Gone in 12 Seconds – For the better part of 65 minutes, the Caps played a nearly perfect hockey game on Thursday against Winnipeg. But some clutch goaltending from Ondrej Pavelec kept the Caps from taking an early lead. An opportunistic tally and a fluke goal in a span of just a dozen seconds late in regulation – both on the power play – enabled the Jets to extend the game past 60 minutes and Winnipeg prevailed in the skills competition, 3-2.
The two sides were scoreless until Caps forward Matt Hendricks drew a slashing call on Jets defenseman Tobias Enstrom midway through the third. Hendricks gave Enstrom a couple whacks before the retaliatory hack that was called. Ten seconds later, Alex Ovechkin had the Caps on top with his 10th power play goal of the season.
Hendricks drew a double-minor on Winnipeg center Bryan Little just over two minutes later, and the Caps’ power play unit went to work again. This time, Ovechkin was the patient set-up man, feeding Alexander Semin brilliantly and perfectly on a back door timing play.
Up 2-0 with 7:30 left, the Caps were in good position to rake in another two points.
Washington played a penalty-free game for 55 minutes, but then Caps defenseman Roman Hamrlik was guilty of a slashing call with 4:05 left. The Caps were in the process of killing that minor when Washington’s Brooks Laich was whistled for another minor penalty, this one for playing the puck with a broken stick.
“I tried to clear the puck right away and wasn’t aware that it had snapped,” says Laich. “And [the official] made the call.”
Winnipeg had the two-man advantage for 51 seconds at that point, and Jets coach Claude Noel pulled Pavelec to make it six skaters on three for his side. The ploy paid off, as Cap-killer Evander Kane scooped up a loose puck and beat Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun with just 10 seconds left on the two-man advantage.
At that point, it was 2-1 Caps with 2:15 left. Twelve seconds later, Dustin Byfuglien evened the score with a blast from center ice that clipped the stick of Karl Alzner and bounced up and in over Vokoun’s left shoulder.
“The puck came off my stick and went in the net,” laments Alzner. "Pretty simple, pretty stupid and pretty unfortunate.”
Nothing stupid about it; just a freak occurrence. The Jets picked up the extra point by winning the postgame skills competition.
“It’s frustrating,” says Alzner. “A bad penalty we take, then [Laich’s] penalty that’s kind of questionable. Sure enough, they score the two goals and that’s what happens. They’re a good shootout team. We should have won. It’s an unfortunate ending.”
“A tough call, we feel,” says Brouwer of the call on Laich. “A stick breaks, guy doesn’t know it breaks and he plays the puck. He’s just doing what any guy in the NHL would do. Maybe it was because of a prior incident [the poor call on Enstrom], but we got the call against us.
“Anytime you’re down 6-on-3, it’s pretty tough. I thought the guys did a good job blocking shots. There’s a scramble in front, you’re outnumbered, and there’s not much you can do in those situations. And then right away we don’t clear the puck all the way down. A tough bounce off a d-man and it goes in. There’s not much you can do about those goals.
Coming off a huge win over the Panthers on Tuesday, this loss was tough to take. The Caps played well enough to win.
“I thought that we played a pretty good game,” says Hendricks. “X-ing and O-ing, strategically sound. Tomas was outstanding again, like usual, like he’s been for quite a while now. We got ourselves in a little bit of trouble there at the end.
“They pull their goalie, go up 6-on-3 on us and they’re able to find a way to get one by him. The second goal, I’d like to hear the best explanation you can find on that one. It was another power play goal, but it looked like everyone was positionally sound. It just took a bad deflection. That guys shoots the puck extremely hard; it’s hard to react to that.”
Laich thought the Caps were going to be able to kill off the front end of the two-man advantage and spring Hamrlik from the box.
“I thought our guys did a great job,” says Laich. “I think there was 51 seconds [of two-man advantage time] and it got down to about 15 seconds and I thought we were going to kill it. Unfortunately, there was a blocked shot and a deflection and they get the one goal. And the second goal was an absolute fluke. I still thought we were going to win the hockey game.”
Laich would not say whether he thought the late call against him was the right or wrong one.
“I’m not going to comment on the call,” he says. “Officials don’t want to be a factor in the game. They try their best. A call is good or bad. They go your way or they don’t sometimes. I’m not in any position to comment on that.”
Asked if it was one of the weirdest finishes, Laich shrugged.
“Yeah, maybe,” he says. “One of the most unfortunate finishes, I don’t know. We should have had the hockey game. There are no excuses. It’s disappointing for them to lose it that way.”
Southeast Slippage – Washington went from third to ninth in the Eastern Conference standings on Thursday, and experienced a three-point swing with Winnipeg. Instead of a six-point lead in the standings they would have had on the Jets with a regulation win, Washington is now just three points up on Winnipeg.
“We’re not okay with just one point,” says Brouwer. “We feel two should have been ours and they should have been going [away] with none. But that’s hockey, I guess. That’s how things happen. We’ve just got to try and make sure that we’re getting points and when we have leads, we’ve got to protect those leads.”
Only Ovi – For a span of 112 minutes and 29 seconds, Ovechkin was the only player to find the back of the net in the last two games between the Capitals and the Jets.
The Caps captain tallied the lone goal in Washington’s 1-0 win at Winnipeg on Dec. 15 and until Semin’s strike in the third, Ovechkin had the only goal in a one-goal game tonight.
Unlikely – The Caps had successfully defended eight straight two-man disadvantage situations dating back to Oct. 22 against Detroit, a span that covered a total of 7:34.
Winnipeg had been 0-for-its’ last-24 on the road on the power play and hadn’t scored a road power play goal since Jan. 7 at Buffalo.
After Forty – Tonight’s game marked just the third time in 54 games this season that Washington and its foe played scoreless hockey into the third period. Two of those games have come against Winnipeg.
Workhorses – Hendricks led all Caps forwards with 21:45 in ice time. It is the third time since Jan. 22 that he has established a single-game career best in ice time.
Defenseman Dmitry Orlov also established a singe-game career high with 23:54 of work on Thursday.
Tough Town – For Pavelec, tonight’s win was just the second of his career at Verizon Center. He entered the game with a 1-5-1 record lifetime in the Caps’ barn.
“It’s huge,” says Little of Pavelec’s performance. “If it wasn’t for [Pavelec] tonight, we probably wouldn’t have even been in the game, especially that first period. He made some great saves for us. Full credit to him. He saved our butts tonight.”
By The Numbers –John Carlson led the Caps with 26:53 in ice time … Orlov led the Caps with six shots on net … Dennis Wideman paced the Caps with four hits … Alzner led the Caps with five blocked shots … Enstrom led the Jets with 28:11 in ice time.