There were aspects of both on display as the Washington Capitals played their 50th game of the season, dropping a 4-3 decision to the St. Louis Blues at Verizon Center.
It was a battle of teams on streaks, the Blues having won four in a row and not having lost in regulation time ten games (9-0-1). The Caps came into the game not having lost in regulation time on home ice in ten straight games (8-0-2).
St. Louis opened the scoring just 2:34 into the game after Jay Beagle took a slashing penalty to put the Blues on a power play. Alex Steen darted in from the right win faceoff dot to pounce on a rebound to give the Blues the first lead of the contest. For the Caps, who came into the game with a 1-13-6 record when scored upon first, it was a bad sign.
Alex Ovechkin evened the game mid-way through the period with a power play goal of his own in a case of, if at first you don’t succeed, try again. After having a one-timer from the left wing circle turned aside by goalie Brian Elliott, the puck was worked around the perimeter until it came to Ovechkin for another one-timer attempt. This one found the back of the net past Elliott’s blocker, and the game was tied, remaining so as the teams went to the first intermission.
Steen would break the tie in the 12th minute of the second period when he walked between defensemen Brooks Orpik and John Carlson, and received a pass from T.J. Oshie. Steen’s first attempt from point-blank range was stopped by goalie Justin Peters, but Peters could not cover the loose puck, and Steen slid it into the back of the net to make it 2-1, Blues.
Ovechkin tied it once more less than three minutes later on what was a fine play by Nicklas Backstrom to set him up. After Jay Bouwmeester picked up a puck left for him behind the cage by Elliot and skated out, he was challenged by Ovechkin and threw a pass off the wall in an attempt to clear the zone. Backstrom intercepted the puck just as it reached the blue line and threw a pass across his body to Ovechkin. From the left wing circle, Ovechkin snapped a shot past Elliott on the far side, and the game was tied once more.
Less than two minutes after that goal, St. Louis regained the lead it would not relinquish. A pinballing puck found its way onto the stick of Dmitrij Jaskin, who snapped it past Peters’ right pad to make it 3-2 heading into the second intermission. It was another bad sign for the Caps, who were one of four teams in the league not to have won a game when trailing at the second intermission this season (0-9-2).
Vladimir Tarasenko scored what would be the game-winning goal in the seventh minute of the third period, converting a 2-on-1 break with Steen, blasting a one-timer past Peters’ glove to make it 4-2, Blues.
Karl Alzner added to his career-best goal-scoring total with his fourth goal of the season. Taking a pass from Mike Green at the left point, Alzner held the puck, then worked himself for a shooting angle clear of Marcel Goc, who was guarding him. With Backstrom, Ovechkin, and Tom Wilson all in front screening Elliott, Alzner’s floater of a shot caught Elliott by surprise, sailing past his glove to get the Caps within a goal at 4-3 at the 12:28 mark.
That would be as close as the Caps would get, though. The Caps would get only three more shots on goal, all of them turned aside by Elliott, and the Caps lost their second straight game and sixth in their last seven contests, 4-3.
-- Ovechkin became the fifth player in NHL history to score 30 or more goals in his first ten seasons in the NHL, joining Mike Bossy, Mike Gartner, Wayne Gretzky, and Jari Kurri on that list. Gartner did it in his first 15 seasons, stopped only by the 1994-1995 lockout that reduced the season to 48 games. He had 30-plus goal seasons in each of the two seasons that followed.
-- With his two goals, Ovechkin has 15 in his last 15 games. It was his fourth multi-goal game in his last seven games, and his three points was his fifth multi-point game in his last seven contests.
-- Nicklas Backstrom had a pair of assists, giving him four multi-point games in his last seven contests and 16 for the season. He is tied for fourth in the league in multi-point games this season, behind Jakub Voracek and Ovechkin (17 apiece), and Ryan Getzlaf (18).
-- Mike Green had a pair of assists, his fourth multi-point game in his last seven contests and 11th of the season. He is tied with Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang for the most multi-point games by a defenseman this season.
-- If your backup goaltender is struggling, you probably do not want him facing a lot of shots. St. Louis recorded 40 shots on goal against Justin Peters, the first time the Caps gave up 40 or more shots since November 7th, when the Caps yielded 40 shots on goal in a 3-2 win in Chicago over the Blackhawks.
-- The Caps have to be concerned about their basic defense in one respect. The Caps have allowed four goals or more in five of their last seven games, the other two being shutouts in regulation time by Braden Holtby.
-- St. Louis was credited with 35 hits on the game, half of them by two players – Ryan Reaves (10 in just 12:17 of ice time) and Steve Ott (7).
-- Odd stat…the teams combined for a credited ten giveaways. Three of them were by goaltenders (Peters: 2, Elliott: 1).
-- With four goals on the season now, Karl Alzner has matched the total of his last three seasons, combined.
-- Score effects… the Caps had 16 of 18 skaters with positive Corsi plus-minus when trailing by two goals. When tied, they had three skaters with positive Corsi plus-minus. If you’re playing along at home, that’s not too good.
In the end…
After 50 games, Alex Ovechkin is back on top of the goal scoring race, and Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green are making important contributions on the offensive side of the puck. Those are things Caps fans see that they like. On the other hand, the Caps can’t win when scored upon first, can’t win when heading into the third period behind on the scoreboard, and can’t seem to win one-goal games, which is a real problem since they play so many of them (32, most in the league but with the sixth worst winning percentage). Obviously, these are things that Caps fans don’t like.
At the end of the weekend, the Caps find themselves in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. They have an eight-point lead on ninth-place Florida, but the Panthers hold three games in hand. It does not take long for the collars to get a bit tight. And, this one-goal game trend is not something that the Caps are handling particularly well, having lost their last six one-goal decisions (0-4-2). The Caps have only four standings points in their last seven games, and it is not getting easier. Washington hosts the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday, then get yet another back-to-back set of games to end the week. What is a pinhole prick in the balloon letting out air could pop pretty quickly unless the Caps find a way to reverse some worrisome trends they have forged over their first 50 games.