Well, the Washington Capitals certainly give their fans their money’s worth. For the third straight game and 11th time this season, the Capitals went to the limit, settling their contest with the Philadelphia Flyers in the Gimmick and making another comeback worth the effort with a 5-4 win.
It looked really grim in the third period. The Flyers, if not painstakingly, at least persistently got out to a 4-1 lead. They did it with four unanswered goals after Washington drew first blood (it would not be the only blood drawn this evening). Alex Ovechkin scored his 27th goal of the season on a goal originally credited to Marcus Johansson.
On a power play, Nicklas Backstrom took a pass from John Carlson along the right wing wall. Backstrom walked the puck down the wall, then found Ovechkin on a cross-ice pass. From the top of the left wing circle Ovechkin sent what looked to be a pass to the goal mouth on a set play, Johansson stepping out from beneath the goal line to goalie Steve Mason’s left. The pass did not get through, clipping defenseman Kimmo Timonen’s stick and deflecting past Mason.
After that it was all Flyers, or rather “no Caps.” The team had little life in it over large chunks of the next 40 minutes. The Flyers scored late in the first period, a score by Claude Giroux left open in the high slot, in the last minute of the period to tie the game.
The Flyers took the lead in the second period when the Caps were baited into a bad turnover. Karl Alzner tried to find Nicklas Backstrom on a long lead pass through the middle. However, Mark Streit was lurking at the red line and stepped up to intercept the pass. He took fed the puck ahead to Michael Raffl, who touch-passed it right back to Streit hitting the blue line. Streit stepped up and wristed a shot under goalie Philipp Grubauer’s left arm.
That was how the game went to the third period, but the Flyers added two goals in quick fashion. Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek scored 1:14 apart to give the Flyers a 4-1 cushion, and it looked as if the competitive portion of the evening was over (certainly we did).
Even when Mike Green stepped around Matt Read high in the offensive zone and wristed a shot high over Mason’s right shoulder at 11:20 to cut the margin to 4-2, it looked a bit like window dressing. But then something odd happened. Joel Ward won a faceoff, Eric Fehr dug it out and fed Dmitry Orlov, and Orlov one timed a rocket past Mason to get the Caps to within a goal. That had the joint rocking, because at that point, one almost knew what was coming.
With the clock ticking under a minute left in regulation and Philipp Grubauer on the bench for the extra attacker, Mike Green fired the puck in deep behind the Flyers’ net. Mason circled around to play the puck, but the puck squirted past the blade of his stick. He managed to retrieve it, but his timing was now off. He swung the puck around to the corner where the puck took an odd bounce off the boards and onto the stick of Joel Ward. From the low left wing circle Ward threw the puck out to Green, but Alex Ovechkin jumped past Green, took the puck and wristed a knuckleball that eluded Mason, who could not scramble back to the net and square himself up for the shot in time.
The goal capped a furious – certainly more furious than the second period and half of the third – comeback for the Caps, who stole a point they had no business stealing. They secured the other one when Eric Fehr and Claude Giroux exchanged trick shot goals, then Nicklas Backstrom snapped a shot past Mason’s left pad. That left it up to Grubauer, who denied Sean Couturier and sent the Caps fans off into the cold night with a warm glow in their hearts.
-- Dmitry Orlov gives something the Caps have lacked – a big shot from the left side. Mike Green is more the pitcher who uses guile and changes of speed, while John Carlson has a big shot. Both are right-handed, though. Orlov provides a balance that the Caps are not going to have with Karl Alzner and John Erskine out there. Those two have their values, but making goalies quake is not among them.
-- On Orlov’s goal, watch Nicklas Grossmann playing defense for the Flyers. From the faceoff to the goal, he never moved an inch and ended up screening his own goaltender.
-- On Ovechkin’s second, game-tying goal, if he isn’t as “selfish” as he is reputed to be, snaking past Mike Green to jump on the puck and fire it, do the Caps tie the game?
-- With two goals, Alex Ovechkin takes over second place in franchise history. He has 399 goals, breaking the tie he had with Mike Gartner for second place all-time. Peter Bondra is the franchise leader with 472 goals.
-- How “furious” was the comeback? The Caps registered 14 shots in the first and second periods, combined. They had 16 shots on goal in the third period.
-- The Caps won 11 of 14 defensive zone draws (78.6 percent). That’s pretty good. Overall, Michael Latta was the only Cap under 50 percent on draws (2-for-5).
-- Mikhail Grabovski was a late scratch with flu-like symptoms. So let’s see…the Flyers couldn’t beat the Caps with Alex Ovechkin out of the lineup (the 7-0 loss on November 1st), and they couldn’t win this game with Grabovski out and Jay Beagle serving as second line center. Flyer fans must be irked.
-- Speaking of Beagle… 12:32, two shots, three hits, six wins on ten faceoffs. That’s good for a fourth-line center. It’s not bad for a third-line center. Those are roles Beagle can fill and fill with some effectiveness. It is not a winning production line for a second line center.
-- That's the above-the-clouds view. Down on the ice, the faceoff win that Eric Fehr dug out to get to Dmitry Orlov for a goal was a win by Beagle. You do what you can do, and sometimes it's the little things that matter most.
-- John Erskine returned to action after being out since October 26th. It was not an especially auspicious return. Erskine was on ice for two of the Flyers' first three goals and got only two shifts in the third period, none in the last 13 minutes.
-- Who led the Flyers in giveaways? Steve Mason. Doesn’t seem too surprising, even if you place little faith in the veracity of giveaway statistics.
-- The Caps held the Flyers to 28 shots on goal, breaking an eight game streak in which the Caps allowed more than 30 shots on goal. It was only the fifth time in 33 games that the Caps allowed an opponent fewer than 30 shots. The Caps are 2-2-1 in those games, both wins coming in extra time, an overtime win over Carolina and this win.
-- With a power play goal in this game, the Caps have extra man goals in three straight games and five of six games in December. They are 7-for-24 (29.2 percent) on their December power play.
-- With an assist, Marcus Johansson now has points in three straight games (0-3-3). It is his fourth three-game points streak of the season. He does not yet have a four-game streak. He also has another odd streak – six straight games with a single shot on goal. Of course, there is the one that got away, the first goal of the game originally credited to Johansson that was awarded later to Ovechkin.
-- Nicklas Backstrom had another multi-point game, his fourth in his last five. He is 2-9-11 over those last five games.
In the end…
All’s well that ends well, or so the saying goes. Good luck with that. The Caps have come back from three-goal deficits twice in three games, scoring the game-tying goal twice in the last minute of regulation, both times off the stick of Alex Ovechkin. It makes for great theater, not unlike “All’s Well that Ends Well (if you’re into Shakespeare)." But one has to wonder if this is a sustainable strategy. Play like crap for 30-40 minutes, heave a bunch of shots late, get a last minute goal from Ovechkin, win in the freestyle competition. Sound like a winner?
The Caps might sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division, but only the New York Islanders have fewer wins in regulation and overtime (five) than the Caps (ten). In fact, there are only five teams in the entire league – Winnipeg, Edmonton, Florida, the Islanders, and Buffalo – with fewer wins in regulation and overtime.
But still…you get wins in this league how and when you can, especially when you're a little thin in the lineup. You bank them away for those times you aren’t on the good side of the hockey gods, or you use them as a foothold to move up in the standings when you do start performing better. Besides, when it’s the Flyers falling in a way such as this, it is among the guiltiest and most pleasing guilty pleasures there are for a Caps fan.