Making A Point – For the third straight game, the Capitals headed into the third period staring at a multiple-goal deficit on Friday in New Jersey. Playing their third game in four nights and second of back-to-backs, facing a team that had allowed one goal in eight periods and arguably the best goaltender of all time, a comeback didn’t seem particularly probable.
The Caps stuck to the game plan, and New Jersey became wildly undisciplined in the final frame. Down 2-0, the Caps got a foot in the door on a 5-on-3 goal from Mike Ribeiro at 12:45. They still had 1:07 of 5-on-3 power-play time left with which to work, but were unable to get the equalizer.
Finally, a Mike Green point shot found its way through traffic and past venerable Devils netminder Martin Brodeur with just 2:56 left in the third. The Caps dodged a few late bullets and picked up their first standings point of the season by forcing the contest into overtime.
A Green minor for interference forced the Caps to batten down the hatches and defend their own end in the extra session, but they made it through those two minutes unscathed.
Alex Ovechkin tore down the right side on a rush with about half a minute left in the overtime period, but lost his balance and the puck just after passing the Devils blueline. New Jersey’s Ilya Kovalchuk scooped up the loose puck and carried it up ice. The Devils made a couple of sharp passes, but Andy Greene whiffed on a one-timer chance, but the Devils’ Marek Zidlicky retrieved. One more crisp feed set up Kovalchuk for a one-timer from the low left circle. Kovalchuk drove it past Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth with 20.5 seconds left to give the Devils a 3-2 win and keep the Caps winless through four games (0-3-1).
The Kovalchuk goal spoiled Caps coach Adam Oates’ return to New Jersey, where he had a front row seat for Kovalchuk’s offensive exploits as a Devils assistant coach the last two seasons.
“Yeah, I’ve seen that before,” sighed Oates after the game. “I used to like it.”
Despite the loss, Oates was happy with his team’s performance and its perseverance in the wake of Thursday’s outing against Montreal, a 4-1 loss that Washington winger Troy Brouwer termed “pathetic.”
“Obviously I read Troy’s comments yesterday about how we all didn’t work,” says Oates. “I think tonight was an example of [how] we did [work]. It was great to see. Obviously you want to get the win, but we waited for 57 minutes to get the tying goal. We hung in there, we did our job, everybody worked for 60 minutes and we played a much, much better hockey game.
“Mostly in our end is what we addressed. I thought the guys did a better job of protecting the puck, getting it out and making the next decision. Even as we put the puck in their end, I just thought the guys really understood where to put it today and stayed together throughout the whole game. We got behind and we didn’t crumble today. It was great.”
Washington is in the midst of its longest winless streak at the start of a campaign since it opened the ’93-94 season with an 0-6 skid.
Clustered Kills – For the fourth straight game, the Capitals took penalties in bunches. And for the fourth straight game, they were victimized by a power-play goal. For the third time in four games, the Caps surrendered a 5-on-3 goal against.
In Saturday’s season opener, the Caps took six penalties in succession. The last two of those came early in the third period of a tie game, 64 seconds apart. The result was a 5-on-3 game-winning goal from Martin St. Louis.
In Tuesday’s home opener against Winnipeg, the Caps took a 1-0 lead midway through the first, but quickly took two minors in just 2:56. Winnipeg scored on both power plays to take a lead they would not relinquish, sending the Caps to a 4-2 loss.
On Thursday against the Canadiens, Washington took three minors in just 2:41 of a scoreless game, enabling the Habs to get on the board with a 5-on-3 goal. Montreal scored another power-play goal shortly thereafter, one of four second-period goals that led to a 4-1 win.
On Friday in New Jersey, the Caps took three minors in just 3:52 late in the second period. With the Devils already up 1-0, Patrik Elias doubled the lead with a 5-on-3 goal with a minute left in the middle frame.
“You noticed guys were getting pretty tired at points,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “It’s tough at the beginning of the season to have to kill that much. Not only does it kill guys’ breath, but it kills a lot of momentum for other guys who don’t get to play.
“It’s nice to be on the power play when you’re the one getting the offensive chances, but killing like that hurts especially our big guys who don’t usually get to play in those situations.
“The PK has been bad. We can’t take penalties. It’s pretty simple.”
In what might be seen as minor progress, the game against New Jersey marks the first time this season that Washington didn’t permit multiple power-play goals in a contest.
Lineup Shuffle – Oates and his staff made sweeping changes to the team’s lineup for Friday’s game in New Jersey. For the first time in four games, Ovechkin lined up at his more customary left wing spot. Perhaps even more surprising were his linemates, Jay Beagle and Joey Crabb.
