Point Taken – Jason Chimera scored twice and Brooks Laich once in the third period on Friday to help the Capitals claw their way to a standings point. Washington ultimately fell 4-3 to the Devils in New Jersey in a game decided by a post-overtime skills competition.
Midway through the second period of Friday’s game against the Devils in New Jersey, the Washington Capitals didn’t look like a team that had a three-goal comeback in it.
The Caps were down 3-0 on the scoreboard at that stage of the contest, and they were being thoroughly outplayed to that point. Only some strong netminding from Michal Neuvirth kept the Caps within three goals from the Devils. The Caps entered the game having had some recent success against Devils’ future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur (five wins in their last five games against him), but they rarely tested him at all through the first half of Friday’s game.
“We were crap with the puck,” opines Chimera. “We played like we were minor leaguers. It was bad. Not even minor leaguers; we were like pee-wees. Slopping the puck around, not making passes, not making clean breakout passes, not getting the puck deep which is essential against this team. [The Devils] want turnovers and we were just giving it to them. There’s no excuse for that.”
Washington barely spent any time at all with possession of the puck below the tops of the circles in the New Jersey end of the ice for the first half of the contest.
“The first 20 minutes – especially the first period – we’re sitting on our heels bad and our power play wasn’t very good so it took the wind out of us a bit,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter. “And then in the third period, it’s one of those things where we threw everything at them and the guys played hard. It ended up we tied the game up.”
Down 3-0 in the latter half of the second, the Caps finally started to show some signs of life. But their offensive push was met with some tough puck luck; they had shots glancing off posts and crossbars and were still in a three-goal hole heading for the third.
“The second period, we had no puck luck,” laments Laich. “Nicky [Backstrom] hits the post three times in a row or something from like 12 inches out which doesn’t happen very often. And Sasha [Semin] hits a post or a crossbar, too.
“If you’re getting chances, you’re still in the game. If you’re not getting any chances, that’s when you start to fear that you don’t have it tonight.”
Laich broke Brodeur’s shutout spell at 3:48 of the third, converting after a series of strong passes, especially the last one from defenseman Dennis Wideman.
Hunter juggled the lines and shortened the bench, and it paid off. The trio of Laich, Chimera and Alexander Semin accounted for all of Washington’s scoring.
“Chimmer comes up; he’s the third-period magician, gets a couple goals,” notes Laich. “And it shows a lot of character for our team not to quit.”
“We battled back and got a point out of it,” says Chimera, “That’s good, but we could’ve easily gotten two points in the shootout. It’s nice to get a point either way.
“Being down 3-0 in the opposition barn, we didn’t play that good in the first half of the game. In the second half, we started getting some chances and were playing the right way. We got some chances and some went in, so it was good.”
Neuvirth made 25 saves on the night, and he was the reason the Caps were close enough to come back and earn a point.
“I don’t think everybody gave 100 percent effort tonight,” says Neuvirth. “I think we only played 20 minutes and that’s not enough to win a hockey game in this league.”
The Devils have still not defeated Neuvirth in regulation time in the half dozen times they have faced him. He is now 4-0-2 lifetime against New Jersey.
The Caps know a point is better than no point, but they also know that as fortunate as they were to get the one, they could have had two.
“It’s actually for us a very big point,” says Laich. “Obviously, we’d have liked two. But if you can scrape and scrounge a point out of a game like that, at least you’re going home with something.”
“You never like to lose,” says Hunter. “It’s a shootout and we’ve got a chance to grab another point and we lost it.”
Leader Of The Pack – With his goal in Tuesday’s 4-1 win over the Predators, Caps center Nicklas Backstrom had taken over the team lead in goals from Chimera. Backstrom has a dozen on the season, and that was one more than Chimera had going into tonight’s tilt.
In a span of just 5:34 in the third period against the Devils, Chimera caught and passed Backstrom.
Chimera now has 13 goals this season, three more than he had in 81 games in 2010-11 and four shy of his career best of 17 established in 2005-06.
“It’s good for him,” says Hunter of Chimera’s success this season. “He’s been playing hard for us, going to the net hard, and he’s getting good results from it. You see all his goals where they are [scored from], and it’s around the net. He’s a big guy that can skate. He gets in on the forecheck and creates problems for the other team.”
Three of Chimera’s goals this season have come at the Devils’ expense, all of them in New Jersey, all of them against Brodeur and all of them in the third period.
Heavy Duty – Left wing Alex Ovechkin led all Caps forwards with 23:35 in ice time, the most ice time he has logged in any of Washington’s 33 games this season.
Last season, Ovechkin exceeded the 23:35 he skated tonight 16 times in 79 games played.
New Jersey entered the game with three forwards – Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Patrik Elias – each of whom averages more than 20 minutes a game in ice time this season. Elias missed New Jersey’s previous game because of illness, and he skated just 18:07 in Friday’s game.
Tonight, it was the Caps who had three forwards above the 20-minute mark: Ovechkin, Laich (22:52) and Backstrom (22:31). It’s the fourth time mes the Caps have had three or more forwards with 20 or more minutes in a game in the 11 contests since Hunter took over the coaching reins on Nov 28. In two of those games, the Caps have had four forwards above 20 minutes with Chimera being the other.
The Caps never had as many as three forwards with 20 minutes on the night in the first 22 games of the season under former coach Bruce Boudreau.
Streak Stopper – He needed a shootout to make it happen, but Brodeur earned his first win over Washington since Nov. 14, 2009. Between that victory and tonight’s triumph, he was 0-5 with a 4.32 GAA and an .833 save pct. in his previous five starts against the Capitals.
By The Numbers – Caps defenseman John Carlson led the team with 27:51 in ice time in Friday’s game … Chimera led the Caps with five shots on goal … Karl Alzner paced the Caps with three blocked shots … Blueliner Bryce Salvador was New Jersey’s ice time leader at 26:50 on the night … Salvador and Anton Volchenkov led the Devils with three blocked shots each … Kovalchuk led the Devils with six shots on net … Both of Washington’s shootout losses this season (the Caps are 1-2 in games decided by the skills competition) have come against New Jersey. The Devils have an 8-1 record in skills competition contests.