On Wednesday night against the Ottawa Senators, the Washington Capitals squandered an early 3-1 lead to fall into a 4-3 third-period deficit. When John Carlson scored a power play goal late in regulation, it appeared as though the Capitals would salvage at least a point from that contest.
But Zack Smith’s goal with 2:23 left – and just 64 seconds after Carlson’s goal – helped lift Ottawa to victory, ensuring that the Caps would not get a point in that game. Washington’s vexing habit of allowing goals within two minutes after a goal of its own hurt the Caps again. They’ve done that 14 times in 27 games this season.
On Saturday against the Islanders in New York, the Caps reversed that trend. When it looked as though the Isles might earn a regulation win on a goal in the 59th minute, the Capitals scored swiftly thereafter, overcoming a manpower disadvantage to get the game into overtime.
Caps captain Alex Ovechkin scored in overtime to make winners of Washington, 3-2. Mikhail Grabovski brought the puck out of the Washington end, crossing with Ovechkin near the New York line and leaving a drop pass for Ovechkin just inside the zone. Ovechkin cut to the middle and beat Nilsson to give the Capitals a pair of points.
“I saw Grabo carry the puck through the neutral zone and I saw the two forwards go change,” says Ovechkin. “I tried to use the [defense] like a screen because I know [Grabovski] is going to drop me the puck. He goes to my [defenseman], so I make a fake shot and go to center [and shoot it] five hole.”
“It was a really good game, right to the end,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “Obviously they got a big goal late, and we figured out a way. Great plays by the guys and a big goal by [Nicklas Backstrom] to tie it up.”
Considering that both clubs played the night before, the Caps and Islanders played a quickly paced back and forth first frame with a couple of good scoring chances for each side, but no goals and no penalties. The two teams played more than a quarter of the first frame – a span of 5:21 – without a whistle from the 5:19 to the 10:40 mark of the first.
There were only a dozen draws in the first 20 minutes of the game.
Washington drew first blood just ahead of the midpoint of the middle period.
The entire fourth line combined to help Martin Erat win a right dot draw in the Islanders’ end. Caps winger Aaron Volpatti came out of the pack with the puck in the corner, and he, Erat and Tom Wilson began working it around the back of the New York net.
With a step on his man, Erat broke around the back of the net and threaded the puck to Wilson in front. The rookie winger banged a shot that didn’t quite get through, but the puck hung in front just long enough for Volpatti to get a few whacks at it, and he finally chipped it into the net behind rookie Islanders’ netminder Anders Nilsson for a 1-0 Washington lead at 8:58 of the second.
“It’s a good win on the draw,” recounts Wilson. “I threw it down to Patti and I got it back. I kind of rolled up and didn’t see anything.
“I saw Marty darting behind the net and I threw it down. And when he gets the puck behind the net, he’s a very dangerous player. I went to the net and he found me. It was kind of behind me so I reached for it and just tried to get it on net. A couple of whacks from there and then I heard Patti yelling. It was a bit of a blur, but we needed a little grease to get that one in.”
Soon afterwards, Caps center Jay Beagle was whistled for hooking New York’s Michael Grabner on a breakaway at 11:13 of the second, the first penalty of game against either club. It was a precarious kill for the Caps, but they managed to complete the mission without incident. The Isles teed up seven shots during the man advantage opportunity, getting four of them on goal.
With the Caps still nursing their slim 1-0 lead at 2:10 of the third period, Washington finally received its first power play chance of the night. Islanders forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard committed an unwise offensive zone interference infraction at that juncture.
Not only did the Caps’ power play fail to add to the team’s slim lead, it was unable to protect it.
Isles forward Cal Clutterbuck collected an Andrew MacDonald clearing attempt high just outside the New York blueline and tore off on a breakaway. He was able to beat Caps goalie Braden Holtby with a wrist shot at 3:59 of the third to make it a 1-1 game.
The game remained tied into the penultimate minute of regulation, when a series of crucial events took place over a span of less than four minutes that swayed momentum back and forth until the Caps were finally able to win it.
New York scored on a play in which Washington believed the whistle should have blown with just 1:51 remaining in regulation. Holtby smothered the puck in the crease and was waiting for a whistle, but it never came. New York’s John Tavares jimmied the puck loose and it came to Thomas Vanek, who buried it to put the Isles up 2-1.
“I covered the puck,” declares Holtby. “Guy comes in and pitchforks it under me and there was nothing I can do. It’s supposed to be when you lose sight of the puck, you blow the whistle. It didn’t happen, and they scored.”
