Sunday, April 06, 2014

Washington Capitals: A TWO-point Night -- Game 78: Capitals 4 - Islanders 3 (OT/Gimmick)

And a babe shall lead them…

OK, maybe not a babe, but the new kid on the ice.  The Washington Capitals rode goals in both the hockey portion of the contest and in the skills competition by Evgeny Kuznetsov, and tallies by Joel Ward and Nicklas Backstrom to a 4-3 trick shot competition win over the New York Islanders.

For more than 30 minutes it did not have the look of the night ending in the Caps’ favor.  In the first period the Islanders took advantage of some indifferent defense from the Caps’ forwards to draw first blood.  In the thirteenth minute Micahel Grabner backhanded the puck deep into the Caps’ end.  Casey Cizikas split Tyson Strachan and Julien Brouillette to get to the puck first.  Strachan followed Cizikas low, and Brouillette stayed in front but wandered too far to the weak side of the play.  It allowed Cizikas to throw the puck out in front where Cal Clutterbuck filled in behind the Caps’ forwards.  Clutterbuck wasted no time slamming the puck past goalie Braden Holtby to give the Isles the 1-0 lead.

Less than three minutes into the second period Kuznetsov got the Caps even on an odd-finishing play.  Kuznetsov walked the puck out from the right wing corner and spied Marcus Johansson heading to the far post on the weak side.  Kuznetsov threw the puck across to Johansson, who tried to one-time the puck into the net.  He misfired, though, the puck heading back across the crease onto Kuznetsov’s stick.  The rookie did not miss on his attempt, stuffing the puck behind goalie Evgeni Nabokov.

That lead lasted 100 seconds.  For the 29th time this season the Caps allowed a goal less than two minutes after scoring one of their own.  John Persson would do the honors, scoring his first NHL goal when he took a pass from Travis Hamonic and backhanded the puck through Holtby’s five hole, the puck sneaking over the goal line just before the referee blew the play dead for a covered puck.

When Franz Nielsen converted a feed from Josh Bailey into a one-timer power play goal at 9:55 to make it 3-1, the Caps looked cooked.  Less than three minutes later, though, the Caps drew back within one on another odd play.  It started when Alex Ovechkin got to a loose puck before defenseman Calvin de Haan in the right wing circle and dropped it for Mikhail Grabovski.  As Ovechkin continued around the boards, he ran into de Haan, the defenseman falling into the boards awkwardly and unable to get his feet back under him.  As the play unfolded the puck returned to Ovechkin low in the left wing circle.  Ovechkin tried to wrist the puck at the net, but whiffed.  It did have the benefit of drawing Nabokov to the ice, affording Ovechkin another chance at what was an empty net.  His shot missed, though, hitting deHaan, who was on his knees at the other side of the net, in the chest.  The puck caromed to Nicklas Backstrom who did not miss the empty net, and the Caps had a life.

Just 2:16 later, Joel Ward made the comeback complete off a broken play.  Marcus Johansson started it by trying to float a pass to Jason Chimera heading to the net.  The puck hit defenseman Thomas Hickey and was directed on goal.  Nabokov made the save, but when Hickey tried to clear the puck to the boards, he put it right on Ward’s stick.  Ward accepted the gift and ripped the puck past Nabokov, tying the game at the 15:01 mark of the period.

That would be it for the scoring in regulation time and for the five-minute overtime.  In the skills phase, Kuznetsov opened the competition with a goal that would end up being the only one scored.  When Brock Nelson chunked his backhand attempt in the third round and watched it go through Holtby’s legs and skitter just wide, Holtby looked back, saw the puck safely out of danger, and did a fist-pump to put an exclamation point on a two-point night the Caps desperately needed.

Other stuff…

-- If you happened to catch the Islanders’ TV feed, you might have thought Alex Ovechkin was the only defender on the ice for the Clutterbuck goal and was solely responsible for it.  None of the forwards – including Ovechkin – distinguished themselves on the play, but Ovechkin did happen to be the closest forward to Clutterbuck when he took the shot, so there was that.

-- The win makes the Caps 2-3-3 in their last eight games, both of their wins coming in the Gimmick.  The Caps do not have a win in regulation time since winning in Anaheim back on March 18th.

-- It might not be coincidence that those eight games correspond to an eight-game streak, extended against the Islanders, in which the Caps had Fenwick-for percentages in 5-on-5 close score situations below 50 percent.  Their 39.7 percent effort against the Islanders made it four times in those eight games that the Caps failed to reach 40 percent.

-- Mike Green skated less than eight minutes, going out after the first period after sustaining an upper body injury.  His absence meant big minutes for John Carlson, who skated 30:07 for the evening.  It was the fifth time this season Carlson topped 30 minutes in ice time.  It also meant a season high 24:15 for Tyson Strachan. 

-- At the other end, only Julien Brouillette among the surviving defensemen had less ice time (15:19) than Karl Alzner (20:36).

-- Nicklas Backstrom’s five shots on goal was topped only once this season, a six-shot effort against Detroit on November 15th.

-- When the game started, would you have had Julien Brouillette leading the Caps in hits?  Nope, me neither.  But he did get credit for five to lead the team.

-- Among rookies having played in ten or more games, Evgeny Kuznetsov is tied for 12th in goals per game (0.23/game).

-- Here is an odd, and not flattering, coincidence of numbers.  This season Tyson Strachan has logged 2:24 in total penalty killing ice time.  He has been on ice for four goals against.  He was on ice for 1:23 against the Islanders, and yes, for a goal against.

-- With seven minutes in penalties, Tom Wilson reached the 151-minute mark for the season.  He is just the sixth rookie since the 2004-2005 lockout to top 150 minutes in penalties, passing Derek Dorsett (150 in 2008-2009) on that list.  Next up is Derek Boogaard (158 minutes in 2005-2006).  The other three are Shane O’Brien (176 in 2006-2007), Jared Boll (226 in 2007-2008), and Zac Rinaldo (232 in 2011-2012).

-- With their 20th appearance in Bettman's Folly, the Caps tied a league record for appearances in a single season, tying Phoenix (14-6 in 2009-2010) and Minnesota (11-9 in 2011-2012).

In the end…

Maybe it postpones the inevitable, maybe it is the start of a miraculous run to the playoffs.  Either way, it was the sort of comeback one might not thought this team was capable of achieving given a five-game losing streak and their standing as a playoff contender, and that is to their credit.  If there is still fight in this team, though, it will be tested on Tuesday in St. Louis.  Even though the remaining road is short with four games left, there is a long way to go.

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