Laich Line, Life Line – For the first half of tonight’s Caps-Ducks game, things weren’t going the home team’s way. Although they stayed out of the penalty box and generally limited Anaheim’s chances at even strength, the Caps found themselves on the short end of a 3-0 score.
All of Anaheim’s offense to that point had been generated by its second line, the swift and skilled trio of Andrew Cogliano, Saku Koivu and the ancient yet seemingly ageless Teemu Selanne. The Ducks had maybe four or five good scoring chances to that point, but they cashed in on three of them and seemed poised to win just their second in five games on their current seven-game trip.
The Caps needed something to turn the tide, and they got it.
The Jason Chimera-Brooks Laich-Joel Ward line had done a superb job of limiting Anaheim’s top unit of Bobby Ryan-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry to that point, making the trio play in its own end and generally keeping the puck off their sticks.
At 13:23 of the second, the Laich line went one better. The Laich line used Chimera’s speed to start a forecheck, then Ward collected the shrapnel from a Laich shot that was blocked, cruised down the right side and squeezed a shot through Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller to get Washington started.
“It was crucial to get one before the end of the second,” says Laich, “because 3-0 in the third period, that’s tough to come back from. But Wardo gets a goal and the identity of this team for the last four years is that we can score in bunches usually. When we get one, we can usually come back with a second and soon after you get a third and a fourth. It just takes that first one to get the momentum. Wardo does a good job, holds onto the puck and throws it at the net. It might not be pretty but it’s certainly a catalyst in the game.”
The Caps’ checking line cashed in again on a broken play late in the frame when Laich fed defenseman Dennis Wideman for a one-time blast that made it 3-2 with 3:27 left in the second. Wideman now has points in nine of 10 games this season.
Anaheim pushed the lead back to two on Perry’s power play goal in the third, but Troy Brouwer’s second of the season pulled the Caps to within one again at 11:42 of the final frame.
With Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun pulled for an extra skater, Washington finally climbed the hill and drew even in the game’s final minute. Laich did the dirty work in the corner to get the puck, and Chimera fired it netward from inside the right point. The puck came right to Caps center Nicklas Backstrom, and he calmly deposited it behind a diving Hiller.
“I was just trying to find an open spot there on the left side,” says Backstrom. “Chimmer shot a nice shot and I just put it in. It was kind of an open net, I think.”
Backstrom was the hero again in overtime, waiting near the right post, flagging down Jeff Schultz’s pass and flipping it high into the cage for the overtime win.
“Schultzy just threw it at the net I think,” says Backstrom. “It touched [Alex Ovechkin] and I was just lucky. I just tried to shoot it right away. But it was obviously a big win for us.”
Backstrom is now tied for fifth in the NHL in scoring with 14 points (four goals, 10 assists).
Wearing Them Down – After the game, several Caps talked about wearing the top heavy Ducks down, knowing they were on a long trip and tending to overwork their top trios. By game’s end, four of Anaheim’s top six forwards were over 20 minutes on the night. By contrast, the Caps had just two forwards – Laich and Alexander Semin – over the 19-minute plateau.
Playing their third game in four nights, the Ducks were worn down by game’s end.
“We knew that they were going to be on a long roadie,” says Ward. “That [Getzlaf] line plays a lot. If you can slowly chop the tree down and stay with it and put a little pressure onto them, hopefully they make a few plays. If you keep them off the scoresheet it’s no secret they’re a heck of a team and a heck of a line. If you keep those guys off the scoresheet, it gives you a better chance of winning for sure.”
Anaheim had just 15 shots on goal for the night, and only seven different skaters accounted for that total.
“I think using four lines all night really helped us,” says Laich. “Bruce made a point of it at the start of the game that they usually only roll three lines. A lot of times they’ll cut down to three lines and if we can roll four, that hopefully through 60 minutes it’s going to pay off. I thought we did that. The fourth line played well. Everybody kept working, kept working. You could see on their faces, their d-men and especially their top two lines that they were getting a little fatigued. They’d been leaned on pretty hard.
“Good coaching strategy by Bruce and [assistant coaches] Dean [Evason] and Bob [Woods] and it paid off.”
The Caps fired 70 shots toward the net while Anaheim countered with just 37. From the start of the third until game’s end, that shots attempted disparity was 34-11 in Washington’s favor. The Ducks had only one shot on goal after Perry scored their fourth goal and none in the game’s final 10:59.
