Well, they got one.
There have been games this season in which it could be said, if the Caps miss the playoffs, these will be the points they will regret leaving on the table. Last night in Los Angeles, though, the Caps erased a 1-0 deficit in the third period to force extra time, thus earning a valuable standings point. The Caps could not complete the comeback, though, and fell in the freestyle competition to the Kings, 2-1.
The Kings scored first on an odd play. Justin Williams floated a long pass from inside his own blue line toward Marian Gaborik skating to the Capitals’ blue line. The puck was too far for Gaborik, but since he had a step on John Carlson, icing was waved off, and Gaborik collected the puck below the Caps goal line. With Carlson tending to Gaborik, Anze Kopitar filled in behind, and Gaborik found him to goalie Jaroslav Halak’s right. Kopitar’s shot was a weak one, but Halak was caught somewhere between paying attention to Gaborik and contemplating the magnificence of his new goalie mask. The puck slithered between his pads, and the Kings had a 1-0 lead 14:09 into the first period.
Given the nature of the Kings’ style of play, this goal very well might have been enough. It held up through the remainder of the first period and through the second period. It held up over 12 minutes of the third period. That is when perseverance paid off for the Caps. Nicklas Backstrom fed the puck out from the right wing corner to the right point where Evgeny Kuznetsov held it in the zone. Kuznetsov skated back down the right wing and behind the Kings’ net, popping out on the other side where he found Joel Ward at the edge of the left wing circle. Ward took one whack at the puck, but that was blocked by Drew Doughty. The puck came right back to Ward, and his second whack found the back of the net past goalie Jonathan Quick to tie the game.
Neither team could find the means to break the tie in regulation or overtime, the Caps failing to convert a power play in the extra session on three shots. That left it to the trick shot competition where, after Kuznetsov and Jeff Carter exchanged goals, Gaborik provided the final margin when he found the back of the net over Halak’s glove. When Quick gloved down Nicklas Backstrom’s try at the other end, it was the Kings earning the bonus point for the evening.
-- Alex Ovechkin came into the game having failed to score a goal in Los Angeles in four tries. He left the building with no goals in five visits to the City of Angels. He has two goals in his last eight games, picking an unfortunate time to hit a skid.
-- Kuznetsov recorded his fifth assist in six games. He now ranks 17th on the club in helpers. Next up in front of him, Tom Wilson and Dmitry Orlov, with six.
-- The Caps have participated in a league-high 16 trick shot competitions and with this loss are now 8-8 in that phase. They started the season with four straight wins in the freestyle competition and seven wins in their first nine berths. However, the Caps have now lost five straight Bettman Follies. Four of those five losses have been by what are officially recorded as 2-1 scores.
-- You could fault Halak on the Kopitar goal, but it might have been nice if Karl Alzner was quicker to jump up and keep up with Kopitar heading to the net on that one.
-- Chicken and egg time, Caps fans. Patrick Wey dressed for his fifth game with the club last night. The Caps are now 4-0-1 in games in which Wey dressed. More to the point, the Caps have allowed only seven goals in those five games and never more than two. He skated for 18:31 last night, a career high, if just in five games. It is a small (to the point of minuscule) sample size, but don’t forget that he comes from four years in one of the highest pedigree of NCAA programs, too. Whether he can keep it up or not, at least enjoy it in the moment.
-- The challenge for the Caps was to try to hold their own at even strength against one of the elite possession teams so that they could let their power play perhaps make a difference. Things did not work out that way. The Kings dominated the Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages at even strength (57.8/42.2), 5-on-5 (58.8/41.3), and 5-on-5 close score (55.6/44.4). The Caps were held to 16 shots on goal at even strength.
-- We don’t think that Staples Center employs an official scorer so much as they use a pinball machine, at least to record hits. The official score sheet has the Kings out-hitting the Caps, 50-22. Every King was credited with at least one (well, except goalie Jonathan Quick), the defense being gifted with almost as many (20) as the entire Caps team.
-- With a goal in his fourth straight game, Joel Ward has set a career high for consecutive games with at least one goal. He accomplished a three-game streak five times previously, one with the Caps earlier this year and four with Nashville.
-- It was a good thing that Ward came through when he did. He and his usual running mates on what was the third line (we use that syntax because lines were all over the place at times last night) had a quiet night to that point. Ward’s goal came on his only shot on goal for the game, while Jason Chimera had one shot, and Eric Fehr was shut out.
-- Nicklas Backstrom recorded an assist for his fourth straight game. Since January 31st, Backstrom is 2-17-19 in 17 games. He is also minus-8, so there is that (he was “even” last night).
-- The Caps are now 0-22-5 when scoring two or fewer goals. All five extra-time losses have come via the Gimmick.
In the end…
If the Caps squeak into the playoffs by a point, this might be the point upon which they will gaze and think, “yup, this was the one.” The Kings pretty much had the Caps were they might have wanted them, down a goal and struggling to sustain any offensive momentum. It would have been easy to counter punch, let the Caps start taking chances late, and take advantage of opportunities or perhaps pot an empty netter late.
Some teams can play that way, and the Kings are one of them. But Joel Ward put an end to that. He might not be the Caps’ MVP this season, but he is in the room for the discussion. He has been particularly strong of late. The Caps will need that as they head to their own House of Doom in San Jose, where they have not won since October 1993. Ward will not be enough, though. Now, the big guns have to be heard from, too.