Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Washington Capitals: The 2013-2014 Season -- Ten Games that Mattered: Milestones, Part II

In looking at ten games that mattered to the Washington Capitals in the 2013-2014 season, we covered those ten that mattered in the team’s fortunes, and we covered those first five in the 2013 portion of the season that mattered in terms of individual milestones.  Now, we close out the “Games That Mattered” series with games from the 2014 portion of the season in which individual milestones were reached.

February 8, 2014: Washington 3 – New Jersey 0

When the Capitals hosted the New Jersey Devils on February 8th, it would be their last game before the break for the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.  The Caps were struggling heading into the break, stuck in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and 13th place in the Eastern Conference, but just three points out of seventh place.  Every point mattered.  They mattered to the Devils, too, who were tied with the Caps in standings points.  It meant that this game played like a playoff game, or perhaps just a boring game.  The teams were scoreless through two periods, Braden Holtby stopping all 19 shots he faced, and Cory Schneider turning aside all 16 shots coming his way.

Ten minutes of the third period elapsed without either team lighting the lamp.  Then, the Caps had a faceoff in the Devils’ end to the left of Schneider.  Nicklas Backstrom won the draw from Adam Henrique back to Patrick Wey at the right point.  Wey sent the puck D-to-D to Julien Brouillette at the left point.  Brouillette walked the puck down the left wing boards a couple of steps, then wristed the puck at the New Jersey net.  Martin Erat waved at the puck looking for a deflection but had the effect of distracting Schneider just enough to allow the puck to sail by his blocker and in for Brouillette’s first NHL goal.

That would be all that Holtby would need, but there were still a couple of milestones to record.  Martin Erat got his first goal of the season (only his second with the Caps) into an empty net with 1:47 left.  It was enough time for the Devils to pull their goalie again and for the Caps to make them pay again.  It started with the Devils’ Marek Zidlicky trying to backhand the puck up ice from just outside his own blue line to teammate Jon Merrill at the red line. Merrill and the Caps’ Troy Brouwer jostled for the puck, Brouwer prying it out from Merrill’s skates along the wall near the players’ bench and flipping it into the air toward the Devils’ net.  Zidlicky tried to knock it out of mid-air, but swung and missed, the puck settling into the back of the net for Brouwer’s 100th NHL goal in the 3-0 Caps win.

Photo: Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images

March 1, 2014: Washington 4 – Boston 2

The Caps embarked on what would be a grueling March schedule by visiting the Boston Bruins, carrying a three-game winning streak to Beantown.  Things do not come easy for visitors to Boston, but the Caps did have their highly-ranked power play in their corner.  It cashed in late in the first period.  If you ordered it in a bar, you would have asked for “the usual.”  In this case it was Nicklas Backstrom off the right wing wall to John Carlson at the top of the offensive zone to Alex Ovechkin in the left wing circle for a one-timer that beat goalie Tuukka Rask to the short side.  It was Ovechkin’s 799th career point.

He got number 800 early in the second period on another power play.  It was “the usual” with a twist.  It started when goalie Braden Holtby skated into the corner to his right to play the puck up the wall to Joel Ward.  After skating the puck down the right wing to the Boston blue line, Ward sent the puck to Marcus Johansson in the middle.  Johansson took a step in, then backhanded a pass to Ovechkin at the top of the left wing circle for a one-timer that knuckled over Rask’s left shoulder to give the Caps a 2-0 lead.

Then it was time for someone else to reach a milestone.  Mid-way through the second period the Bruins won a center ice faceoff.  The puck came back to Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who tried to slide it off to his partner, Matt Bartkowski.  However, Joel Ward stepped between them and stole the puck, breaking in on Rask.  As Ward skated in Rask overcommitted to his left, leaving it only for Ward to pull the puck to his backhand and slide it past Rask’s extended right pad to make it 3-0.  It was Ward’s 18th goal of the season, setting a new career high.  It would be the game-winning tally in the Caps’ 4-2 win over the Bruins.

Photo: Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

March 5, 2014: Philadelphia 6 – Washington 4

The Caps win over Boston on March 1st tied their longest winning streak of the season – four games.  It did not get to five.  The Philadelphia Flyers put an end to the fun with a 5-4- overtime win on March 2nd in which the Caps blew a 4-2 lead in the third period.  The Caps had a chance to get even in the back half of the home-and-home in Philadelphia on March 5th.

It did not go well, especially at first.  The Flyers jumped out to a 4-0 lead before the game was 32 minutes old, chasing starting goaltender Braden Holtby. Then the Caps mounted a charge.  Barely two minutes after the Flyers’ fourth goal the Caps scored on a power play.  It was an innocent enough looking play, starting when Jason Chimera took the puck off the left wing wall and passed it out to Alex Ovechkin at the left wing point.  Ovechkin passed across to Mike Green at the opposite point where Green faded back and wristed a shot at the Flyers’ net.  Goalie Steve Mason seemed to have the shot lined up, but defenseman Andy McDonald might have gotten his hand on the puck as it was sailing by, deflecting it just enough to elude Mason and get the Caps on the board.  For Chimera it was his 300th point in the NHL. The odd part of the moment was that the goal was originally credited to Joel Ward, thus taking Chimera off the scoring line (Green and Ovechkin with the original assists).