After the game, Oates was asked why he placed Crabb and Beagle on the first line.
“I wouldn’t call it the first line,” says Oates. “Crabber played a lot of hockey games [in the ECHL during the lockout]. So he had some real good jump. Just [wanted] to let them play with Ovi for 60 minutes so they could skate.”
Beagle and Crabb aren’t generally thought of as top six forwards. Beagle’s single-season career-high in goals is four and Crabb’s is 11. But both players have been among the Caps’ most consistently hard workers in the early going.
“Trying to find balance and chemistry,” says Oates. “The biggest subject we’ve been talking about is conditioning. And just trying to make sure that we have someone on the line that has got game shape, total game shape.”
Nicklas Backstrom centered a line with Wojtek Wolski and Troy Brouwer and Mike Ribeiro manned the middle of a unit with Jason Chimera and Joel Ward.
The fourth line featured Marcus Johansson with Matt Hendricks and Eric Fehr. For Fehr, it marked his first game of the 2012-13 season and his first regular-season contest in a Caps sweater since April 9, 2011.
On the backline, John Erskine got a sweater for the first time this season and Jeff Schultz was inserted into the lineup for the first time since opening night last Saturday. Erskine partnered with John Carlson in pre-game warm-ups, Schultz with Tomas Kundratek and Mike Green with Karl Alzner.
“That’s the way it is when things aren’t going well,” says Alzner of the lineup shuffle. “Maybe your pairing is going good, but you’ve got to change it. Same with the lines, you’ve got to find chemistry somewhere. It’s easy to sometimes have it but sometimes to fall out of it. Good changes I think, at least for right now trying to figure out who’s going to mesh well with each other.
“It was nice to see some of the guys that stepped in play as good as they did. We’ve just got to get a better result. Got to get it soon.”
Net Duel – Going into the game, the Devils boasted the best goals against average and save pct. in the league while the Caps were dead last in both of those goaltending departments.
Future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur was stellar from the first minute, when he was forced to make a big stop on Green. Neuvirth was excellent as well, keeping his team in striking distance until Jersey got so deep in penalty trouble that the Caps’ power play was finally able to put one past Brodeur.
“He played great,” says Oates of Neuvirth. “Both goalies played great. We got a lot of penalties; they got a lot. Guys get worn down, especially as we talked about at the beginning of the season and you get more Grade A chances than you normally would. [Neuvirth] really gave us a chance.”
Neuvirth is now 4-1-3 in eight career starts against New Jersey. He has a 2.06 GAA and a .927 save pct. lifetime against the Devils.
Back-to-Back, Jack – For the first time in 11 months, Neuvirth played both ends of back-to-back NHL games. Friday’s game marked the 10th time in his NHL career that Neuvirth has either started both ends of back-to-backs or played more than half of the first of back-to-backs while starting and finishing the second.
Neuvirth is now 4-2-2 in the second game of such situations, with a 2.78 GAA and a .903 save pct.
Neuvirth made 32 saves on the night. He faced six shots in the first, 14 in the second, seven in the third and eight in less than five minutes of overtime. He wasn’t any the worse for wear afterwards.
“Actually I felt pretty good,” says Neuvirth. “I didn’t have a lot of work [Thursday] in the third period. I didn’t skate this morning and I felt good the whole game.”
Work Boots – Erskine logged 17:30 of ice time on the night, his highest single-game total since he skated 17:50 in a Nov. 15, 2011 game against the Predators in Nashville.
Green totaled 31:10 in ice time in Friday’s game against the Devils. That’s his highest regular season single-game total since he played 34:03 in a Dec. 23, 2010 game against Pittsburgh at Verizon Center.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears suffered a 3-1 defeat at the hands of the St. John’s IceCaps on Friday night at Giant Center. Jon DiSalvatore scored Hershey’s lone goal of the night on a power play and Philipp Grubauer made 25 saves in a losing effort. Grubauer is now 2-3 at the AHL level this season.
Hershey hits the road on Saturday, taking on the Senators in Binghamton in the team’s final game before the AHL all-star break.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals were idle on Friday. Reading hosts Las Vegas at Sovereign Center on Saturday and again on Sunday.
By The Numbers – Green and Carlson paced the Caps with four shots on goal each … Alzner led the Capitals with four blocked shots … Kovalchuk led the Devils with 30:35 in ice time. He and David Clarkson led the Devils with six shots on net each … New Jersey’s Travis Zajac won 17 of 25 draws (68%).