Coming off an ugly 5-2 loss on Thursday night against the Blue Jackets in Columbus, the Washington Capitals were in dire need of a bounce-back game in their final road contest before the Olympic break, a Friday night date in Detroit with the Red Wings. The Caps got a great goaltending performance from Michal Neuvirth, but they needed a desperate game-tying tally from Alex Ovechkin with seven seconds left in regulation to nudge the game into overtime.
Washington fell in the shootout, 4-3.
Given that they were mere seconds away from getting nothing, the Caps have to be satisfied with the single point they pulled from the fire on Friday.
The Caps had strong early start, but got into frequent penalty trouble in the first. Washington took three minor penalties in a span of just 11:09 starting just before the midpoint of the game’s initial period, but they managed to weather the situation thanks to some brilliant goaltending from Neuvirth.
Neuvirth stopped all 22 shots he faced in the first, 11 of which came while Detroit enjoyed the man advantage.
“Yeah, it was tough,” admitted Neuvirth after the game. “But like I’ve said so many times, when you don’t play often you like to see a lot of shots early in the game. I felt good. Obviously it’s very frustrating being so close to a win, but at least we got one point.”
The most dazzling of those 22 first-period stops – and one of the most dazzling of the season – came when Neuvirth flashed his glove hand to deny a Gustav Nyquist bid from point blank range, this just after making a neat left pad save on Jonathan Ericsson.
The Caps managed to take a 1-0 lead on their only power play of the first period. Promoted to the first power play unit, Jason Chimera occupied the spot on the goal line just off to the right of the net, the spot normally manned by Marcus Johansson. The player in that spot is generally a distributor, but Chimera read something in Detroit’s coverage and he quietly snuck around the backside of the Detroit net without being noticed and waited at the far post as Caps center Nicklas Backstrom surveyed the situation with the puck on his stick from his usual post along the right half-wall.
Backstrom suddenly snapped off a sublime pass to Chimera, who only needed to get his stick blade on the feed to direct it into the net for his 11th goal of the season at 15:24.
“I just kind of snuck around and it was a world class pass, right on my tape,” exuded Chimera. “You can’t ask for a better pass. It is one of those plays that you can talk about but sometimes it doesn’t work. This one worked.”
Detroit finally broke through early in the second, pulling even on a wild scramble in the Washington end. Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov was pickpocketed of the puck as he rushed it into the Detroit end, and Wings forward Patrick Eaves tried to spring linemate Drew Miller with a long stretch pass. The puck glanced off Miller’s stick and floated slowly into the slot. Neuvirth dove out from his goal crease and pokechecked it away from Miller and into the right wing corner, but the Caps’ goalie was far from the cage as players from both sides scrambled towards the puck and other optimal positions.
Miller got to the puck first and tried to center it for Eaves, but the latter’s shot went wide to the near side and rolled out toward Luke Glendening on the far side. As Glendening got the puck on his backhand, Neuvirth dove back towards the crease. The Caps had good support in front, but Glendening’s frantic backhand pass had eyes; it got through all the sprawling bodies and fell into the blue paint where Miller quickly rammed it into the still vacant net.
“When you decide to go [for the pokecheck],” explained Neuvirth, “you’ve got to go. I thought maybe I was a little late there, but when you decide you’ve got to go. I don’t even know what happened after; I was just trying to get back to the net as quick as I could. I’ve got to look at a replay.”
“There were a lot of mistakes on that goal,” noted Oates. “[Tyson Strachan] went end to end and almost scored on a breakaway, and then Orly got it and tried to do the same thing. I think as a young kid he got caught in the moment, and all of a sudden they go down the ice and Neuvy comes out of the net and it’s helter skelter. It’s funny, [Glendening] throws a backhand at the net and we’ve got four bodies there and somehow it squeaks through them all. It was a fluky goal.”
