Scene Of The Turnaround – Last December 19, the Caps authored a 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Senators in Ottawa. That victory halted Washington’s eight-game losing streak (0-6-2), and the Caps affected a quick, thorough and lasting turnaround immediately thereafter.
Washington went 6-0-3 in its next nine, and finished with a flourish to come out on top in the Eastern Conference standings for a second consecutive season.
On Wednesday night in Ottawa, the Caps again came from behind to take the Senators down 5-3 in their barn, a win that comes immediately after a lengthy stretch of struggling and stumbling in the standings.
The Caps came out strong in the first frame, outshooting (15-6) and outchancing the Sens. But they were stymied by Craig Anderson’s strong netminding, and went to the room even at 0-0.
“It is tough when you’re doing the right things and things aren’t going your way,” says Caps winger Troy Brouwer. “You want to change over to doing the wrong things to see if they might work. But guys were good; they stuck with it. We got some breaks finally at the end.”
Although the Caps struck first on Jeff Halpern’s second goal of the season early in the second period, Washington found itself in a 2-1 hole after 40 minutes of play. The Sens grabbed the momentum of the game, but the Caps came out hard and fast in the third.
Despite Washington’s best efforts and some glorious chances, they were still unable to solve Anderson. Caps captain Alex Ovechkin in particular seemed to feel the frustration. Getting some of his best and most frequent scoring chances in recent memory, Ovechkin found himself skating away looking at the rafters in wonder more than once after an Anderson save.
Ovechkin helped the Caps’ cause by drawing a penalty that led to the game-tying Nicklas Backstrom power play tally.
The Caps’ captain finally broke through with a timely goal in the third period while the clubs were skating 4-on-4, a go-ahead tally that put the Caps up 3-2 just over four minutes after Backstrom’s goal had tied it.
“We had lots of chances but we weren’t scoring,” notes Caps coach Dale Hunter. “You never know. We went 4-on-4 and we broke it open there.”
Fifteen seconds after Ovechkin’s goal, Brouwer struck to give the Caps a rare two-goal lead.
“With Ovi, I think he got off to a real good start,” says Brouwer. “He had a couple good chances early and that sets the tone for him.”
“He had lots of chances,” says Hunter of his captain. “Any player that gets chances, it’s a good thing. Give credit to the goalie, he’s played well. Eventually [Ovechkin] got one through.”
The Caps had to weather a late Ottawa storm; the Sens pulled to within a goal with a late power play tally of their own, but John Carlson’s empty-netter in the final minute sealed the deal.
The Caps had their first road win in nearly a month, their first road power play goal in more than a month, and their first road win in a game in which they trailed after 40 minutes.
“That’s a good three things to have,” says Hunter. “But we don’t quit. Even in Florida [on Monday] we didn’t quit. We still keep battling and it paid off tonight.
“We came out well. We should have scored a few more again, [but] goalies make big saves and that’s what Anderson did tonight. He played well. We couldn’t get it in but we battled and eventually we cracked it in the third.”
Now we’ll see if the Caps can again use a December comeback win over the Sens in Ottawa as a springboard to more lasting success.
And Howe – With a first-period fight against Ottawa’s Jesse Winchester, a second-period helper on the Halpern goal, and his key third-period tally, Brouwer notched the second Gordie Howe hat trick (goal, assist, fight) of his NHL career. The first came on Nov. 9, 2008 while he was a member of the Chicago Blackhawks in a 6-1 win over Calgary.
Brouwer’s Gordie Howe hat trick was the first by a Caps player since Jason Chimera turned the trick in a 5-4 Washington win over the Panthers in Florida on Jan. 13, 2010, about two weeks after he came to Washington in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Power Boost – Backstrom’s power play goal in the middle of the third was a significant tally in the context of the game, but it was also significant in alleviating some extra-man futility for the Capitals. The goal ended an 0-for-24 run on the road with the extra man and was Washington’s first road power play goal in more than a month, since Brooks Laich scored against the Islanders in New York on Nov. 5.
Even with Backstrom’s goal, the Caps’ power play unit has just three goals in its last 54 extra-man chances dating back to the team’s Nov. 8 game against Dallas.
Washington had a two-man advantage for 1:47 midway through the first period of Wednesday’s game but could not cash in.
“I’m not saying we’re away to the races on the power play,” says Brouwer, “because we had a full two-minute power play and weren’t able to score. We’ve still got work to do, but definitely a step in the right direction.”
One From The Road – Wednesday’s win in Ottawa snapped a five-game road losing streak, Washington’s longest in nearly five years. The Caps had been outscored by a combined 24-8 in those five road losses.
First In A While – Ovechkin’s third period goal on Wednesday was his first at Scotiabank Place since Dec. 29, 2007 when he struck for four against the Sens. He had gone six straight games without a goal in Ottawa since.
Streaking – Several Caps are starting to get a bit warm offensively. Carlson has consecutive three-point games and has seven points (one goal, six assists) in his last three games. He is now tied for fifth in the NHL in scoring among defensemen with 19 points (five goals, 14 assists).
Backstrom – who has skated more than 20 minutes in three straight games for the first time this season – has five goals in his last nine games.
Laich has picked up a point in four straight games (two goals, two assists).
After the game, Halpern was credited with an assist on Carlson’s empty-net goal, giving him his first multiple-point game of the season. Halpern has a goal and three points and is plus-3 in his last two games.
Brouwer has three goals and six points in his last eight games.
Draw Men – Washington won 41 of the game’s 72 face-offs (57%), and three Caps centers won at least 70 percent of their draws on the night.
Halpern took 12 of 15 (80%), Mathieu Perreault won four of five (80%), and Laich earned 15 wins in 21 tries (71%).
By The Numbers – Three Washington defensemen played more than 26 minutes, led by Karl Alzner’s 27:40. For Alzner, that is a single-game career best. Carlson logged 27:35 and Dennis Wideman 26:38 on the night. Alzner led all Caps with 22:27 in even-strength ice time … Backstrom led all Washington forwards with 20:49 in ice time … Wideman and Brouwer led the Caps with three hits each … Laich, Alzner, Joel Ward and Dmitry Orlov led the Caps with three blocked shots each … Ex-Cap Sergei Gonchar led all skaters on both sides with 27:55 in ice time on the night … Milan Michalek paced the Sens with six shots on net … Jason Spezza led all Sens forwards with 22:03 in ice time, but he finished a minus-3 and won just 11 of 31 draws (35%).