“It was a weird game,” says Backstrom. “First half of the game didn’t feel like it was emotional. The second half, we were getting better. Brooksy, Wardo and Chimmer just got us in the game. They did a great job tonight. I think overall it’s a little shocking that we won. Those are big points for us.”
Laich, Chimera and Ward all finished the night at plus-3 while Ryan, Getzlaf and Perry ended up at minus-2.
Laich had a single-game career best three assists in a game for the third time in his career and the first since Oct. 29, 2009.
First for Fifty – Caps center Cody Eakin made his NHL debut against Anaheim in Tuesday’s game, skating the left side of a line with Marcus Johansson and Alexander Semin. That line was consistently generating chances, and the 20-year-old Eakin looked like he belonged all night, although his ice time was reduced in latter stages as Caps tried to mount their comeback.
Until Eakin’s arrival today, the Caps did not have a rookie on their roster. Eakin didn’t look like a rookie against the Ducks; he finished with three shots on net, a hit and a blocked shot in 13:19 of work.
“Before the game I was pretty nervous,” admits Eakin. “You have so much going through your head: ‘Am I going to have my legs?’ this and that. But when you get out there it’s just another game, or at least I tried to tell myself that. Once you hit the ice, I just wanted to get my feet moving and just play simple and play hockey.”
Eakin joins ex-Caps Eric Fehr and Joe Motzko as just the third Capital ever to sport sweater No. 50.
Discipline – After facing down 13 opposition power plays in their last two games, the Caps were buttoned down extremely well on the discipline front in Tuesday’s game. Vokoun drew the only minor penalty whistled on the Caps, a necessary trip on Perry in the third.
Washington started that kill strong, but wilted after losing a defensive zone draw and giving Perry repeated cracks at the puck from the top of the paint. He eventually cashed in, as good players do. The Caps finished the night 0-for-1 on the kill and are now 9-for-14 (64.3%) in their last three games.
Cooking At Home – The Caps are 6-0 on home ice to start the season for the first time in franchise history.
Draws – Anaheim came into the contest as the league’s worst face-off team with a success rate below 45%. But the Caps scratched center Jeff Halpern, their top draw man on the season at 65.2%. At night’s end, the Ducks got the better of the Caps in the circle, winning 30 of the game’s 56 face-offs (54%).
Evening Up – The win over the Ducks moves the Caps’ record against Western Conference foes to 2-2 on the season.
Nine Straight – Vokoun became the first Caps goalie in nearly five years to start as many as nine straight games. Olie Kolzig made nine straight starts for the Caps from Dec. 27, 2006 through Jan. 13, 2007.
Welcome Back – Defenseman John Erskine was very solid for Washington in his first game action of the season after he missed the first nine games while recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.
Erskine skated 15:49 on the night – all of it at even-strength – while recording two shots, two hits, a blocked shot and his first assist of the season.
“With John I was really, really pleasantly surprised,” says Boudreau. “He looked like he didn’t miss a beat. He’s probably pretty tired right now but I thought he played a great game, considering he’s been off so long and hasn’t even had a meaningful scrimmage yet.”
Seven of the eight defensemen the Caps have deployed thus far this season have collected a point.
Cap Killer – Selanne, playing in his 20th season in the league, continues to kill the Caps. He had a hat trick in his very first game in Washington nearly 19 years ago, and scored seven times (including two hat tricks) in his first three games against Washington.
Tonight, he notched the 127th multiple-goal game of his illustrious career with a two-goal, four-point night against the Caps. He now has 21 goals and 39 points and is plus-23 in 24 career games against Washington. The Caps are the only Eastern Conference team against which Selanne has scored 20 or more goals in his career.
“When you talk about Anaheim,” says Laich, “a lot of that focus goes on the top line of Perry and Getzlaf and Ryan, but their second line with Koivu and Selanne, they’ve got a 600-goal scorer on their second line. It’s kind of a 1A and a 1B.
“I thought that line was good early on. We had trouble containing them. We were just able to come back and keep in the gas and get the win.”
Shoot ‘Em Up – Tonight’s game was the fifth time in the last six meetings between the Capitals and the Ducks that one or both teams scored at least five goals in the contest.
By The Numbers – John Carlson led the Caps with 25:19 in ice time … Ovechkin and Brouwer led the way with four shots on goal each … Semin, Chimera and Brouwer each had three hits to pace the Caps … Carlson led the team with five blocked shots … Anaheim defenseman Francois Beauchemin led all skaters on both sides with 26:48 in ice time and eight hits. He led the Ducks with four blocked shots.