While we were away, the Washington Capitals – well, the virtual version of them, anyway – spent Christmas week marking time. In five games Washington went 2-3-0 and finished the week tied with Carolina for first place in the Southeast Division with 45 points on a 21-13-3 record. Here is how it went for the good guys…
December 22, Game 33: Boston 3 – Washington 2
Boston broke on top just 78 seconds into the game on a give-and-go between Tyler Seguin and Nathan Horton, Seguin finishing the play for his 12th goal of the season. Washington tied it late in the first on Nicklas Backstrom’s 10th goal of the year, but Boston notched single goals in the second and third periods to give them a lead and insurance. It was insurance they would need when Mike Green scored his sixth of the year with the Caps’ net empty in the last minute. However, the Caps could get no closer, and Boston gained some measure of revenge for their Game 7 loss at TD Garden last spring.
December 23, Game 34: Washington 4 – Carolina 3 (OT)
It was the Brothers Staal Show early in this one as Eric and Jordan staked the Hurricanes to a 2-0 lead in the first period. The visitors made it 3-0 just before the second intermission when Alexander Semin notched his 14th goal of the season, finishing on a curl-and-drag around Dmitry Orlov. It looked as if the Caps would head into the Christmas break on a down note, especially when the Caps were unable to solve Carolina goalie Brian Boucher in the first half of the final period. All of that changed when Mike Ribeiro wristed one in from the high slot after a Brooks Laich shot rebounded away from Boucher. Troy Brouwer scored at the 15:33 mark, and the Caps came all the way back when Ribeiro scored again with 26.8 seconds left in regulation when Boucher could not find a loose puck lying at the doorstep. The Caps secured the extra standings point when Alex Ovechkin cut inside of the Carolina defense and wristed the puck past Boucher at 4:22 of the extra period.
December 26, Game 35: Buffalo 4 – Washington 2
The Caps faced the Sabres for the first of their four games this season, and it did not end well. It was a thoroughly sluggish effort by the Caps, who fell behind in the first on a goal by Tyler Ennis and an early second period goal by Thomas Vanek. The Caps cut the Buffalo lead in half when Brooks Laich scored his ninth of the year on a power play at the 9:12 mark of the second period. The Caps could not get the equalizer, though, and the Sabres reclaimed a two-goal lead when Nathan Gerbe recorded his sixth goal of the season late in the period. The Caps climbed back within one when Wojtek Wolski scored at 12:22 of the third period. But that would be as close as the Caps would get. Jason Pominville scored at 14:39 for the final margin.
December 27, Game 36: Capitals 3 – Islanders 2
The post-holiday sluggishness continued for the Caps when they returned to Verizon Center to host the New York Islanders. Washington fell behind when Kyle Okposo muscled his way to the net and stuffed the puck behind Michal Neuvirth on an Islander power play at 12:54 of the first period. That was one of the rare scoring opportunities either team had in the first period. The second period was different. Matt Hendricks was the unlikely spark plug, potting his third of the season just over a minute into the period to tie the game. Nicklas Backstrom followed in short order, scoring his 11th of the season just 32 seconds after Hendricks’ tally. It was Hendricks again at 4:12 to give the Caps a 3-1 lead. It was all the Caps would need. The Islanders made it close on a Matt Moulson goal (his 15th of the season) with 27 seconds left, but the Islanders would threaten no more, the Caps skating off with the 3-2 win.
December 29, Game 37: Nashville 2 – Washington 0
The best word to describe this game might have been “stifling”… as in Nashville’s stifling defense. The Predators scored just 52 seconds into the game when Mike Fisher put back a David Legwand shot. Pekka Rinne and the Nashville defense took over from there. Nashville held the Caps to a combined 14 shots over the first 40 minutes, and that seemed to take the fight out of the Caps. Fisher would pot an empty net goal with 3.7 seconds left in the contest to provide the final margin, wasting a fine 27 saves on 28 shots effort by goalie Braden Holtby.
For the week Nicklas Backstrom led the Caps with six points (2-4-6) with Alex Ovechkin (1-3-4) and Mike Green (1-3-4) close behind. In goal, Michal Neuvirth finished the week 1-2-0, 3.00, .900; while Braden Holtby finished 1-1-0, 1.93, .936.