Point Taken – A week after dropping a 3-1 decision to the Senators in Ottawa, the Caps hosted the Sens for the only time this season. Facing a potential first-round playoff foe, Washington didn’t play anywhere close to its best game in that loss north of the border last week. The Caps were better Thursday on home ice, but they fell to Ottawa again in a less than thrilling 2-1 overtime decision.
“We gave it more,” said Caps defenseman Karl Alzner, comparing Thursday’s game to last week’s meeting. “Still we have more to give. I didn’t see as much of our offensive zone play as we normally like to have; not as much cycles. There’s still more that we could have done, but it was better than our last one.”
Washington was hoping to have better breakouts and more speed through the neutral zone than it had last Thursday in Ottawa and it succeeded in doing so in the game’s first 20 minutes. The Caps' best period of hockey on Thursday was probably the first. The second frame was relatively even, and Ottawa controlled possession and territory over the final 20 minutes and overtime.
The two teams played a scoreless first frame, with the Caps getting what turned out to be their only power play of the night late in the frame when Chris Neil went off for boarding Jason Chimera.
The Caps had a couple of good looks on the power play, and defenseman John Carlson had another one just after the power play concluded. Along with a Martin Erat bid from a bad angle that missed the net and a Mike Green back door chance earlier in the period, those chances were among the best the Caps would muster on the night.
Washington owned a 21-13 advantage in shot attempts in the game’s first 20 minutes, with six of those 21 coming during the two minutes in which the Caps were on the power play.
The Sens got their first power play in the waning seconds of the first, a man-advantage that carried over into the second period. Ottawa had the first six shot attempts of the second, and the Sens got on the board first at 12:35 of the middle stanza.
Milan Michalek carried into the zone down the left wing boards. He went wide, curled behind the cage, and slid a pass to Erik Karlsson at the right point. Karlsson wound up and fired, and rookie Jakob Silfverberg deflected the disc past Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth for a 1-0 lead.
The Sens owned a 16-12 advantage in shot attempts in the second; shots on goal were even at 16-16 after 40 minutes of play.
Ottawa tilted the ice significantly in the third. Alex Ovechkin went off for slashing at 2:54, the third of what would be five straight power plays for the Senators. The Caps killed off the first two of those five man-advantages with aplomb; Ottawa generated just three shot attempts and no shots on goal with its first two power play opportunities.
Starting with the Ovechkin minor, the Sens began to pound away at the Washington net with regularity. From the start of that penalty until the end of the game, Ottawa launched 37 shots at Neuvirth in a span of just 17:53. Twenty-four of those shots were on net, nine were blocked and four missed.
Playing in his first game since April 9, Neuvirth stopped all but the last of those 24 shots on net.
The Caps were able to pull even just before the midway mark of the final frame on a brilliant Ovechkin goal. Green cleared a rebound of an Ottawa shot with a backhand swipe, putting it right on Marcus Johansson’s stick. Johansson skated to neutral ice, then sailed a backhand pass toward the right wing wall, floating it over the Ottawa line and over Sens’ defenseman Chris Phillips’ stick. Ovechkin collected it, barreled around Phillips and drove to the net. He skirted a pokecheck attempt from Sens goalie Craig Anderson, and slid the puck into the open cage.
The Caps took two more minor penalties after Ovechkin’s. Both of those were assessed to Mike Ribeiro; an offensive zone hooking call at 15:08 and a roughing minor at 19:02. The Sens mustered 14 shot attempts and eight shots on net with their last three power play chances, and they won it with a 4-on-3 tally in the extra session.
The Sens moved the puck around expertly, collapsing Washington’s defenders and setting up ex-Cap Sergei Gonchar near the right dot. Gonchar skated the puck to the perfect spot and with Mike Zibanejad screening out Neuvirth in front, Gonchar wound up and fired. Neuvirth didn’t get a clean look at it and the puck squeezed between his right arm and his body to give Ottawa the win and a berth in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs.
“It’s a tremendous credit to our players first of all and their perseverance through quite a bit of adversity this season,” says Sens coach Paul MacLean. “For us to make the playoffs under the circumstances that we were put under early in the season, I think is a great accomplishment by the group and the players deserve all of the credit because they came out and played real hard.