To the Caps’ credit, they didn’t hang their heads. Oates pulled Holtby in favor of an extra skater in an attempt to get the equalizer. That ploy appeared to fail when Caps rearguard Mike Green was forced to take an interference penalty with just 70 seconds left on the clock, an infraction that prevented the Islanders from scoring an empty-net goal that would have given them a 3-1 lead and an almost certain regulation victory.
“The game is amazing, eh?” marvels Oates. “Greenie gets a penalty on the empty-netter and probably saves us the game. Sports.”
Instead, Green went to the box and the Caps went on the penalty kill. Backstrom won only four of his 14 draws on the night, but one of them was the defensive zone draw immediately following Green’s penalty.
The puck went into the New York end, and Caps blueliner Karl Alzner alertly moved up the left wing wall to keep it in the Islanders’ zone, following it down into the corner and pushing it to Jason Chimera, who was behind the New York net. Chimera slid a sublime backhand pass to the front where Backstrom had stealthily stationed himself, and the Washington pivot buried it for a shorthanded goal that evened the game at 2-2 with just 48.9 seconds remaining.
“We got a penalty there,” says Backstrom, “and we took a little chance when we played on the PK there. Alzie kept the puck in there off the wall, and a great pass by Chimmer from behind the net. It just landed on my tape. It found a way into the net and it’s a tie game.”
The Caps still had 1:39 worth of Green’s penalty to kill, with the lion’s share of that coming in the form of a 4-on-3 Islanders advantage at the start of overtime. Washington managed to navigate its way safely through those precarious shorthanded waters, setting the stage for Ovechkin’s heroics.
“[The Islanders] had a 4-on-3,” says Oates, “they had a great look. Holts made a big save. I don’t think they had time to even think about it, either, just like we didn’t have time. They had a timeout. Going to overtime they had a 4-on-3 for 40 seconds, we got it down twice, we killed it. And then great play by Ovi and Grabo to win it.”
“It was an exciting win because we played a great hockey game,” says Holtby, who made 37 saves in recording his 12th win of the season. “And [the Islanders] did too. It was a great game to be in. It was even. It was back and forth at times, and at times it was very defensive and very good hockey. It was one of those wins that it took everyone in this dressing room to win it. And we pulled it out.
“Any game you play against the Islanders, it’s a high tempo game. A team that can skate as well as they do, you know what you’re in for. I thought our guys did a great job matching it and especially in back-to-back games. From start to finish, it was a great hockey game.”
Islander Killer – Washington has recorded 16 wins in 31 overtime games all-time against the Islanders. Eight games have ended in a tie, and the Caps have lost six times in overtime and once in a shootout.
The Caps have more overtime wins over the Islanders than they have against any other opponent in the league.
Ovechkin now has 14 career game-winning goals in overtime, and five of those have come at the Islanders’ expense. Three of those extra-session game-winners have come on the Island and two in Washington.
“If you remember we have games like that all the time against the Islanders,” says Ovechkin, “especially here, where it’s tied or it’s a shootout. It’s a tough building to play in to be honest with you. It seems like the ice is bigger and you have more space and you get tired more quickly.”
Working Overtime – Ten of Washington’s 27 games this season have gone past the 60-minute mark and eight of the team’s 15 games in the month of November required overtime.
Last season, the Caps had 10 of their 48 games go to overtime in the lockout-abbreviated campaign.
The Capitals are 6-2 in games settled in the shootout this season, and they are 2-0 in games that are decided in overtime. Ovechkin has supplied the game-winner in both of the Caps’ overtime victories this season.
November In The Rear View – Washington finished up a busy stretch of its schedule on Saturday, playing the 15th and final game of its November schedule. More than half of the Capitals’ schedule for the month was played in four sets of games on back-to-back nights.
The Caps came out of it with a 9-4-2 record, and they pulled 20 points to double what they managed in October when they went 5-7 with no back-to-backs. Washington is now 2-1-1 in the front end of back-to-back games this season, and it is also 2-1-1 in the back end of such games.
The Caps started the month with games on back-to-back nights, taking a 7-0 shutout win over the Flyers in Philly on Nov. 1 and squeaking out a 3-2 shootout win over the Florida Panthers on home ice a night later. Washington ended the month by sweeping another set of back-to-backs, taking a 3-2 shootout win over the Canadiens on Friday night and Saturday’s overtime triumph on the Island.
Washington pulled at least a point out of five of its six road games in November, going 3-1-2 away from Verizon Center.
