Sunday, January 05, 2020

A TWO-Point Afternoon: Washington Capitals -- Game 43: Capitals 5 - Sharks 4 (OT)

The Washington Capitals wrapped up their season series with the San Jose Sharks on Sunday afternoon at Capital One Arena. The Caps fell behind, allowed the Sharks to take a two-goal lead twice, including on an empty net goal with one minute left in regulation, but then put on as unbelievable a finish as the franchise has ever seen, scoring two goals in the last 47 seconds of regulation to tie the game, then winning it in overtime, 5-4.

First Period

The Caps had the best chance early on when Jakub Vrana beat Sharks goalie Martin Jones in the eighth minute of the contest, but his shot found the post and rattled out to leave the game scoreless.  It would be the high point of a first period with chances that were not converted that ended scoreless.

-- San Jose had a 13-10 edge in shots and a 24-19 advantage in shot attempts.

-- Dmitry Orlov led the Caps with three shots on goal; no other Cap had more than one.

-- Garnet Hathaway was credited with three hits, half the Caps’ total for the period.

Second Period

Just over a minute into the period, San Jose appeared to get the game’s first goal when Barclay Goodrow redirected a shot down and to the right of goalie Braden Holtby’s right pad.  However, the goal was immediately washed out by the referee, who ruled that Goodrow’s stick was above the crossbar when he made contact with the puck.

San Jose did strike first after Richard Panik was sent to the penalty box for hi-sticking.  Joe Thornton controlled the puck deep in the corner to Holtby’s right.  He deked defenseman Nick Jensen to the ice, circled in, and then found Evander Kane for a one-timer from the edge of the left wing circle to make it 1-0, 6:25 into the period.

The lead lasted barely a minute.  Brendan Leipsic outraced Marc-Edouard Vlasic to a loose puck along the right wing wall, and Leipsic flicked into the middle for a Nic Dowd one-timer that beat Jones at the 7:29 mark to tie the game.

The fourth line continued to drive action, Garnet Hathaway drawing a slashing penalty from Kane to put the Caps on a power play at the 7:56 mark. The Caps failed to convert, and it cost them.  Logan Couture fed Kane coming out of the box and cut in front of him to create a screen in front of Holtby.  Kane snapped a shot through that screen to beat Holtby past his right pad to make it 2-1, Sharks, 10:06 into the period.

Kane completed the hat trick, converting another power play chance.  With Radko Gudas off for slashing, Erik Karlsson sent a drive that caromed off the shin of Garnet Hathaway right onto Kane’s stick.  He wasted no time in rocketing a shot through Holtby to make it 3-1, 16:49 into the period.

The Caps inched to within a goal on some sloppy play by the Sharks behind their own net.  T.J. Oshie muffled a lazy attempt by Vlasic to move the puck along the end boards, circled out from behind the net, and found Jakub Vrana all alone in the right wing circle.  Vrana had time and space to pick his spot, and he dialed up and snap shot under the crossbar to make it 3-2 at the 18:42 mark.

The Caps had a chance in the dying seconds of the period, Evgeny Kuznetsov on a breakaway down the left side.  Cutting to the net, he tried to curl the puck between his legs and wrong-foot a shot on Jones’ blocker side, but Kuznetsov lost control of the puck before he could attempt the shot.  The teams went to the locker room with the Caps down a goal, 3-2.

-- The Caps had a 12-11 edge in shots on goal for the period, but San Jose had a 22-17 advantage in shot attempts.

-- Nick Jensen led the Caps in ice time through two periods with 15:57, 9:04 of that coming in the second period.

-- Jakub Vrana (three shots, two misses) and Radko Gudas (two shots, two blocked shots, one miss) led the Caps with five shot attempts apiece through two periods.

Third Period

Nic Dowd made his way to the penalty box in the fifth minute of the period for sending the puck off the rink from the defensive end.  San Jose did not score, but the Caps could not find the equalizer, either.

