One That Got Away – Sometimes when you pull a point out of a road game against a toe foe in a tough barn, it’s a good thing. Sunday night wasn’t one of those times for the Washington Capitals.
The Caps coughed up a late lead and were forced to settle for one point instead of two in Sunday night’s 5-4 overtime setback at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center.
This game more twists and turns than a country road and felt like three or four (or more) games within a game, as momentum was traded back and forth like a couple of kids with a stack of hockey cards.
Washington got out of the gates quickly, getting a goal from Nicklas Backstrom at 4:29 of the first frame. Backstrom deftly deflected Jack Hillen’s shot from center point past Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to give Washington an early lead.
“We had a really good start,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “Backy’s goal obviously got us into the game. We played well.”
The Caps kept buzzing for more, hoping to open up a lead that would allow them to distribute their ice time more evenly on the heels of Saturday night’s 3-2 shootout win over the Sabres in Buffalo.
During the early minutes of Sunday’s game in Philly, Washington owned the territorial and possession advantage; the Caps had 13 shot attempts to just one for the Flyers in the first half of the first frame. Washington had all four lines going, but Philly was able to get the equalizer before the Caps could pad their lead.
Philly defenseman Kimmo Timonen smartly put the puck off the backboard, and Flyers forward Zac Rinaldo gave it a helpful tap to the front of the net where Philly’s Maxime Talbot had encroached on the Washington defense. Talbot drove it through Caps goaltender Braden Holtby at 10:26 of the first. The tally came on the Flyers’ third shot attempt and second shot on goal of the game.
Less than five minutes later, Philly’s Claude Giroux pounced on a loose puck in the high slot in front of Bryzgalov, and threaded a home run pass to spring Philly’s Matt Read on a breakaway. Read beat Holtby to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead, despite the fact that the Flyers had been out-attempted by a margin of 16-5 at that point.
A few minutes after Read’s marker, Philly went down two men when Wayne Simmonds went off for goaltender interference and then Giroux was busted for a face-off violation on the ensuing draw. Down a goal late in the first, the Caps were benefactors of a two-man advantage for a full two minutes.
Owning a 16-8 lead in shot attempts at the time – all of that margin having been built in 5-on-5 play – it was an opportunity for the Caps to take control of the contest on the scoreboard and on the ice. Washington had three shots on net and another pair of bids blocked during the life of its 5-on-3 opportunity, and then the Flyers had a 4-on-2 rush when Simmonds and Giroux exited the sin bin simultaneously. Washington’s Marcus Johansson quelled the rush by hauling down Read, but drew a tripping call in the process.
Philly had five shot attempts on its first power play of the night, but Washington bodies got in the way of three of them.
At the end of the first, the Caps led 21-13 in shot attempts but were down 2-1 on the scoreboard. Washington held that advantage in shot tries despite winning just five of 17 draws (29%) in the first.
The Caps won 13 of the 17 face-offs (76%) in the second period, and they killed two penalties while Philly killed one of its own.
Just as the time expired on a holding call to Washington’s Mike Green late in the second, Caps forward Brooks Laich collected the puck along the left wing wall in his own end and put it on Green’s tape at the far line.
Green went in alone and beat Bryzgalov to even the game at 2-2. The tally loomed large at that stage of the game; there’s a significant difference between being even and being down a goal going into the third period, especially when playing the second of back-to-backs on the road.
“Anytime you get a goal late in the period it gives us momentum going into the last period and we need that,” says Green. “It’s unfortunate that it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to tonight but those are key plays that we need to do more of.”
Shortly after Green’s goal, he and Talbot got tangled up in Philly’s zone, and Talbot suddenly began limping toward the Flyers’ bench, in a great deal of obvious distress. According to the Flyers, Talbot suffered a lower body injury. He didn’t return to the game.
“I’m not sure what happened exactly,” says Green. “I don’t know if he hit me and my skate hit him or cut him or something. I hope he is okay, though.”
Washington squandered its fourth power play opportunity early in the third, but the game took another twist just past the five-minute mark of the third period. Caps defenseman Steve Oleksy – who apparently never got the memo that its not okay to hit Flyers captain Giroux – separated the Philly center from the puck high in the Philadelphia zone.
Flyers winger Jakub Voracek – who entered the game with eight penalty minutes in 34 games this season and 136 PIM in 353 career NHL contests – dropped his gloves and went after Oleksy. Voracek, engaged in the first fight of his NHL career, got Oleksy’s sweater over his head and kept throwing punches at the Washington defenseman.
Voracek was given 19 minutes in penalties for his eruption, and Washington had a four-minute power play with which to alter the landscape of the contest.
Having gone 0-for-4 with the extra man at that point, the Caps answered the bell with a pair of power play tallies in a span of just 26 seconds. First, Giroux put the puck on a tee for Johansson who wristed a shot past Bryzgalov to give the Caps a 3-2 lead.
Washington captain Alex Ovechkin stayed hot, giving the Caps a 4-2 lead at 6:48 of the third period. Ovechkin finished off a brilliant passing sequence with a one-timer from his usual spot on the left dot.
“Tough kid,” says Oates of Oleksy’s momentum-altering hit. “He handled it. They protected their player. Our power play scored two goals, which [is what] you’re supposed to do there.”