Virtually a third of the way through the season, the Caps have 30 points (14-11-2) and are in sole possession of second place in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division.
Carry Fourth – Because there were few penalties called during the game, the Caps’ fourth line of Volpatti, Erat and Wilson logged a bit more ice time than usual. They made the most of their opportunities, combining for four shots on net, eight hits and the Capitals’ first goal of the game.
“It’s awesome to get in the game,” says Wilson. “It’s nice when you get a regular shift; it’s easier to keep the legs going. We were trying to concentrate on getting pucks in and getting pucks out, and playing our game. We were lucky enough to get one goal there.”
Volpatti and Erat were both over 10 minutes on the night while Wilson skated 7:48.
“Obviously you feel better when you’re in it more,” says Volpatti. “Sometimes if you go 10 minutes without a shift your legs kind of burn up if you get out there for a while. It’s good to contribute. Everyone wants to contribute more.”
“Big goal for them,” says Oates, “great for Patti and Marty and Wils. They did a lot of work and they played well tonight. They got some more minutes because there were less penalties. I think [because] both teams played last night, it was probably a little bit more cautious and I thought both teams had good energy considering [they palyed Friday] night.”
Green On The Blueline – Caps defenseman Green is only 28 years old and he has 456 games worth of NHL experience. And that made him the most experienced of all the dozen defenseman dressed for both sides of Saturday’s game between the Capitals and the Islanders. By a wide margin.
Washington actually had the three most experienced defensemen in Saturday’s game, with Karl Alzner (289) and John Carlson (260) having more games of NHL experience that New York’s most seasoned blueliner, Andrew MacDonald (258).
The Isles had three defensemen with fewer than 70 games played in the NHL going into in Saturday’s game: Thomas Hickey (65), Aaron Ness (18) and Calvin De Haan (one).
The six defensemen the Isles dressed for Saturday’s game came in with a total of just 755 games worth of NHL experience while Washington’s had just 1,219.
Both goaltenders in the contest also came in with fewer than 100 games worth of experience in the circuit. Holtby had 78 and Nilsson just five games at the night’s outset.
Back In The Saddle Again – Defenseman Dmitry Orlov made his 2013-14 season debut with Washington, logging 13:41 on 14 shifts for the game, all at even strength. Playing alongside Tyson Strachan, Orlov registered one shot on net for the game and didn’t show any signs of rust.
Erat was back in the Washington lineup for the first time since Nov. 22 after spending the last three games as a healthy scratch. He skated 10:28 on the night, getting a dab of time on both special teams, blocking two shots and winning half of his six draws, including the one that led to Washington’s first goal of the game.
Back To Back, Jack – Saturday night’s game marked just the fourth time in which Holtby has started a regular season game with zero days of rest between starts. He is now 2-1-1 with a 3.29 GAA and a .902 save pct. in those starts.
Saturday Night Special – Holtby is now 13-3-2 lifetime in Saturday games. He has three shutouts, a 1.99 GAA and a .935 save pct. in his 18 career starts on Saturday.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears hosted the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Saturday night at Giant Center. The Bears came away with a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory of their own.
Bears winger Stanislav Galiev netted his first AHL goal of the season on a Hershey power play at 3:46 of the first frame to put the home team on top first. Chay Genoway and Casey Wellman assisted on the Galiev goal. Jeff Taffe’s sixth goal of the season – from Wellman and Julien Brouillette – came late in the second period and it enabled the Bears to take a 2-0 lead into the third.
But the Baby Pens scored twice in the third period and overtime was needed to settle the score. David Kolomatis netted his second goal of the season at 4:53 of the extra session to make winners of the Bears. Dane Byers and Matt Watkins collected assists on the game-winner.
David Leggio made 30 stops in the Hershey nets to improve to 3-5-0-1 on the season.
The 7-7-2-2 Bears are now 12th in the AHL’s Eastern Conference standings. Hershey is back in action on Sunday afternoon when it hosts Providence at Giant Center.
By The Numbers – Both clubs netted their second shorthanded goals of the season in the game. Washington has allowed four shorties – tied for second most in the NHL – and the Islanders have surrendered two … The Capitals’ top line accounted for 21 of the team’s 58 shot attempts on the night while New York’s top unit rolled up 29 of the Islanders’ 65 shot tries on the evening … Carlson paced the Caps with 24:40 in ice time and four blocked shots on the night … Wilson led all players on both sides with six hits … MacDonald led the Isles with 26:52 in ice time.