The teams continued back and forth for most of the period, the Caps unable to find the tying goal and the Sharks unable to put things away.  San Jose did get insurance late with an empty netter with one minute left to make it 4-2, but the Caps got it back immediately when Vrana was left alone between the hash marks to tale a pass from Lars Eller and beat Jones to the glove side with 47 seconds left.

The Caps found a way to tie the game in the waning seconds.  Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov worked the puck back and forth along the right wing wall, Kuznetsov ending up with it in the corner.  He sent a no-look wrap-around pass to T.J. Oshie in the right wing circle, and Oshie one-timed the puck past Jones to tie the game with 15 seconds left in regulation.


The Caps needed two minutes to end it.  Braden Holtby, who had two superb stops in the extra session, calmly sent a pass from his crease up along the right wing side and off the wall, where John Carlson took it in stride.  Carlson circled up ice and into the offensive zone with Lars Eller on a developing 2-on-1.  Carlson sent the puck across, Eller fished it out of his skates, and he snapped a shot past Jones to send the Caps faithful home in a happy, if surprised, frame of mind in the 5-4 win.

Other stuff…

-- What a finish.  After scoring two goals on their first 26 shots in the first 59:13, the Caps scored three goals on three shots in 2:48 to win it in overtime.

-- Goalie Braden Holtby earned the second assist on the game-winning goal.  It was his first point of the season and 11th career point for the Caps.

-- T.J. Oshie’s game-tying goal was the Caps’ sixth at 6-on-5 this season, tying them with Florida and Buffalo for the league lead (edit: the Caps had two 6-on-5 goals, giving them seven, most in the league)

-- Jakub Vrana had two goals, his eighth career two-goal game.

-- T.J. Oshie had a two-point game (1-1-2), extending his points streak to three games.

-- Lars Eller had a two-point game (1-1-2), his fifth of the season and first on home ice.

-- Vrana and Dmitry Orlov led the club with four shots apiece; John Carlson had seven shot attempts to lead the team.

-- The teams finished even in shots on goal with 29 apiece; the Sharks led in shot attempts, 62-52.

-- Per NBC Sports Washington, this was the first time in franchise history that the Caps won a game when trailing by two goals in the last minute.

-- That was the first home game this season in which Braden Holtby allowed more than three goals and won.

In the end…

This game will not go into the annals of the best games played by the Caps from a purist’s standpoint.  But it put on display the team’s veteran makeup, constantly pushing, even when down two goals; and it illustrated Yogi Berra’s timeless wisdom that “it’s not over ‘til it’s over.”  Take away what you will from this game, and it was frustrating, annoying (that Kane fellow), depressing at points.  But for 2:48 at the end of the game, it was quite a thrill ride of the sort that can serve to shake the Caps out of their recent doldrums and back on the path of dominance they have displayed for most of the season.

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 14

The Washington Capitals flipped the calendar to a new year and passed the half-way point on their schedule in Week 14.  Two games were on the schedule, both against divisional rivals.  When the ice chips settled, it was a break-even week that left the Caps still at the top of the league standings.

Record: 1-1-0

Week 14 extended a string of games against Metropolitan Division rivals to four.  When it was over, the Caps were 6-5-1 overall against the six teams in the Metro they have faced this season (they have not yet faced Pittsburgh).  They have compiled the record by beating each of the six divisional rivals they have faced once apiece, the win over Carolina to end the week the Caps’ first in three games against the Hurricanes to date (1-1-1).  The loss to the New York Islanders to open the week squared the Caps record against the Isles at 1-1-0.  The win over Carolina also enabled the Caps to reach 61 points for the season, tying this year’s team with the 2016-2017 team (also 28-9-5) for second-most points earned through 42 games, trailing only the 2015-2016 team that had 67 points through 43 games (32-7-3).

Offense: 3.50/game (season: 3.50/5th)

Two games do not make for great opportunities for offensive fireworks, but the Caps did manage seven goals in the two games, three in a loss to the Islanders and four in a win over Carolina.  It extended a run of consistency for the Caps, who finished Week 14 having posted at least three goals in eight of ten games, averaging 3.30 goals per game over that stretch.  The Caps have been even more productive on the road of late, the four goals in Carolina on Friday giving them 17 goals in their last four road games since being shut out in Columbus, 3-0, on December 16th.