“I think we were always in control of our own destiny. In this league, I believe, you have to win to get in. You can’t sit around and wait for someone else to help you or hope someone helps you, and we were determined all year long in our effort and we wanted to make sure. We knew that we had to win one of our last three games in order to clinch the playoff spot and we came out tonight and did a great job at taking care of business right away.”
At night’s end, Ottawa was nestled in the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference standings, meaning the Sens would face the Capitals in the first round if the season ended today. The Sens had more to play for in Thursday's game than did the Caps, but Washington clearly is capable of playing better offensive hockey.
“We will see what happens,” says Green. “They are a good team and it would be a great match-up, but we will figure out a way [to win]. At the end of the day, if you out work your opponent you’ll win.”
Three other clubs – Toronto and both the New York Islanders and Rangers – also loom as possible first-round opponents for the Capitals.
“The first game [against Ottawa this season] was a long time ago,” notes caps coach Adam Oates, “and I think they’re playing better now than they did then. They got Karlsson back, and we saw a little bit of what he can bring tonight. They’re a good hockey team, and if we end up playing them we’ll be ready for them.”
The 600 Club – Ovechkin played in the 600th game of his NHL career on Thursday against the Senators. He has totaled 371 goals during that span, the eighth highest total of all players in NHL history through their first 600 games in the circuit.
With his goal on Thursday, Ovechkin has tallied 23 times and has recorded 34 points in his last 22 games.
The Leader Ladder – With each player having one game remaining, Ovechkin holds a three-goal lead over Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy.
Ovechkin leads the NHL with 16 power play goals. He and Ribeiro are tied for second in the league with 25 power play points each.
Ovechkin is tied for fourth in the NHL with 54 points, four fewer than Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis who leads the league in scoring.
Nicklas Backstrom’s 48 points is good for ninth in the NHL while Ribeiro’s total of 47 is tied for 10th. With 40 assists, Backstrom trails St. Louis by two for the league lead.
Powerless – Ottawa is one of only two teams against which Washington has failed to score a power play goal this season. The Senators only permitted the Caps six power play chances in the three meetings between the two teams this season, killing them all successfully.
Boston is the only other team that has blanked the Capitals’ power play this season. Washington will get a chance to erase that goose egg on Saturday when the Bruins supply the opposition for the Caps’ regular season finale at Verizon Center.
Triumphant Return – When Karlsson left a Feb. 13 game with a cut to his Achilles’ tendon, the Senators feared the brilliant young blueliner would be lost for the remainder of the regular season. But Karlsson exceeded all expectations, returning to action in Thursday’s game and helping to secure Ottawa’s playoff berth.
“I felt okay,” says Karlsson. “I battled some issues out there and didn’t feel quite as comfortable as I’m used to, but overall it was a solid game. I still have to work through some mistakes and clean those up.”
Karlsson looked as though he hadn’t missed a beat. He averaged 27:03 per game in ice time before the injury, and he logged 27:11 against Washington on Thursday, including a whopping 9:16 of the 9:45 in which Ottawa enjoyed the man-advantage. He teed up a team-high 12 shots, getting a team-high eight of them on net. Karlsson also assisted on both Ottawa goals.
Biting The Hand – For the second time this season, Gonchar has scored the game-winning goal on the power play against his former Washington employers. Gonchar scored the game-winning tally in the Jan. 29 meeting between the Caps and Senators in Ottawa, a 3-2 Senators win. Gonchar’s game-winner on the power play that night came with 2:30 left in the third period.
Handy Andy – Anderson has been extremely good against the Caps this season, allowing just four goals on 72 shots in 181 minutes of work. Two of those four goals came in the first period of the first game between the two teams this season back on Jan. 29.
By The Numbers – The Caps have been limited to 20 or fewer shots on goal in four of their 47 games this season, and two of those games were against Ottawa … Karl Alzner paced the Caps with 24:32 in ice time … Green led the Caps with four shots on net; he and Ovechkin led the way with four hits each … Matt Hendricks won all six of his face-offs on the night; the Caps took 41 of 69 draws (59%) in the game.