After Alex Ovechkin got the Caps within two 6:35 into the third period, the Caps struck again just 2:50 later.  Late in a 4-on-4 situation, Troy Brouwer got things going when, from his own blue line, he sent the puck up to Jack Hillen just as he was being spilled to the ice when his skate and that of Claude Giroux got tangled up.  Hillen chased down the puck along the back wall and nudged it along to Nicklas Backstrom.  Coming out from behind the Flyers net Backstrom returned the puck to Hillen at the right wing wall along the goal line extended. 

As this was going on the Flyers lost track of Brouwer, last seen tumbling to the ice at his own blue line.  He got up and made his way back on the weak side of the play.  It was there that Hillen found him with a pass that Brouwer one-timed past Mason to get the Caps within a goal at 4-3.  For Brouwer it was his 200th NHL point.  It would be as close as the Caps would get, though.  After the Flyers and Caps exchanged goals mid-way through the period the Flyers cashed in on an empty net goal with 52 seconds left for the 6-4 win.

Photo: Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

March 14, 2014: Washington 4 – Vancouver 3

The Caps needed a win…badly.  Losers of five of their previous six games (1-4-1), including both ends of a home-and-home to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Caps took the ice against the Vancouver Canucks.  The Canucks were made to order for the struggling Caps.  They had a 2-4-1 record in tier previous seven games, their wins coming against hapless Calgary and Winnipeg. 

It was the Caps getting the early lead on a goal by Joel Ward.  It was matched, however, by a Vancouver goal by Jordan Schroeder barely three minutes later.  That was how the teams went to the first intermission, an interlude that would be followed by “The Evgeny Kuznetsov Show.”  Seven minutes into the second period Vancouver’s Tom Sestito made the mistake of hooking Tom Wilson, not for how Wilson might respond (he didn’t), but for what followed with Sestito in the penalty box.  A minute into the ensuing power play Joel Ward won a faceoff in the Canucks’ end back to John Carlson at the right point.  Carlson fed the puck to Alex Ovechkin for a one-timer that sailed high and wide past goalie Eddie Lack.  The puck skittered along the glass, dropping at the feet of Kuznetsov along the right wing boards.  He fed Carlson, and Carlson gave Ovechkin another chance.  He did not miss, one-timing the puck past Lack to give the Caps the lead and Kuznetsov his first NHL point.

Then fans got a glimpse of Kuznetsov’s vision and skill.  It started in the Caps’ end when Mike Green sent the puck across to Jack Hillen.  From there Hillen sent the puck ahead to Jay Beagle heading out of the defensive zone.   At the red line Beagle fed Kuznetsov at the Canucks’ blue line in front of the players’ bench.  After taking a couple of steps down the left wing Kuznetsov would up for a slap shot.  However, with Beagle charging for the net a passing lane opened up, and Kuznetsov took advantage of it, hitting Tom Wilson in stride with a pass.  Wilson snapped the puck over Lack’s glove and in to give the Caps a 3-1 lead 12:35 into the second period.

The two-goal lead did not hold up, though.  Vancouver scored a pair of goals 3:06 apart early in the third period to tie the game.  The tie would not last another three minutes.  Kuznetsov did the heavy lifting, working the puck around the back of the Vancouver net with Canuck defenseman Alexander Edler hanging on.  He put on the brakes in the left wing corner, spun the other way and hit Nicklas Backstrom at the near post.  Backstrom circled back around the Vancouver net and found Mike Green at the top of the right wing circle.  Green slid to his left, then wristed the puck through a clot of bodies past Lack to give the Caps their last lead of the night, Kuznetsov getting his third point of the contest.  When it was over, Kuznetsov had his first NHL point and first multi-point game in the Caps’ 4-3 win.

Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images

March 30, 2014: Nashville 4 – Washington 3 (OT/SO)
April 13, 2014: Tampa Bay 1 - Washington 0 (OT/SO)

The last “game” that mattered individually among the Capitals in their 2013-2014 season is a two-fer, a reminder of the passage of time.  On March 30th Mike Green appeared in his 500th NHL game.  It was a long night for the nine-year veteran.  He led all players for both teams with 34:08 of ice time, the most ice time he logged all season by more than three minutes and a career high in the regular season.  He also had an assist on the evening, but the Caps dropped a 4-3 trick shot competition to the Nashville Predators.

When Nicklas Backstrom took the ice on April 13th against Tampa Bay, it was his 82nd game of the season.  In doing so he became the third player in franchise history to appear in 82 games four times in his career, tying Dale Hunter and Brook Laich for the all-time franchise lead.  It was the first time he played in all 82 games of a season since the 2009-2010 campaign.  For Backstrom it was as frustrating a night as it was for everyone else, given that no goals were scored by either team in the hockey portion of the evening.  He did tie for the team lead in shots, though, and won 12 of 20 faceoffs in addition to tying for the team lead in blocked shots (three).

Photo: John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

And with that the 2013-2014 season is over so far as our look back is concerned.  It was a disappointing season, but one that had its moments, too.  Let’s hope there are more good ones than bad ahead as we look forward to the 2014-2015 season.

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