Incredibly, the Flyers followed this up by taking yet another minor penalty. Philly’s Scott Hartnell slashed Caps’ blueliner John Carlson less than 30 seconds after Ovechkin’s goal, giving the Caps a golden opportunity to administer the dagger goal. But Washington missed the net on all three shot tries. Philly was still within striking distance.
Midway through the third, the Caps needed just to stay out of the penalty box, get pucks in deep and make the Flyers play a 200-foot game. But Caps winger Troy Brouwer gave Philly some life when he took an undisciplined holding call in the offensive zone with 7:28 left.
Philly captain Giroux made good on his turnover that resulted in Johansson’s go-ahead goal for the Caps. First, he bested Washington’s Brooks Laich on the ensuing offensive zone draw, and then took a feed from Timonen and drove it past Holtby to make it a 4-3 game. Even worse for the Caps, the goal whittled just 16 seconds off the clock after Brouwer was seated.
“Probably in hindsight Brouw would want that play back,” says Oates. “They really had nothing going behind their net. It happens. We just let them score too quick. You can’t [let them] score in 10 seconds. That gave them a lot of life and then here they come. We held on fine [until] the last 10 seconds.”
It was at that point that momentum moved clearly and inexorably in Philadelphia’s direction. The Flyers had 21 shot attempts to Washington’s four the rest of the way, but the key sequence came late in the third after Bryzgalov was pulled for an extra skater.
With less than a minute remaining, Washington had chances to make a play and to get a change of personnel. With just under a minute left, the Caps shoveled the puck toward the Philly end of the ice, but Timonen moved away from the puck and sold an icing call with just under a minute left. With its top line and its third defensive pair on the ice, the Caps called their timeout.
“Yeah, it was iffy,” says Oates. “I thought so. I thought Timonen could have gone for it. I thought it was a little iffy. But you’ve got to be able to handle that. We had it on our tape, we didn’t [clear]. We gave them too many looks at it.”
The Flyers won the offensive zone draw, and with less than 10 seconds remaining Timonen’s shot from center point eluded Holtby and tied the score at 4-4.
Philly had all the momentum in overtime, and it scored the game-winner off a nifty give and go play with Timonen feeding and Ruslan Fedotenko finishing to give the Flyers a pair of points.
From the time Giroux scored until the end of the game, it was the Flyers that held a decided 21-4 advantage in shots attempted. In the final 48 seconds of regulation after the fateful icing call, the Flyers had five shot tries, two that went on net, one that was blocked and two that missed.
“We lost a chance to win a game,” says Oates. “We got a point, but we obviously want two there. We let it get away.”
Road Run – Sunday’s overtime loss halted the Caps’ road winning streak at four games, but Washington has pulled at least a point in each of its last five road contests (4-0-1).
Two-Man Trouble – Washington has had a great deal of difficulty on both sides of its 5-on-3 power play this season. The Caps had the benefit of a two-man advantage for a full two minutes tonight.
Washington has scored one goal in seven 5-on-3 opportunities totaling 7:57 this season. The Caps have surrendered six 5-on-3 goals in eight opportunities totaling 7:40 in duration.
Eight Straight For Eight – Ovechkin’s goal ran his points streak to eight straight games, the Caps captain’s longest run since an eight-game streak from Oct. 27-Nov. 11, 2010.
During the life of his current streak, Ovechkin has eight goals and a dozen points.
Ovechkin had five goals and 15 points during that eight-game stretch early in the 2010-11 season.
The last time Washington’s captain had a scoring streak longer than eight games was a nine-game spree from Jan. 27-Feb. 11, 2010, at the end of the team’s franchise-record 14-game winning streak. Ovechkin had nine goals and 19 points in those nine games.
Ovechkin is now tied for fifth in the NHL with 18 goals and is tied for 17th in the league with 34 points.
Chemistry – Green’s goal came with help from Laich. The duo has had some chemistry in the past, with Laich assisting on some of Green’s overtime game-winners over the years.
“Brooksie is one of those guys who is very aware of where he is on the ice and his teammates,” says Green. “I didn’t even call for it. He just turned and fired it up to me. I just had to make sure I received a long pass. As soon as I lifted my head I saw one spot and shot there.”
The 400 Club – Backstrom played in the 400th game of his NHL career on Sunday night in Philly. He has 398 career points (107 goals, 291 assists) and has the most points of any active NHL player with 400 or fewer games played.
The Ladder – Washington missed out on a chance to move into a tie for eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings. The Caps are tied with Carolina for 10th place, but the Hurricanes have two games in hand.
"We thought that with a win tonight we could tie for the eighth spot and have a good look going into Carolina in a few days here," says Brouwer. "But now we're still on the outside looking in. It keeps getting tougher because we keep playing teams that we have to try and leapfrog to get into the playoffs."
The Caps trail the eighth-place New York Rangers and New York Islanders by just one point. Washington is four points behind Winnipeg for the Southeast Division lead, and it holds a game in hand on the Jets.
By The Numbers – Ovechkin led the Caps with 23:39 in ice time, six shots on goal and 16 attempted shots … Oleksy led Washington with five blocked shots … Jay Beagle won all six face-offs he took for the Capitals in the game … Giroux led the Flyers with seven shots on net … Rinaldo paced the Flyers with seven hits … Philly’s Sean Couturier lost all nine of his face-offs in the contest.