For the second straight game, the Washington Capitals were faced with the prospect of killing a lengthy 5-on-3 power play. For the second straight game, they were unable to do so. For the second straight game, a Washington foe recorded a hat trick against the Capitals. And for the fourth straight game, the Caps were handed a setback, this one a 5-3 defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Wild in St. Paul on Saturday night.
Wild defenseman Ryan Suter notched the first hat trick of his NHL career and the first ever by a Wild defenseman, and Minnesota scored four times in the second period including three times on the power play.
“[The Wild] had nothing and then we made mistakes on the first goal and gave them a little life,” laments Caps coach Adam Oates. “The penalties, putting it in the stands, we talk about details all the time. We get two of them [delay of game penalties] tonight and they score on both [power plays].”
The Caps’ four-game losing streak (0-2-2) matches their longest skid of the season to date.
Slow starts dogged the Caps early in the 2013-14 season, but they’ve had a series of strong starts to games of late and Saturday was quite likely their best of the season to date.
Despite having a power play opportunity in the first frame, Minnesota managed just one shot on net, and that one came at even strength. The Wild were able to tee up on six shots to 18 for the Capitals in the first, and Washington got on the board twice in the game’s first 20 minutes.
The Caps took a 1-0 lead on their first power play of the night at 12:02 of the first period. The Capitals moved the puck around and had several good looks and chances, ultimately scoring when Alex Ovechkin fired a shot from the left point and Marcus Johansson gained position in front and easily potted the rebound.
Washington doubled its advantage just 13 seconds later when defenseman Mike Green neatly skirted a Wild defender with a toe drag and slipped the puck past Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom to double the Caps’ advantage.
By period’s end, Washington was up 11-1 in shots on net and 6-1 in even-strength shots.
As you’d expect from a team that was throttled as thoroughly as the Wild was in the first, Minnesota came out with a bit more verve in the second period. The Wild had the puck for most of the first couple minutes of the period, and they halved the Washington lead at the 2:16 mark. Wild forward Charlie Coyle outmuscled Green for a loose puck in the left wing corner of the Caps’ end of the ice, and he fed it in front for Nino Niederreiter. Niederreiter chipped it over the left shoulder of Caps goalie Braden Holtby and just under the crossbar to make it a 2-1 game.
“We missed the puck on both ends,” says Oates. “We had a chance to keep it alive in the offensive zone, we didn’t. We missed it. It came down to the other end, we lost a battle and missed out on the puck.”
Washington’s recent propensity to shoot itself in its collective foot came to the fore once again about four minutes after the Niederreiter goal. Washington defenseman Steve Oleksy went off for roughing at 6:30 of the second, and teammate Karl Alzner flipped the puck over the glass just five seconds later, putting two of the Caps’ penalty-killing blueliners in the box and giving the Wild a two-man advantage for 1:55.
Suter scored his first goal of the game on a blast through a screen from center point just 21 seconds after Alzner was seated. Suter’s second goal came on the back end of that power play just 42 seconds after the first one. The second power-play tally also came on a shot from center point through a screen in front, but it came on a Suter wrist shot.
Green scored his second of the night on a fluky goal, a shot that wasn’t even a shot. Green floated the puck off the glass behind the Minnesota goal, and the puck banked in off Minnesota netminder Backstrom to even the game at 3-3 with 6:10 left in the second period.
Once again, the Caps put themselves in trouble soon after. Less than two minutes after Green’s tying tally, Mikhail Grabovski was sent off for shooting the puck over the glass. And once again, the Wild made Washington pay.
With 2:56 left in the second period, Minnesota forward Jason Zucker tipped a Keith Ballard shot from the left point. The puck bounced straight up into the air and fell down behind Holtby and rolled into the net for a 4-3 Wild lead going into the game’s final 20 minutes.
“The fourth one went through [Jason Chimera’s] legs, bounced twice and went in,” says Oates. “That happens. That happens in games. The point is, you can’t keep taking penalties. You can’t.”