The Caps killed off one more Detroit power play midway through the middle frame, and then the Wings took their first lead of the night with less than two minutes remaining in the second. Detroit pivot Riley Sheahan won an offensive zone draw from Jay Beagle and drew the disc back to Danny DeKeyser at center point. DeKeyser teed up a blast that tipped off Chimera, changing direction slightly and flying past Neuvirth for a 2-1 Wings lead at 18:21.
Washington tied it up near the midpoint of the third. Ovechkin came out of his own end with the puck and spotted Casey Wellman coming onto the ice. Wellman took the pass from Ovechkin and gained the zone, carving toward the slot. Using Wings defender Niklas Kronwall as a screen, Wellman fired. Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard made the stop, but the rebound came right back to Wellman. He fired again, and Howard stopped it again. Improbably, the rebound once again came right to Wellman, and this time he volleyed it into the net to make it a 2-2 game at 8:09.
“I just hopped on the ice and I saw that we had control of the puck,” related Wellman, “so I just tried to take off and hope that he saw me. He made a good pass. I took a couple of whacks at it and it finally went in.”
Detroit regained its lead just over two minutes later. Caps defenseman John Erskine lost control of the puck at the left point, and Nyquist scooped it up and tore off on a 2-on-2 rush. He waited for a screen to develop, moved to the middle of the ice and fired a wrist shot that just missed Neuvirth’s glove.
Down 3-2 and with time running out, the Caps finally got their second power play of the night with 3:29 left. Washington laid it all on the line on the power play, firing 11 shots toward Howard during the two-minute minor, and getting five of them on net. But the Wings still owned that one-goal lead as the clock ticked down to the final minute of regulation.
Washington had difficulty exiting its zone and getting Neuvirth off for an extra skater, but it finally did so with about half a minute remaining. Chimera curled out from behind the Detroit goal with the puck and passed up the wall to John Carlson, who was near the right half wall. Carlson put one on a tee for Ovechkin, whose blast made it through traffic in front and eluded Howard to even the game at 3-3 with exactly seven seconds remaining.
“I actually wasn’t going to go for Ovi because we just had that [power play] late and they hemmed us in there for a good 20 or 30 seconds before we got the goalie out,” explained Oates. “It was just enough rest for him and he got out there. You’ve got to get lucky a little bit in those situations and we did. We had traffic in front and a great play. I think they’re going to change the goal to [Joel] Ward. It looks like on the replay that he tipped it for sure. But we got it to the net, we had traffic there, and we won battles.”
Neither team scored in overtime, and then Eaves swung the extra point to his team’s side when he was the only one of a half a dozen shooters from each side to succeed in the shootout.
“Other than penalties – which obviously have to be fixed – I thought the guys did a good job,” said Oates. “We played [Thursday] night, it was a hard fought game, [the Wings have] been resting and we came out on the road and we got a point. We wanted two; Neuvy stopped five shots in the shootout to give us a chance and their goalie was just that much better.
“There are some things you always like from the game, and I really liked the last 10 minutes. We score to tie it, and then we gave them one on a bad bounce. And then we didn’t give up. The guys kept pushing, we pushed right to the end and we got rewarded. There are a lot of positives in that.”
Power Move – Chimera’s first-period power-play goal was his first extra-man tally of the season and his first in nearly two years, since he netted one here at the Joe Louis Arena against the Red Wings on March 19, 2012 in a 5-3 Washington win.
Friday night’s power-play goal was just the 10th of Chimera’s 765-game NHL career. He has seven career shorthanded goals and 115 even-strength strikes.
Forty For Nicky – Backstrom’s first period assist was his 40th of the season, marking the sixth time in seven NHL seasons that he has reached that plateau in helpers. Backstrom joins Mike Ridley as the only other center in franchise history to have as many as six seasons with 40 or more assists.
Heavy Duty – Carlson logged upwards of 61 minutes in ice time in the back-to-back games on Thursday and Friday. He skated 29:45 against Columbus on Friday and punched the clock for 31:22 on Friday in Detroit. More than 14 of those 61 minutes were skated while Washington was shorthanded.
