The Washington Capitals wrapped up the 2014 portion of their 2014-2015 season last night by storming back from a 3-0 third period deficit to tie the New York Islanders before falling in overtime, 4-3, in their final game before their New Year’s Day meeting with the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL Winter Classic.
The Caps fell behind, 3-0, allowing goals in three different situations – an even strength goal by Anders Lee in the ninth minute of the first period, a power play goal by Lubomir Visnovsky mid-way through the second period, and a shorthanded goal by Calvin de Haan less than two minutes into the third period.
Washington started their comeback three minutes after the Islanders’ third goal when Eric Fehr won a faceoff against John Tavares in the offensive zone to the right of goalie Jaroslav Halak. Jack Hillen collected the puck and skated down the left wing wall, throwing the puck to the Islanders net where Brooks Laich and Fehr were converging. Laich managed to take a swat at the puck, Halak making the initial save. However, Fehr was left alone at the top of the crease, and he batted the rebound past Halak to make it 3-1 at the 4:40 mark.
The Caps crawled within a goal less than two minutes later. De Haan tried to keep the puck under control outside the Caps’ blue line but lost the battle to Alex Ovechkin. Skating up the right side, the Islanders’ Travis Hamonic tried to sweep the puck off Ovechkin’s stick, but all he got was air. It created an opening in the middle that Nicklas Backstrom filled, and Ovechkin hit him in stride with a pass. Backstrom broke in alone on Halak and snapped the puck over Halak’s glove to make it 3-2 with 6:29 gone in the period.
Washington tied the game late in the period starting with another faceoff win. Backstrom beat Casey Cizikas on the draw to Halak’s right, pulling the puck back to Ovechkin. From the top of the left wing circle, Ovechkin took a step to his right and fired a wrist shot that beat Halak to the long side with just 2:41 left in regulation.
In overtime, with Evgeny Kuznetsov off on a double minor penalty for high-sticking, Johnny Boychuk took a feed from Ryan Strome and with the extra space afforded him by the 4-on-3 situation, took a slap shot that beat goalie Braden Holtby to end the contest 2:53 into the extra session, the Islanders coming out on top, 4-3.
-- The loss made the Caps 8-1-3 in their 12-game march through the Eastern Conference to end 2014. The three losses in extra time left them with seven losses in overtime and the Gimmick, tied for most in the Metropolitan Division.
-- The shorthanded goal allowed by the Caps was their first such goal allowed this season, and they became the last team in the league to have played a game with a shorthanded goal scored for or against. They remain one of four teams not to have scored a shorthanded goal this season.
-- The Caps allowed two power play goals, including the game-winner. It was the third time in six games that Washington allowed two power play goals. It was the second time in three games that the Caps allowed seven power plays (seven against the Rangers on December 23rd).
-- The Caps allowed 39 shots on goal, the second time in four games that they allowed that many by the opposition (December 22nd vs. Ottawa).
-- Perhaps it is worth noting that after Brooks Orpik went down with a knee injury, the Islanders out-shot the Caps, 11-2, over the remainder of the contest. They out-attempted the Caps, 16-4. Of course, the Islanders also had 5:57 in power play time over that last 10:13 of regulation and overtime, too.
-- The 8-1-3 run to close 2014 is the best 12-game in-season record for the Caps (19 standings points) since they closed the abbreviated 2012-2013 season with a 10-1-1 record (21 points).
-- With six shots on goal, Alex Ovechkin has registered five or more shots in ten consecutive games (67 shots). Just those 67 shots in ten games would rank him in a tie for 157th among 777 skaters having dressed this season in the NHL.
-- Every Capitals skater was credited with at least on hit except Jason Chimera, John Carlson, and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
-- The official scorer had an eye for theft. He or she credited the two clubs with a total of 42 takeaways (18 by the Caps).
-- Allowing the game-winning goal on overtime puts the Caps in some rare air in which they would rather not find themselves. Only Edmonton (five) and Colorado (six) have allowed more overtime goals than the Caps (four).
In the end…
It would have been nice to end the year on a higher note, given what the Caps accomplished this month. Still, looking at the long view, an 8-1-3 record in 12 consecutive games against Eastern Conference opponents is something to build upon in the new year. Attention now turns to the hoopla that is the Winter Classic, but let’s not forget that this is a game that counts in the standings, and the Caps are only one point ahead of the New York Rangers for third in the Metropolitan Division (the Rangers hold two games in hand), while the Boston Bruins (two points back) and the pesky Florida Panthers (three points back) lurk close by for a wild card spot. There is no resting on laurels in the NHL, no matter how good a month you might have had.