Suter tripped Caps forward Eric Fehr at 5:30 of the third to give Washington a rare power play opportunity, and the Caps had a few good looks at the net during that man advantage. But the Caps couldn’t capitalize, and Suter administered the dagger seconds after exiting the penalty box. He came up ice on a 2-on-1 with Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner, and Stoner fed him for a shot that beat Holtby on the short side to complete the hat trick and the night’s scoring.
“It’s all about getting the confidence back,” says Holtby, “somehow, some way. If I’m full of confidence, I guess I make that fifth-goal save, that one that could really keep us in the game. That’s the one I really don’t like, the one I need to have. The other four, do what you want on them. Maybe I play them differently, who knows. But that fifth one is something I’ve got to have. I’ll work on the 2-on-1s and make sure that I’m better and work on screens, obviously.”
For the fourth straight game, the Caps felt as though they had played well enough to win. But for the fourth straight game, they did not.
“The first period,” says Caps center Brooks Laich, “I really don’t think we could have scripted that any better. A 2-0 lead, they have one shot, they’re not in our zone, they’re getting booed off the ice after 20 minutes by their own fans on a Saturday night. We’re in total control of that game. They get one in the second, and then after that the penalties. With the penalties we just shot ourselves in the foot and that was the difference in the game.”
A First – The NHL began tracking shots on goal totals starting with the 1973-74 season. Until Saturday night’s game between the Capitals and the Wild, no team had ever scored five goals while managing only 11 shots on net, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Shots Not Fired – The Caps entered the game allowing an average of 34.8 shots per game, the second worst average in the league.
Washington permitted just 11 shots on goal in Saturday’s game, a Capitals franchise record for fewest shots allowed in a road game. The previous mark is wiped out of the books after a run of nearly 18 years. The Caps allowed a dozen shots to the Blackhawks in a Jan. 17, 1996 game in Chicago, a 3-2 Caps win.
Two-Timer – Green’s two-goal game was the 15th of his NHL career and his first since April 27, 2013 against Boston, in the Capitals’ regular season finale of the 2012-13 campaign.
Green is now tied for 21st in the NHL among defensemen in goals (five) this season and he is tied for 22nd in the circuit among all blueliners in points (21).
Green is now one goal shy of 100 for his NHL career and he is one assist shy of 200 for his career. Of course, that means he is also two points shy of 300 for his career.
Tough Town – Washington falls to 0-6-1 all-time at Xcel Energy Center and the Capitals are the only team that has never tasted victory in the building. The Caps have been outscored by a combined total of 20-10 in their seven games here.
The Caps didn’t score their first road goal against the Wild until the third period of their third visit here; they were whitewashed in each of the first two games they played at Xcel.
Robert Lang scored Washington’s first-ever goal on the road against the Wild on Nov. 1, 2003, ending a streak of 162:06 without a goal in St. Paul.
Tough Times – Holtby has now surrendered five goals in each of his last three starts and three or more in five of his last six assignments.
After going 12-8-1 with a 2.64 GAA and a .925 save pct. in his first 22 starts of the season, Holtby is now 1-3-1 with a 4.97 GAA and an .840 save pct. in six starts since the end of November.
As a result of his struggles, his confidence has waned. Holtby believes he might have made the save on Suter’s third goal if not for his sagging confidence.
“It always takes a hit I think if things aren’t going well,” says Holtby. “I don’t think it’s at a low by any means; I still believe in myself. But throughout the game you’re not feeling many shots and a play like that comes and I don’t get over far enough on the angle. I overthink it, thinking he’s going back again with the pass and he beats me short side. It’s just those things. I need to have the confidence in myself that I can square up and still have the ability to get back if he passes it.”
Saturday’s game marked Holtby’s first start in two weeks, a level of inactivity to which he is not accustomed.
“It’s like everybody,” says Oates of Holtby’s struggles. “You help a guy fight through it. That’s what being a pro is about. You’re going to have your moments where you struggle, and it’s for the other guys to help him through it and the team to help him through it, no matter who it is.