Goodbye Cruel January – Washington started calendar 2014 in second place in the Metropolitan Division standings. The Caps played 10 of their 15 January games on the road, including a stretch in which they played eight of nine on the road over the final 17 days of the month. The Capitals went 2-6-1 in those nine games, and they were just 4-7-4 for the month overall.
Most damaging of all, Washington posted an anemic 0-5-1 against Metropolitan Division opponents in January, getting outscored 24-11 in the process.
Roster Move – Caps defenseman Mike Green suffered an injury after absorbing a Boone Jenner check in Thursday’s loss at Columbus, and he was unable to answer the bell for Friday’s game. (Oates said after the game that the Caps were going through the process of testing Green for a concussion.)
Washington recalled defenseman Strachan from AHL Hershey and installed him into the lineup for Friday’s game. Strachan made his Caps debut on Washington’s previous visit to Motown on Nov. 15, and appeared in nine games over the next few weeks before being returned to Hershey in early December.
Strachan logged 14:47 in ice time on Friday against the Wings. He was credited with two shots on goal, two hits and three blocked shots. The official scoresheet shows a single assist on Wellman’s goal, but it looked as though Strachan might have earned a secondary helper on the play.
Alumni Update – Ex-Caps (and ex-Wings) winger Mike Knuble drove to Detroit from his home in Grand Rapids, Mich. on Friday morning where he spent a few hours with his former Washington teammates at the club’s optional morning skate and its team lunch afterwards.
Now in his first year of retirement after a successful NHL career that spanned 16 seasons and 1,068 games, Knuble is enjoying life with his wife and three children, and is also serving as a volunteer assistant coach with the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins, the Red Wings’ AHL farm affiliate.
The 3000 Club – Friday night’s game was the 3,000th home game in the illustrious history of the Red Wings’ franchise. The first of those 3,000 home games was played in 1926-27, the Wings’ first season in the NHL.
Nice To See You Again – DeKeyser’s go-ahead goal late in the second period was his third of the season and the third of his brief NHL career. It was DeKeyser’s first goal since Nov. 15 when he scored here at the Joe against Washington and goaltender Braden Holtby.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears were on the road on Friday night, taking on the Adirondack Phantoms in Glens Falls, N.Y. The Bears skated off with a 5-3 victory.
Defenseman Julien Brouillette scored a pair of power play goals (Nos. 7 and 8 on the season) and Jeff Taffe (his 11th), Dane Byers (his fifth) and Peter LeBlanc (his ninth) added single markers. Matt Watkins and Michael Latta each had a pair of helpers in the game.
David Leggio made 29 saves in the Hershey nets to earn the victory.
Hershey will stay over in Glens Falls and will face the Phantoms again on Saturday in a 1 p.m. matinee match. The Bears then head back home where they will finish off a busy weekend by hosting the Norfolk Admirals in a Sunday Super Bowl matinee at Giant Center.
The Bears are tied with Providence for eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings, but Hershey has three games in hand on the P-Bruins.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals also spent Friday night on the road in the Midwest, facing the Evansville IceMen in Indiana. The Royals came away with a 5-2 triumph.
T. J. Syner, Julien Cayer, Josh Brittain and Ethan Cox scored in the game’s first 27 minutes to help Reading roar to a 4-0 lead over its hosts. Yannick Tifu added a late empty-netter to seal the deal.
Brandon Anderson made 25 stops in the Reading nets to help the Royals to victory.
The Royals will stay over in Evansville to face the IceMen again on Saturday night.
By The Numbers – Detroit had 81 shot attempts to 54 for Washington … At one point in the third period, the Caps had 14 shots on net for the game and the Wings had 14 power-play shots on net, and 34 shots on net overall … Ovechkin led the Capitals with seven shots on net and 15 shot attempts … Orlov led the Caps with three hits … Daniel Alfredsson paced the Wings with six shots on net … Kyle Quincey led Detroit with five blocked shots.