Well, it didn’t go with a whimper.
The Washington Capitals did not extend their franchise best winning streak to an NHL second best all-time 15 in a row last night, dropping a 6-5 overtime decision to the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre.
It was an odd game that saw goals scored in the first minute of each of the three periods of regulation and goals scored in the last 65 seconds of each of the last two periods, including the game-tying goal with 19 seconds left in regulation, that authored by Brooks Laich of the Caps, completing what was for him a hat trick.
Sometimes, you can see the recipe for how a streak is going to end well in advance of it actually happening, and the end of this streak really had its roots in Game 12 of the streak, one that the Caps would win 6-5 over the New York Rangers. In that one, the Caps fell behind early, had a brutal second period, and eventually found themselves with a 5-3 deficit to overcome before winning. They repeated the formula against the Penguins two games later, falling behind early and struggling in the second period in falling behind 4-1 before coming back for an overtime win. Tonight the Caps fell behind early, had a ghastly second period (four goals allowed) and faced a 5-2 deficit at the second intermission before storming back to salvage a point.
Fortunately, the Caps do not have the luxury of engaging in coulda-woulda-shoulda navel gazing, what with a game in Ottawa tonight. Good thing, to because there is a lot you could coulda-woulda-shoulda about…
-- Like the no-goal called on Alex Ovechkin on a goal-mouth scramble. It was the correct call, even with the entertainment value of seeing Ovechkin steamroll a 6’7”, 250 pound player. Ovechkin barreled over Hal Gill, koncking him into the goaltender, without playing the puck in the crease, and that’s the standard for that play – whether he was playing the puck. He wasn’t, and the goal was disallowed.
-- Michal Neuvirth went out with what was termed a “minor injury” 5:40 into the second period, leaving it to Jose Theodore to come in cold, and the icicles showed as Theodore allowed three goals on 12 shots in the period as the Caps fell behind, 5-2. That might seem unfair to Theodore, and in a way it is. He was absolutely superb in the third period, once more giving his team a chance to get back into the game.
-- As a group, the defense had a pretty rough game. Mike Green salvaged a result by activating so much on the offensive end (12 shot attempts, three shots on goal, a goal, and an assist), but the group seemed to struggle in their own end with coverages and finding loose pucks.
-- When there is the familiarity of stable lines over a long period, as was the case for the Caps through much of this streak, even the smallest tremor could have at least short term effects. You could say (and you’d be right) that these guys should be familiar with each other, but the absence of Jason Chimera seemed to have just enough of an effect on the bottom half of the forward lines to be unsettling. The third and fourth lines were a combined 0-0-0, minus-1, with seven shots on goal. Not the balance we saw earlier in the streak.
-- The hat trick by Brooks Laich masked the fact that the other two thirds of the second line had a pretty grim game. This will not be one that Tomas Fleischmann or Alexander Semin will want to put in the archives for future viewing. Flesichmann was abused in the circle (lost 11 of 14 draws) and was a minus-2. Semin just never seemed to find a rhythm, even with seven shot attempts. Both were on the ice for the overtime game-winner.
-- Regarding Fleischmann, there is a point when an “experiment” becomes “regular position,” and we’re getting to a point where it’s going to be time to evaluate Fleischmann in the cold light of reality as a center. In his last 17 games he has won a majority of his draws only four times (none in the last four games) and looks somewhat overmatched. He has fine puck skills, but is he going to be a presence in the middle when the going gets tough, or is that second line going to look more like a basketball “three guard” offense?
-- The lasting visual for Hal Gill will be getting bowled over by Alex Ovechkin in his own crease, but don’t forget that he had 11 blocked shots, too (the Caps as a team had 15).
-- The Scott Gomez goal at the 36 second mark of the first period was the first time all season that the Caps allowed a goal in the first minute of a period.
-- The Tom Pyatt goal at the 41 second mark of the second period was the second time the Caps allowed a goal in the first minute of a period this season. If you’re going to break a streak, then break the damned thing.
-- In their last nine games the Canadiens have been shut out twice and scored at least five goals three times.
-- For the first line to get 16 shots on goal and not put one in the back of the net… the streak probably doesn’t end without that result.
-- That’s eight games and counting for points for Alex Ovechkin (17 of 18 games), nine straight for Nicklas Backstrom (16 of 18), five straight for Mike Knuble (11 of 14).
-- Caps won only five of 20 draws in the defensive zone. Yes, Nicklas Backstrom won 17 of 32 overall, but he was 10-for-14 in the neutral zone. In the ends he was 7-for-18.
-- Brendan Morrison is struggling. That’s not exactly news. No goals, no assists, one shot on goal (two attempts), two minor penalties. He is now 1-6-7 in his last 23 games, 0-1-1 in his last eight.
The good in this is that the Caps once more showed the resiliency to come back from a big deficit (three goals at the second intermission). On the other hand, there was enough coulda-woulda-shoulda in a one-goal overtime loss to play with their minds (like, "why couldn't we last another eight seconds to get to a shootout?"). They get right back on the ice tonight against Ottawa, a team that has won 12 of 13 games itself. That’s a good thing. And the loss – difficult as it is to stomach for players, coaches, and fans – perhaps has the benefit of focusing attention on the bigger task that lies down the road. Now is a time to rid oneself of the sort of bad habits that have been creeping into the Caps’ game for the past several and that ultimately cost them their streak.