Monardo scored twice and T.J. Syner added a single tally to support Brandon Anderson’s 34-save efforts in the Reading crease.
The 10-5 Royals are tied with Wheeling for first place in the ECHL’s Atlantic Division.
By The Numbers – Washington netminders faced 40 or more shots on goal for the fifth time this season and the third time in the team’s last five games … Carlson led the Capitals with 27:25 in ice time and seven shots on net … Ovechkin paced the Caps with six hits … Washington won just 32 of 76 draws (42%) on the night … Eleven different Capitals forwards took at least one draw in the game; Ovechkin was the only one who did not … Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson led all players on both sides with 29:38 in ice time … Twelve of the Senators’ 18 skaters picked up at least a point in the game.