Goalie save percentages are like baseball pitcher earned run averages. A pitcher can be humming along with an ERA under 2.00, but then he gets shelled for half a dozen runs in a couple of innings, and that ERA balloons.
So it was for Braden Holtby and his save percentage as the Washington Capitals remained winless at home to open the 2014-2015 season, dropping a 6-5 Gimmick decision to the San Jose Sharks last evening.
The Caps fell behind early as Holtby allowed three goals on seven shots in less than ten minutes, defenseman Matt Irwin solving Holtby twice to open the game, then John Scott finding the back of the net and ending Holtby’s evening five minutes after Irwin’s second goal.
Marcus Johansson got the Capitals on the board in the third minute of the second period, taking a pass from Alex Ovechkin at the doorstep and flicking it past goalie Antti Miemi just as he was being decked by defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Joe Pavelski restored the three-goal San Jose lead at 5:27 of the period, but Mike Green got the Caps going again barely a minute later when he circled out around the left wing faceoff circle and threw a wrist shot at the net. The floating puck sailed past a Liam O’Brien screen and past Niemi to get the Caps back within two goals.
Just 34 seconds later the Caps halved that lead. As Alex Ovechkin sliced to the middle of the ice from the left wing wall, Eric Fehr’s centering pass was deadened by Nicklas Backstrom as if to set the puck on a tee. Ovechkin picked it up and snapped a wrist shot past Niemi’s blocker to make it 4-3.
San Jose extended their lead in the second minute of the third period on a Tommy Wingels goal, and that lead held up for the next 12 minutes. Then, with Brent Burns off for a tripping penalty, Ovechkin netted his second goal of the game. He misfired on a one-timer from the left wing faceoff dot, but seconds later the puck came back to his stick on a cross-ice feed from Backstrom. Ovechkin took measure of his position and fired another wrist shot, beating Niemi on the short side to make it 5-4.
Just 76 seconds later, the score was tied. Troy Brouwer took a pass from Mike Green at the San Jose blue line, spun around Irwin, circled unimpeded to the top of the crease and beat Niemi to tie the game with 4:35 to play in regulation.
That would do it for the scoring in the hockey portion of the evening. Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Eric Fehr failed in their trick shot attempts, while Joe Pavelski found the net over goalie Justin Peters’ glove to give the Sharks the 6-5 decision.
-- Braden Holtby’s goals against average jumped from 0.48 to 1.78, and his save percentage dropped from .981 to .933. Niemi’s went from 0.00, 1.000 to 2.40, .926. That’s what happens after an iffy outing for a goalie early in the season.
-- Matt Irwin and John Scott, the scorers of the first three Shark goals, had a combined ten career goals in 336 career games coming into this contest. For Scott it was his third goal in 237 career games and on his first shot of his first game of the 2014-2015 season. Whoop-dee-freakin’-doo.
-- Alex Ovechkin has four goals in three games. Steven Stamkos had a hat trick the other night. Neither leads the league in goals. Hi, Rick Nash (6).
-- Back to Braden… If it’s early in the season, it must mean an early exit for Holtby. Last night, in Game 3, he took a seat just 9:34 into the game after giving up three goals on seven shots. Last season it was in Game 2, departing after giving up three goals on 11 shots in 5-4 Gimmick win over the Calgary Flames. In 2011-2012 it was in his fifth game of the season (ok, it was in late March), leaving after allowing three goals on 18 shots in 22:31 in a 5-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres. Get it out of the way early, kid.
-- Ovechkin plus-minus watch… after three games last season he was minus-1. He is “even” this morning after three games. Is he buying in yet?
-- Andre Burakovsky had an assist on Troy Brouwer’s game-tying goal in the third period. That’s three games and counting for points (1-3-4). He’s tied for second in rookie scoring (with some kid in Nashville) behind the Los Angeles Kings’ Tanner Pearson (4-2-6).
-- Rough night for John Carlson… He was on ice for all five Sharks goals, which means…
-- Rough night for Brooks Orpik… He was on ice for all five Sharks goals. I think I saw him out there when Pavelski started in on his shootout attempt.
-- Well, at least the Caps out-Corsi’ed the Sharks overall (71-56 in shot attempts). Like we said somewhere else, analytics are fickle when you look at them on a game-by-game basis.
-- Alex Ovechkin led the Caps in hits with five. That is not news. Nicklas Backstrom and… wait for it… Marcus Johansson were next with four apiece. I expected that to be above the Ebola update on CNN this morning.
In the end…
In an 82-game season, bad nights happen. You want them to be few and far between, but they happen. The Caps scratched and clawed back for a point on a night when, frankly, they stunk. There is something in that. That’s the silver lining. The think that folks are going to have to watch out for is the Carlson-Orpik pair. Being on ice for five goals as a pair might be viewed as part of the “getting to know you” phase of guys who are teammates for the first time. But the eHarmony phase had better not last too long, or goalies are going to have a rough time.
On the other side, nine goals scored in two games against good defensive teams is a good takeaway. So is four power play goals on their last seven power play chances. They are going to need that against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, a team that has allowed only six goals in three games, two in their last two contests.