Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Washington Capitals: A TWO-point Night -- Game 70: Capitals 3 - Ducks 2

One thing the Caps have had little experience in this season is a goaltender stealing a game for them.  One could say that is what the Washington Capitals got last night as the Caps, behind Jaroslav Halak’s 43 saves and Alex Ovechkin’s third period power play goal, defeated the Anaheim Ducks, 3-2, at Honda Center.

The game started good – and bad – for the Caps early on.  Joel Ward scored just 2:11 into the game.  Ward put on a clinic on absorbing abuse to make a play.  As the Capitals were moving the puck deep along the perimeter Ward was fighting through defenseman Bryan Allen to set up in front of goalie Jonas Hiller, where he then took several cross-checks to the back by defenseman Stephane Robidas.  The puck went out to Mike Green, who threw it at the net.  The shot was blocked by Nick Bonino, but not recovered by the Ducks.  Jason Chimera got a whack at it, but his shot hit Ward.  When Chimera took another swipe at it, the puck squirted to the side of the net to Hiller’s left.  By this time Ward was left alone, Robidas having drifted to the other side to cover Eric Fehr moving to the net.  Ward pulled the loose puck away from Hiller and wristed it into the net behind him to give the Caps a 1-0 lead.

That lead lasted 59 seconds.  Ben Lovejoy evened the scored when the Caps got caught up in some confusion at the players’ benches.  The Caps got caught in both a slow line change and in paying a little too much attention to what they thought was a slower one by the Ducks that resulted in too many men on the ice.  While that penalty was not being called, Lovejoy took a pass and moved the puck to Andrew Cogliano at the Capitals’ blue line. Cogliano taook a stride into the zone and dropped the puck for Lovejoy who ripped a one timer under the left arm of Halak to tie the game.

That might have been how the game went into the first intermission, but Saku Koivu took an interference penalty just 31 seconds before the break.  It was enough to give the Caps an opening.  The Caps worked the puck around the Ducks’ box – Carlson at the line to Backstrom on the half wall, back to Carlson, then over to Alex Ovechkin in the left wing circle.  Ovechkin moved it all the way through to Backstrom on the other side, who stepped in and wristed a shot from the right wing faceoff dot.  Hiller made the save, but did not control the rebound.  The puck came out to his right where Troy Brouwer was all alone to backhand it past Hiller and give the Caps a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes.

That score stood up until the third period, largely due to Halak’s stopping all 15 shots he saw in the second period.  But less than two minutes into the third period an old Cap struck. As a power play was expiring, the Ducks moved the puck around the top of their power play formation, eventually finding Mathieu Perreault circling around the top of the right wing circle. Perreault moved up and wristed the puck past Halak, who was screened by Patrick Maroon.

The Caps then turned the tables on the Ducks, taking the lead back just 1:12 later on a power play.  With Matt Beleskey off for slashing, the Caps took care of business off the next faceoff.  Troy Brouwer won the draw back to John Carlson, who did a good job keeping the puck in the zone.  Carlson slid the puck to Nicklas Backstrom at the right wing wall, and Backstrom returned it to Carlson.  At the top of the zone Carlson showed slap shot but sent a slap pass to Alex Ovechkin low in the left wing circle.  Ovechkin fired the one timer before Jonas Hiller had a chance to get across, and the Caps had their lead back.

After that it was in the hands of Halak.  The Ducks managed 16 shots after the Ovechkin goal, but Halak stopped them all, and the Caps had their 3-2 win to open their California trip.

Other stuff…

-- The win was the Caps’ fourth straight at Honda Center, three of them one-goal decisions.

-- The power play goal by Ovechkin was his 20th, the third time in his career he hit the 20 power play goal mark and first since he had 22 in 2007-2008.

-- Brouwer’s power play goal was his 11th making it more than the combined total of his previous two years with the Caps (10).

--  The 15:30 skated by Ovechkin was his low for the season and his lightest skating load since he took 15:03 in ice time on December 20, 2011 against Nashville in the early Dale Hunter coaching days.  That was a product of his getting only 13:01 in even strength ice time, less than his new linemate Jay Beagle, who had 13:33.

-- Halak has faced more than 40 shots twice this season, both with the Caps, both wins, saving 81 of 86 shots against Vancouver and last night against the Ducks.

-- With two assists, Nicklas Backstrom had his 13th multi-assist game of the season, just his fifth on the road.

-- The two power play goals made it two games in a row with two power play goals, power play goals in three straight games and five of their last six.  Over their last 11 games the Caps are 14-for-35 on the power play (40.0 percent).

-- Halak was 12-for-12 stopping shots on the power play, although the Perreault goal might as well have been one as it was scored just as a penalty was expiring.

-- Jay Beagle celebrated his elevation to the Ovechkin line with three minor penalties, a season high in minor penalties and penalty minutes (six), and the first time he has taken three minors in a game since he did it in a March 13, 2012 game against the New York Islanders.

-- Joel Ward has goals in three straight games, matching his longest streak of the season, three games from January 30th through February 2nd.

-- Jason Chimera picked up an assist.  He has seven helpers in his last ten games.

-- Patrick Wey recorded an assist, too.  That makes three straight games in which he has one, although more than a month passed since his last assist, that coming in a 3-0 win over New Jersey on February 8th.

-- The loss was Anaheim’s fourth straight at home ((0-2-2).

In the end…

A great start to the California portion of this brutal March schedule.  The Caps played the Ducks hard, although the shot totals were not what one might have liked to see.  That being the case, Jaroslav Halak was up to the challenge, which left the Caps to play to their strength at the other end – the power play.  It was enough for the win.  However, now it gets tougher.  Los Angeles and San Jose have not been as accommodating as Anaheim as hosts.  But getting a good start before those tests can’t hurt.