A dismal second period showing and a 2-1 deficit entering the third period certainly seemed to portend another disappointing outcome for the Washington Capitals on Thursday night as they entertained the NHL’s hottest team, the Winnipeg Jets. But three first-year NHLers combined to manufacture the tying goal for Washington early in the third, and that tally ignited a spark that led to two more goals in the final frame and ultimately a 4-2 triumph over the Jets.
Winnipeg came into the contest with nine wins in its previous 11 games.
“We came in here after the second period and we were extremely unhappy with the way we were playing,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer, “the way we were giving up chances, our execution; it was just poor all around.
“We came out [in the third] and we started winning battles, as a result we were holding the puck a little bit more and creating some more opportunities. [We had] some good defensive play, which led to some rushes offensively.”
The Jets had 16 shots on net in the second period, 15 of them coming at even strength. The Caps responded with seven, with only five at even strength. Winnipeg scored the only goal of the frame, a go-ahead marker from Dustin Byfuglien off the rush that made it a 2-1 game at 5:41 of the second.
Washington goaltender Braden Holtby, who got the starting assignment only because scheduled starter Michal Neuvirth came up ill at the morning skate, kept his team close until the Caps could get started offensively.
Rookie right wing Tom Wilson netted his second goal of the season and first since Nov. 5 at 3:38 of the third to even the affair at 2-2, defensemen Julien Brouillette and Patrick Wey assisting. Brouillette was making his NHL debut against the Jets and Wey was playing in just his second NHL game and first since Dec. 7.
“It’s always nice to see those kinds of players,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “They work hard every night. They do everything for the team. It’s nice when they get to score.”
The inexperienced defensive duo of Brouillette and Wey acquitted itself well.
“For what I expected, they were fantastic,” exudes Caps coach Adam Oates. “I told them both, ‘Enjoy the moment. It can be overwhelming. Try and do the best you can [and play] as simple as you can.’
“I thought they played with good confidence and as the game went along, I thought [assistant coach] Calle [Johansson] put them out in the right situations to get a little bit of confidence. I thought they played really solid, very reliable, and they moved the puck well.”
The Caps drew first blood before the game was five minutes old. Marcus Johansson knocked Jets middleman Olli Jokinen off the puck behind the Winnipeg net, and Caps center Casey Wellman supported, picking up the puck and dishing it back to Johansson. Johansson curled out to the front of the net and spotted Brouwer driving toward the far post. Brouwer took the pass from Johansson and put a backhand shot past Winnipeg netminder Ondrej Pavelec to give Washington a 1-0 advantage at 4:56 of the first.
Pavelec was slightly handicapped on the play; he was using half a stick because an Ovechkin slapper had sliced through the shaft of his paddle just before the Brouwer goal.
Winnipeg drew even at 13:02 of the first on a fluky goal. John Carlson’s pass behind the Washington net to partner Karl Alzner at the opposite side eluded Alzner’s blade and went to Jets captain Andrew Ladd along the left half-wall. Ladd quickly centered for Bryan Little, and Holtby denied the Jets’ center from point blank range. The rebound caromed right to luckless Caps winger Martin Erat, bounced off his skate blade and then his stick and into the net to make it a 1-1 game.
Neither team was able to convert on its lone first-period power play try.
Winnipeg gained its first lead of the night off the rush at 5:41 of the second after a series of slick passes. Defenseman Adam Pardy broke it out of the Winnipeg end to Jokinen along the left wing wall. Jokine gained the zone and left the puck for Devin Setoguchi, who perfectly fed the late guy, Byfuglien. He sniped one high into the top corner on the short side, just over Holtby’s left shoulder.
Washington survived a couple of Winnipeg waves late in the middle period; the Jets launched 13 of the game’s 14 shot attempts during a span of five and a half minutes in the latter half of the frame. Despite having the only two power plays of the second period, Washington was unable to derive any benefit or momentum from those man advantages, but Holtby kept the Caps within one heading into the third.
The Caps looked lackluster in the middle frame, but they were jolted awake when Wilson delivered the tying tally at 3:38 of the third. Wey made a D-to-D pass to Brouillette at the left point. Realizing he had no lane to the net, Brouillette alertly put the puck off the back wall to the left of the Winnipeg net. It came out front and Wilson got a membership bounce, right to his tape. He buried it to make it a 2-2 game.
“We’re the last guy back on the blueline,” relates Brouillette, “so it comes to us to make the right play. You want to get it to the net, make the direct play, but it wasn’t there. It ended up being a good play.”
“Brou and I have a little bit of a connection,” explains Wilson. “He actually assisted on my first AHL goal last year in the [Calder Cup] playoffs. I saw that he had the puck and I just went to the net. He made a great play to bank it off the boards and it popped right out.”
Just over four minutes later, the Caps regained the lead. Pavelec stopped Alzner’s shot from the left point, but the rebound fell in front where Nicklas Backstrom got a couple whacks at it before Jets defenseman Tobias Enstrom bounced Backstrom into Pavelec. Ovechkin raced to the loose puck and chipped a backhander up and over the prone goaltender to give the Caps a 3-2 lead at 7:46.
The Caps came up with the most effective of their four power play opportunities midway through the third period, but they were not able to score.
Washington added a key insurance tally with 4:45 left in regulation. Connor Carrick lofted a backhand flip out of his own end to space in neutral ice. Johansson got to the puck first and entered the zone in a two-on-two situation with Brouwer in the center lane. Johansson carried to the dot while Brouwer picked up a step on his man, Byfuglien. Brouwer went to the backhand and roofed it for a 4-2 Caps lead.
