It was nice to see the other team blow a two-goal lead.
It was nice to see the other team take an offensive zone penalty.
It was nice to see the other team wilt on a penalty kill late.
And it all happened in barely five minutes to the Phoenix Coyotes as the Washington Capitals came from down, 0-2, to catch and pass the Coyotes in the third period and win a game they seemed hell bent on losing, coming out on top by a 3-2 margin in the end.
For almost 50 minutes it looked as if the Caps would go meekly to their fourth straight loss. Phoenix played a solid road game, keeping things simple and taking advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves.
One of those opportunities came late in the first period when the Coyotes took advantage of a sluggish line change for the Caps. As the Caps were swapping out old for new players, Keith Yandle fed the puck past Nicklas Backstrom and up to Brandon McMillan just outside the Caps’ blue line. McMillan beat Mike Green into the zone, skated in, and snapped a shot from the edge of the left wing circle past goalie Jaroslav Halak at 18:58 to give the Coyotes a lead going into the first intermission.
Phoenix added to their lead in the fourth minute of the second period on a power play. With Jack Hillen off for tripping, Yandle started the play again, laying the puck out at the top of the Caps’ zone for Michael Stone to take a whack at. Stone fired, and Halak made the initial save. He did not field it cleanly, though, and the puck trickled toward the goal line. Radim Vrbata got to the loose puck before Dmitry Orlov could tie him up, and Vrbata bunted the biscuit into the back of the net.
At that point, and for the next 25 minutes, the Caps looked listless and on their way to another loss. From the 3:20 mark of the second period to the 9:15 mark of the third period, Phoenix out-shot the Caps, 19-14. Then, something strange and wonderful happened.
Karl Alzner scored.
It was innocent enough. Jay Beagle and Keith Yandle were fighting for a loose puck in the left wing corner to goalie Mike Smith’s right. As they were dueling, Eric Fehr swooped in and gathered up the puck, sliding it out to Alzner at the left point. With Mike Ribeiro in the shooting lane, Alzner stepped to his left and down the wall to get an opening, then flipped a soft shot toward the goal (kids, take note...a right-handed defenseman on that side cannot make that play; sometimes the "handed" thing works). As Alzner was snapping his shot at the net, Jay Beagle backed across Smith’s line of sight dragging Yandle with him on the coverage, and the commotion might have provided a distraction. It was enough to allow the puck to sail untouched into the back of the net, and the Caps were within a goal.
Just 32 seconds later, the game was tied. Brooks Laich got the goal, but it was Jason Chimera doing the work. Chimera was behind the Coyote net when Laich chipped him the puck from the right wing corner. Chimera walked the puck out from behind the net and out to the left wing corner, maintaining control. Then, with Oliver Ekman-Larsson trying to pin him in the corner against the wall, Chimera flipped a fade-away pass to the goal mouth where Laich was camped all alone. Laich redirected the puck behind Smith, and Caps fans were happy once more…
Phoenix took only two penalties in the game, but they picked a bad time for the second one. David Moss hauled Dmitry Orlov down as Orlov was circling from around the Caps’ net, and the Caps had a power play. Nicklas Backstrom walked the puck from the right wing wall into the faceoff circle and wristed a shot toward the goal. Smith got a pad on it and steered it to the weak side of the play. However, it happened to be just where Troy Brouwer was standing, and Brouwer wasted no time in stuffing the loose puck past Smith to give the Caps the lead and their final margin, 3-2.
-- Say what you will about the two-goal lead being the most dangerous in hockey, but that was the first time the Caps came from behind to win a game in which they faced a two-goal deficit since Game 33, when they came back from a 4-1 third period deficit to beat the Philadelphia Flyers, 5-4, in a Gimmick on December 15th. It broke a string of ten straight losses when the Caps faced a two-goal deficit.
-- It might have been for naught if the Caps went down 3-0. That might have happened had a call gone differently in the first period. Brandon McMillan, who would score a goal later, might have thought he had one mid-way through the frame when he pushed the puck through goalie Jaroslav Halak’s pads and watched it trickle over the goal line. However, the referee ruled that McMillan pushed not only the puck, but Halak’s pad over the goal line. Thus, the goal was disallowed on what was not a decision subject to video review. Yeah, it was iffy, but after seeing so many video reviews of questionable high-stick deflections go against the Caps this season, there seems hardly any reason to apologize.
-- For Karl Alzner it was his second goal of the season, his first since netting the game-winner in a 5-2 win over Nashville on December 7th. Alzner has seven career goals, and the Caps are 4-2-1 in those games, winners in the last three games in which Alzner scored.
-- Mike Green skated 20:35 in this game. But what is noteworthy about his ice time is that he did not skate on the power play at all. John Carlson took all 3:10 of power play ice time for the Caps in this contest.
-- Is there something to this whole shots-from-the-outside thing? Of the Coyotes’ 33 shots on goal, 20 of them came from defensemen. By way of comparison, only seven of the Caps’ 33 shots came from defensemen.
-- In former Caps news, the trio of former Caps for the Coyotes – Mike Ribeiro, Jeff Halpern, and Martin Erat – combined for a grand total of no shots on goal, none, nada. Not only that, they finished with no shot attempts among them.
-- The Caps have had their troubles in the faceoff circle lately, and they found themselves on the short end tonight, especially in the offensive end where they won just eight of 22 draws.
-- The win put the Caps over the .500 mark against Western Conference teams as measured in standings points. The Caps are now 9-8-2 against the West.
-- Troy Brouwer continued his hot run of late. His goal, the game-winner, was his 18th of the season and his eighth in his last ten games on a total of 29 shots on goal (27.6 percent shooting).
-- Brooks Laich has goals in consecutive games and in three of his last five contests. The last time he had goals in consecutive games came back on March 10/11, 2012, both of them game winners, one against Boston in a 4-3 win, the other against Toronto in a 2-0 win.
-- When the Caps allowed a power play goal to Phoenix in the second period, it made it five times in six games that the Caps allowed opponents at least one power play goal. In the game they did not, against Boston, they did not face a shorthanded situation. The Caps are 14-for-20 (70.0 percent) killing penalties over their last six games.
In the end…
It was nice to see the other team not quite play 60 minutes. If Phoenix did not dominate the Caps, they played a solid road game… for about 55 minutes. But there was that five-minute stretch in the third period when it all came apart, suddenly and emphatically. And they got contributions from up and down the roster in making the comeback. Getting goals from Karl Alzner and Brooks Laich was unexpected, but refreshing. Assists from Eric Fehr, Jay Beagle, and Jason Chimera was much the same.
Add in a power play, and it made for a welcome win that brought the Caps back from, if not the abyss, then a dark place in the standings. There they still lurk, one point behind Detroit and two behind the New York Rangers as the embark on a big week with a pair of games against Pittsburgh and a home contest against Vancouver. It looks a lot better than it might have had the Caps lost this game.