Evgeny Kuznetsov had the big week for the Caps, recording three of the team’s seven goals.  The three goals gave him 16 in 39 games this season and have him closing in on the 21 goals he posted in 76 games last season.  He is on a pace to finish with 32 goals, which would be his first 30-goal season in seven years with the Caps.

Four other Caps posted single goals each for the week: Richard Panik, Lars Eller, Tom Wilson, and Jakub Vrana, whose goal was the game-winner in the win over Carolina.  Kuznetsov led the club in points for the week (four), while five Caps had a pair each: Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Alex Ovechkin, Dmitry Orlov, and Eller.

Defense: 3.50/game (season: 2.93/T-9th)

It was a strange week on the defensive side of the puck, the Caps allowing four goals and losing in a game in which they allowed only 22 shots on goal; and then allowing three goals and winning on a night when they allowed 41 shots on goal.  The 22 shots on goal that the Caps allowed to the New York Islanders was the third-lowest volume of shots allowed in a game this season and a season-low for shots allowed on home ice.  The 41 shots that Carolina rung up on the Caps was the second-highest volume of shots allowed by the Caps this season, topped only by the 44 shots allowed to Chicago in a 5-3 win on October 20th.  Both games ended in wins for the Caps.

The shot attempts reflected the same pattern.  Against the Isles, against whom the Caps had a lead for only 3:47 of 60 minutes, the Caps were a plus-32 in shot attempt differential at 5-on-5 when behind on their way to a plus-33 for the game (their biggest shot attempt differential at 5-on-5 this season) and allowing the Islanders only 39 shot attempts at fives.  It was a different story against Carolina, who lit up the Caps for 53 shot attempts, a shot attempt total exceeded on the road only three times this season, while the minus-19 differential in shot attempts at 5-on-5 was tied for third-worst for the Caps overall so far this season.

Goaltending: 3.56 / .889 (season: 2.76 / .907)

If not for the excellent play of Ilya Samsonov recently, especially on the road, the Caps would likely find themselves, if not in jeopardy of dropping out of a playoff spot, then looking up at one or more teams in the standings.  That is because Braden Holtby is in something of a funk these days.  He allowed four goals on the first 15 shots he faced on his way to an 18-save effort on 22 shots against the Islanders in the 4-3 loss to open the week.  That brought Holtby’s record to 2-5-0, 3.71, .871 over his last seven appearances. 

As for Samsonov, he continued his remarkable record on the road.  His 38-save effort in the Caps’ 4-3 win in Carolina to end the week brought his overall record to 11-2-1, 2.33, .918; and his road record to 8-0-0, 2.19, .918. He became the first goalie to win his first eight road decisions in the NHL in a single season (Brent Johnson won his first 11 road decisions in the NHL, but those were spread over his first two seasons).  With 11 wins overall in 15 games, Samsonov tied Jim Bedard for sixth-place in wins by a rookie goalie in Caps history. 

Power Play: 2-for-6/33.3 percent (season: 22.1 percent/10th)

It wasa good week, even if the opportunities on the power play were on the light side.  Against the Islanders, the Caps were given only two power play chances, failing to convert on either one.  It was the 17th time this season that the Caps had tw or fewer power play chances, the tenth time among those instances that they failed to record at least one power play goal.  Oddly enough, it was only the second time among those ten times being blanked that the Caps lost in regulation, both times taking place on home ice (the other loss was to Colorado in October).

The Caps had four chances against Carolina, the 14th time this season the Caps have had four or more power play opportunities in a game and the second time in Carolina in a week.  They scored twice on four chances, the sixth time that they scored two goals when getting four or more power plays (also the second time in Carolina in a week; they had two on five chances last Saturday).

Overall, the Caps were efficient in shooting, if not in generating shots with the man advantage.  In 9:26 of power play ice time, the Caps scored twice on seven shots, recording both goals on just three shots in Carolina with 6:26 of power play ice time.

