Monday, October 14, 2013

Washington Capitals: A TWO-point night -- Game 6: Capitals 4 - Oilers 2

For almost 30 minutes the Washington Capitals might have considered themselves to be lucky to be tied with the Edmonton Oilers, 1-1.  To that point Edmonton outshot the Caps, 14-6.  It could have been worse, given that the Oilers seemed to be gaining the Capitals’ zone almost at will.

Then, Ladislav Smid took a tripping penalty.  That was the crack the Capitals needed.  In a span of 3:55, starting with a Joel Ward goal on the power play following Smid’s penalty, the Caps put the competitive portion of the evening to bed with a three-goal burst.  Edmonton added a goal late to provide the final margin, 4-2, giving the Caps their first win in regulation time this season.

The gaining the zone almost without challenge burned the Caps in the tenth minute of the first period when Justin Schultz collected a loose puck at his own blue line, then circled out and down the right wing boards.  As he was crossing into the Caps’ end, David Perron headed for the net and backed off Mike Green.  Boyd Gordon jumped into the void, took a pass from Schultz, and buried a wrist shot past goalie Braden Holtby’s blocker to give the Oilers the first lead.

Brooks Laich tied the game four minutes later when the Oilers got caught jumping the zone en masse while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was failing to complete a clearing pass to Ales Hemsky.  Steve Oleksy settled the puck at the blue line and found Laich behind the entire Oiler defense.  Laich slipped the puck through goalie Jason LaBarbera, and the game was tied, the result the teams would take to the first intermission.

Then came the three goal burst in the second period.  The first goal came in a somewhat odd fashion, not for who started it, but for who finished it and how.  The Caps were skating four-on-three with Nicklas Backstrom along the goal line extended to LaBarbera’s left.  Looking for a cross-ice opening, he eschewed a pass to Alex Ovechkin at the point and instead slipped the puck under the stick of defenseman Nick Schultz and onto the tape of Joel Ward low in the left wing circle.  Ward buried the one timer behind LaBarbera to give the Caps a 2-1 lead.

Barely three minutes later it was Alex Ovechkin finding a hole in, of all places, the inside edge of the right wing circle.  Marcus Johansson found him, and another one-timer later, it was Caps in front, 3-1. 

Troy Brouwer ended the Caps scoring 43 seconds after the Ovechkin goal when the Caps worked the strong-side triangle of their power play to perfection.  Backstrom held the puck along the right wing wall until Mikhail Grabovski gave him a passing lane.  Backstrom slid it down to Grabovski along the goal line extended, Grabovski sent a touch pass to Troy Brouwer in the slot, and Brouwer one-timed the puck past LaBarbera for the pizza goal.

Edmonton got a window-dressing score late when Will Acton netted his first NHL goal (of course he did) with just over 100 seconds left in the game.

Other stuff…

-- The Laich goal was the first point by the second line as a group this season.  That is nice…really, it is.  But then again, the trio combined for only two even strength shots on goal.

-- The best defensive pair on the ice was the Steve Oleksy/Nate Schmidt pair.  It was like watching a couple of Jack Russell terriers out there, Oleksy being frisky with his stepping up in the play and hitting people, and Schmidt by keeping things simple and keeping the play in front of him.  They had a lot of energy and were not bashful about directing pucks to the net (four shot attempts apiece).

-- It is hard to believe that Martin Erat is going to be spending the rest of his year getting ten minutes a night on the fourth line (he had a season high 11:50 tonight).  He was solid in all three zones; he just looked like a guy who knows how to play the game.  Still, he is now averaging 7:30 in even strength ice time per game.  That is between Ryan White and Joe Colborne in your NHL rankings (573rd of 623 players).

-- That was the seventh time since the 2004-2005 lockout that the Caps scored four or more goals on 20 or fewer shots.  The last time they did it was April 2, 2013, in a 5-3 win over Carolina.

-- Last season Alex Ovechkin scored his sixth goal of the season in his 17th game (part of a hat trick night against New Jersey).  He now has six goals in six games this season, his fastest to six goals of his career,  and he has 29 goals in his last 29 games.

-- With three assists, Nickas Backstrom had his third multi-point game this season.  His seven assists in six games is not his best six-game start for helpers (eight in three games to start the 2009-2010 season), but in his last 29 games, he has…yes, 29 assists.  Synergy.

-- Tom Wilson is going to get a goal someday.  It will probably be the ugliest thing you ever saw.  How do we know this?  Because he keeps getting robbed on doorstep opportunities.  It happened against Colorado on Saturday, and it happened again tonight when he had two bang-bang chances 9:50 into the third period.  He did finish second on the team in even-strength shots on goal (three; Alex Ovechkin had four)

-- Mike Green…if you’re going to try hip checks, go watch some Dmitry Orlov video.

-- How bad is Edmonton’s defense?  They tied a season best for fewest goals allowed in a game (four).

-- Just wondering, can you get a five-minute major for interference (answer: yes, Rule 56.4)?  That love tap Alex Ovechkin planted between the numbers on the back of Mike Brown flirted with it.

-- The Caps didn’t win the even strength game in this one, either.  Caps 2 – Oilers 2.  The Caps were outshot, 26-17, at even strength.

-- Where did Boyd “Muffins” Gordon find that wrist shot.  If you squinted, you might have thought it was Joe Sakic coming out of retirement (well, yeah…certainly not Sakic in his prime).

-- Marcus Johansson recorded his 100th NHL point, credited with the primary assist on the Ovechkin goal. 

-- Baby steps.  In his last three games Braden Holtby has recorded save percentages of .905, .917, and .933.  Overall, it’s .920.  He’s getting there.

In the end…

Yeah, Edmonton’s defense stinks on toast, and Jason LaBarbera is a diligent journeyman goaltender.  But when you have such a team in front of you, then you take advantage of it.  The Caps did just that.  The scorers scored (all of the top line getting points), the second line showed signs of life (or at least opportunism), the third defense pair looked solid, and Braden Holtby made the saves he needed to make when he needed to make them.  It is something on which they can build with the New York Rangers coming to town on Wednesday.