“We’re going through a lousy stretch right now where we’ve played some good hockey and getting lousy results. [Allowing] 11 shots on the road should be good enough. It’s not. So we’ve got to figure out another way to play that much better.”
Leading Men – The Caps have owned a lead in just two of the seven games they’ve played at Xcel Energy Center. In 425 minutes of hockey they’ve played against the Wild in Minnesota, the Capitals have had the upper hand for a combined total of 33:28 of that time.
Washington has taken a lead to intermission just twice in Minnesota, both times after the first period. Saturday night’s game marked the first time the Caps have ever held a two-goal advantage at Xcel.
Hat Trick Rarities – Suter’s hat trick was the 137th recorded against the Capitals in their 39-season NHL history. It was only the fifth by a defenseman and the first three-goal game by a defenseman against the Capitals in nearly 35 years.
Prior to Saturday night, the New York Islanders’ Denis Potvin – a Hockey Hall of Famer – was the last defenseman to hang three goals on the Caps in a single game. Potvin turned the trick on Jan. 16, 1979 in a 6-2 New York victory.
Carolina’s Jeff Skinner notched a hat trick against the Caps in Washington’s previous game, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Hurricanes on Thursday at Verizon Center.
The Skinner and Suter hat tricks are the first surrendered by the Capitals in consecutive games in more than 21 years. Buffalo’s Alexander Mogilny scored three goals against the Caps in a 4-1 Sabres win on Dec. 23, 1992 and Philadelphia’s Eric Lindros did it again three days later in a 5-5 tie between the Caps and the Flyers.
Down On the Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears hosted the Rochester Americans at Giant Center on Saturday night. The Bears prevailed, 5-1.
Rochester led the game 1-0 after the first 20 minutes, but Hershey scored twice in the second and three times in the third to win going away.
The Bears’ first two goals of the game were both power play tallies late in the second period. Hershey cashed in on both ends of a 5-on-3 manpower advantage. Brandon Segal scored on the two-man advantage at 16:57 of the middle frame with help from Chay Genoway and Casey Wellman.
Wellman scored his eighth goal of the season to give the Bears a 2-1 lead just 44 seconds later, getting help from Peter LeBlanc and Nate Schmidt.
Cameron Schilling netted his first goal of the season at 2:58 of the third, Segal and Matt Watkins assisting. Segal then scored his second power play goal of the night and his sixth goal of the season at 7:52, Ryan Stoa and Jeff Taffe assisting.
Watkins closed out the scoring on the night with a shorthanded empty-netter with three minutes remaining.
David Leggio made 20 stops in the Hershey net to run his record to 9-10-3-2 on the season.
The 14-12-3-3 Bears are fourth in the AHL’s East Division and 10th in the Eastern Conference, four points behind eighth place Adirondack. Hershey is back in action on Sunday when it hosts Manchester at Giant Center.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals dropped a 5-3 road decision to the Toledo Walleye on Friday night. The Royals headed to southern Ohio to take on the Cincinnati Cyclones on Saturday, and Reading came up short by a 5-2 count in that game.
Cincinnati scored the game’s first five goals before Reading got goals from Marvin Degon (on the power play) and Domenic Monardo in the final two minutes of the middle period.
Brandon Anderson allowed three goals on nine shots in 17:09 of work before yielding to Josh Watson, who surrendered two goals on 15 shots in his 34:30 between the pipes.
The 15-12-1-0 Royals are in second place in the ECHL’s Atlantic Division, five points behind front-running Wheeling.
By The Numbers – Carlson led the Capitals with 25:16 in ice time and three blocked shots … Ovechkin led the Capitals with seven shots on net and Troy Brouwer led Washington with three hits … Laich won 10 of 17 (59%) face-offs on the night … Suter’s three goals came on three shots … Minnesota netted three power-play goals on just three power-play shots in 6:40 with the man advantage on the night … Mikael Granlund won 11 of 15 (73%) and Mikko Koivu won 10 of 15 (67%) face-offs on the night for the Wild … Suter also paced the Wild with four blocked shots and 31:06 in ice time … Matt Cooke led Minnesota with half a dozen hits.