Penalty Killing: 6-for-8/75.0 percent (season: 84.2 percent/3rd)

It would have been a great week, efficiency-wise, if the week was only five periods.  The Caps killed both shorthanded situations against the Islanders to open the week, and then they were 4-for-4 through two periods of their game against Carolina.  The Hurricanes put an end to that with a pair of power play strikes six minutes apart on two chances in the third period to make a comfortable 4-1 lead a little too close for comfort.

The two chances the Caps allowed the Islanders was the 12th time this season the Caps faced two or fewer power plays in a game.  As evidence of the best penalty kill being the one you don’t have to use, the Caps allowed only one goal in those 12 games in 19 shorthanded situations, that one coming on Opening Night in St. Louis when the Caps allowed the Blues one goal on two chances.  The six chances that the Caps gave to the Hurricanes was the fifth time this season that Washington faced six or more shorthanded situations.  It was the second time that the Caps allowed two goals in those instances, and brought the total to five goals on 33 chances in those five games.  That the Caps improved their record to 4-1-0 in those games might be a case of generating false confidence; this does not seem to be a recipe for success in the long run.

Faceoffs: 53-for-111/47.7 percent (season: 49.4 percent/20th)

It was tale of twos in Week 14 for the Caps.  They won one game handily and lost the other equally so in the faceoff circle; they were good in one end for the week, not so good in the other.  Washington dominated the Islanders in the first game of the week, winning 31 of 53 draws (58.5 percent), mostly by dominating in the offensive end (16-22/72.7 percent).  Against Carolina it was a different story, the Caps going 22-for-58 (37.9 percent), finishing under 50 percent in all three zones.  As it was, the Caps finished the week 24-for-41 in the offensive end (58.5 percent), but they were only 13-for-34 (38.2 perent) in the defensive end.

Individually, Nicklas Backstrom had a very good week in both ends, going 9-for-13 (69.2 percent) in the offensive end and 5-for-6 in the defensive end (83.3 percent) on his way to a 17-for-26 week (65.4 percent).  He was the only Capital among three taking at least ten draws to finish over 50 percent for the week.

Goals by Period:

The goals were split equally between the Caps and opponents for the week, and the goals were spread relatively smoothly among the period for the Caps and their foes.  It was how the Caps got there, particularly in the goals allowed department, that merited notice.  They started and ended the week in leaky fashion, allowing the Islanders two first period goals and allowing the Hurricanes to post three in the third period of their contest.

The Caps could stand to get off to better starts than they have to date.  While they finished the week with a plus-11 goal differential in each of the second and third periods of games, the only club with goal differentials greater than plus-10 in both the second and third periods to date, they have managed only to break even (37 goals for and against) so far.


The Caps have regressed over the past couple of weeks to resemble more and more last year’s club on a year-over-year basis.  The difference is down to two wins and five standings points over last year’s club, while the scoring for and against is now almost identical, the difference being on more goal scored this year than last.  The Caps this year continue to maintain a healthy edge over last year’s squad in shot differential overall and shot attempt differential at 5-on-5.  Special teams are also better with this year’s group, particularly on the penalty kill, which is more than six percentage points clear of last year’s squad and is one of the best units in the league.  There is, however, the matter of penalties, which are up more than eight percent over last year, and penalty minutes, up by more than 16 percent over last year at a similar point of the season.

In the end…

The Caps have gotten a head start on the long barren slog of the winter months with only one regulation win in their last five games (2-3-0).  But every team goes through this at some point.  Well, perhaps not Tampa Bay last year, although they saved their cold spell for when it counted in the spring.  It makes all those points the Caps banked early, especially on the road, important as they try to keep the Islanders, Penguins, and Hurricanes small images in their rear-view mirror.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-3-4, even, 5 shots on goal, 6 shot attempts)
  • Second Star: Ilya Samsonov (1-0-0, 3.02, .927)
  • Third Star: Lars Eller (1-1-2, plus-4, 3 shots on goal)

Captain rates the week…

Two puppers