Holtby finished with 34 saves on the 36 shots he faced in improving his record to 16-13-2.
Most importantly for Washington, the Caps got two points. Secondarily, the Capitals got key contributions from unlikely quarters, including Holtby. He woke up Thursday morning believing he’d be backing up Neuvirth.
“Anytime you can see those guys chip in, help out, get their first, everyone is going to be excited for them,” says Brouwer. “The two younger guys getting their first point – I guess Willie is probably even younger – but to see him score another goal; it’s been a long time coming for him.
“I know he is a little frustrated, but he’s working hard, being a good professional. Whenever you can see guys that everyone loves on the team get rewarded for their hard work and effort, it lifts everybody.”
Green On The Blueline – With blueliner Mike Green on the sidelines for a fourth straight game because of a concussion and with John Erskine also out of the lineup, the Caps were playing without their two most experienced defensemen in terms of NHL experience.
The absence of Erskine and Green left the Caps quite green on the blueline.
Relative greybeards Alzner (320 NHL games coming into Thursday’s game) and Carlson (291) comprised the Capitals’ first pair, but each of Washington’s other four defensemen came into the contest with fewer than 100 games worth of NHL experience. Dmitry Orlov (96) and Carrick (18) formed a duo as did Brouillette and Wey, both of whom were recalled from AHL Hershey earlier in the day.
Washington entered the game with a total of 726 games worth of NHL experience on its blueline. Ironically, Brouillette entered the game as Washington’s least experienced defenseman in terms of NHL games played, but its oldest (27) and its most experienced in terms of years as a pro (this is his seventh season).
Going up against a balanced Jets team that has nine different players with 10 or more goals, the tandem of Brouillette and Wey performed well. Each player was plus-2 on the night, Brouillette punching the clock for 15:02 and Wey for 14:39 on the night.
“The play [Julien Brouillette] made,” says Oates, “banking it off the boards perfectly like that – that was a great play, and obviously it worked. The bounce was right; it popped in the right spot. [Brooks Laich] went to the net, took everybody, and put Willie [in the right spot and got rewarded. It was a great play. It gave us a lot of life, obviously.”
Forty – Ovechkin’s goal was his 40th of the season. He has reached the 40-goal plateau six times in his nine-year NHL career, and he is the first player in Washington’s franchise history to have six seasons with 40 or more goals. Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Gartner had five 40-goal campaigns as a member of the Capitals.
During a one-year period from Feb. 7, 2013 through Feb. 6, 2014, Ovechkin has scored 70 goals in 92 games.
FTW – Ovechkin’s game-winner was his seventh of the season. He’s tied for second in the circuit, two behind Anaheim’s Corey Perry.
With 66 career game-winning goals, Ovechkin ranks second on the Capitals’ all-time franchise list, seven shy of Peter Bondra’s 73. Ovechkin is tied with Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin for eighth place among all active NHL players in game-winning tallies.
Firsts Firsts in Ten – Brouillette and Wey each notched his first career NHL point with the helpers on Wilson’s game-tying tally in the third. Thursday marked the first time two Capitals had recorded their first NHL points in the same game in nearly a decade, since Brooks Laich and Owen Fussey assisted on Stephen Peat’s second-period goal in a 4-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at Verizon Center on March 12, 2004.
“Those guys had a great game,” says Wilson of Brouillette and Wey. “They were moving the puck really well up to the forwards. They were huge for us tonight.
“Huge credit to Brou. We know he’s an older guy and he’s battled it out in the AHL. He’s a great guy and I’m really happy for him.”
Multiple Men – Brouwer’s multiple-goal game is his first of the season and his sixth in two-plus seasons with the Capitals. For Johansson, Thursday marks the ninth time this season that he has recorded multiple points in the same game.
Threes Are Wild – Thursday’s game was the 19th this season in which Washington was able to light the lamp three or more times in the same period, but just the second time that it was able to do so in the third period of a contest.
The Caps scored three third-period goals to erase a 4-1 deficit and forge a 5-4 shootout victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in the District on Dec. 15.
Washington has scored three or more goals five times in the first frame and a dozen in the second period in 2013-14.
Backhanded Compliments – Three of Washington’s four goals came on backhand shots, and Carrick’s backhanded clearing pass led to the Capitals’ fourth goal of the evening.
Ladd’s nifty centering feed to Little for the first Winnipeg goal was also of the backhand variety.
Six-Pack -- The Caps' are now 6-17-3 (.231) when trailing after 40 minutes of play this season. Only the New York Islanders (seven) have won more games than Washington in those circumstances and the Caps have the league's eighth-best winning pct. when trailing after the first two periods in 2013-14.
Helping Hershey Hands – Four players who earned assists in Thursday’s game have played for the AHL Hershey Bears this season: Brouillette, Carrick, Wellman and Wey.
By The Numbers – Washington has won six straight games against Winnipeg, outscoring the Jets by a combined 26-10 in those half-dozen contests … Carlson paced Washington with 25:26 in ice time, his lightest workload in the last five games … Carrick skated at least 19 minutes for the fifth straight game. His 19:55 on Thursday is a single-game career high for his 19-game NHL career … Brouwer led the Caps with six shots on net. He and Ovechkin led the way with nine shot attempts each and each had four hits to pace Washington … Wellman won nine of his 10 draws (90%) on the night … Byfuglien led the Jets with six shot attempts while Michael Frolik paced Winnipeg with 10 shot attempts in the game … The Jets were credited with 50 hits on the night, blueliner Mark Stuart leading the way with a dozen.