Washington dodged more than a few bullets in protecting a 3-2 third period lead on Friday night in Carolina, and even with the Hurricanes pressing hard in the waning minutes, the Capitals got out of town with a 4-2 victory.
Owning a 4-2 advantage over the New Jersey Devils midway through the third period on home ice a night later, the Caps couldn’t close the deal. Three unanswered New Jersey goals in a span of 11:22 left Washington on the wrong end of a 5-4 overtime loss.
“We got a point out of it,” says Caps left wing Jason Chimera. “It’s not like it’s the end of the world. They are a good team and they are playing desperate, they starting throwing lots [at the net].
“Three out of four points on the weekend is not too bad. So we have to look at it positively. Obviously it was disappointing, but we have to move on and look at the bright spots.”
The start of Saturday’s game didn’t portend its finish at all.
The first seven and a half minutes were less than uneventful. Washington had the only shot on net in that span, a token dump and change toss at the net from the blueline off the stick of Caps right wing Joel Ward. At the 7:24 mark, New Jersey pivot Travis Zajac went off for hi-sticking, and Washington’s power play went to work. Although the Caps didn’t score, they generated chances and seemed to carry that momentum into their subsequent even-strength shifts.
Just before the 11-minute mark, Caps right wing Tom Wilson was sent to the box for a hi-sticking infraction of his own. At that stage of the game, Caps goalie Braden Holtby had yet to face a New Jersey shot. The Devils worked the puck from Jaromir Jagr on the right wing wall to Andy Greene at center point to Marek Zidlicky at the left circle, and Zidlicky let go of a laser of a blast that beat Holtby on the short side to make it a 1-0 game at 11:26 of the first period. It was the first shot on net for the Devils in the game.
Owning that slim 1-0 lead, the Devils poured it on Holtby and the Capitals early in the second in an effort to advance that advantage. New Jersey pressed hard and had several strong chances from in tight, but Holtby held them off. The Devils had 12 shot attempts – getting eight of them on net – to just two for the Capitals in the first 4:24 of the second period.
Forced to play a patient game against a stingy opponent, the Caps did so. They didn’t muster their first shot on goal of the second period until nearly eight minutes in, but they persisted and were rewarded near the midpoint of the game.
Martin Erat pulled the puck out of a scrum along the left wing half wall and swung it around the back of the New Jersey net for Jason Chimera. Chimera took it around to the far side and tried to stuff it. Venerable New Jersey netminder Martin Brodeur made the save, but the disc bounced right back to Chimera and he chipped the rebound home to make it a 1-1 game at 10:07 of the middle frame.
Less than five minutes later, the Caps struck again. Troy Brouwer got to a loose puck in the left wing corner and found Eric Fehr in front, slightly to the near side. Fehr had more time and space than the Caps were accustomed to having to that point in the proceedings, and he used it wisely. He fed Mikhail Grabovski at the far post, and Grabovski tucked it past Brodeur as the Devils goalie slid his left pad over in vain.
Up 2-1 in the final minute of the second, the Caps put themselves in a great spot going into the final 20 minutes. Mike Green took off with a burst of speed down the right wing side and put a hard shot on Brodeur. Joel Ward beat his man to the net and the rebound, and was able to backhand the residual past Brodeur for a 3-1 Caps lead with 45.3 seconds left in the second.
After Nicklas Backstrom’s shot try was blocked at the 1:11 mark of the third, New Jersey authored each of the game’s next 14 shot attempts, running up to the 7:21 mark of the third. The Devils pulled a goal closer during that span, too.
Caps captain Alex Ovechkin took an interference call in the offensive zone, and Devils winger Jaromir Jagr was able to score soon after Washington lost a draw in its own end on the power play. Devils defenseman Andy Greene made a strong play to set up an isolated Jagr, who tucked the puck into the net before Holtby could slide back to that side of the cage. The Jagr goal made it a 3-2 game at 5:28 of the third.
Less than three minutes later, Ovechkin atoned for his miscue. Caps defenseman Karl Alzner picked off an errant Patrick Elias pass and quickly dished to Ovechkin, who ripped it past Brodeur from the high slot to restore Washington’s two-goal lead at 4-2 with 11:53 left.
As has been the case far too many times this season, the Caps surrendered a goal against shortly after scoring one of their own. Just 74 seconds after Ovechkin’s goal, Zidlicky crept into the slot unattended. He was able to convert a feed from Zajac to make it a 4-3 game at 9:21 of the third.
”Unfortunately,” begins Caps coach Adam Oates, “it’s the same cliché. We talk about it; I’m talking to the line as they go out on the ice – you’ve got to execute and get up behind them and keep the ball rolling, and sometimes we do a better job than others. Tonight, obviously we didn’t.”
Less than three minutes later, the Devils drew even. Holtby went behind the net and fired the puck around the wall, but right to Zajac, who quickly put the puck back toward the Washington net as Holtby was trying to get back to the crease and re-set. Ex-Caps winger Dainius Zubrus deflected it past Holtby and it was a 4-4 game.
“They are a relentless team,” says Oates of the Devils. “They kept coming. We made a couple mistakes. Tough one obviously on the fourth one. Holts plays it up the wall, and it just bounced perfect on [Zajac’s] tape so he could rip it at the net, and [Zubrus] tipped it before he [Holtby] could get back in net.”
The Zubrus goal came on New Jersey’s 17th shot attempt of the third period; Washington had just four shot tries of its own at that point of the frame.
New Jersey came down the ice on a 3-on-2 in the first minute of overtime. Jagr shot from the slot, and Holtby made the save, but the puck caromed right to Greene and pinballed past the Caps goalie to give the Devils the win in the extra session.
“Our line just didn’t get it done,” laments Ward. “We were on for three [goals against]. We let one slip through. Our line just dropped the ball, and we were on for three which is unacceptable.
“They scored a timely goal, and we needed a huge kill on a penalty kill that we didn’t get. I don’t know. We just gave them a little momentum to get back into it and they capitalized on their chances right to the end.”
Washington went 2-1-1 this week in four games against Metropolitan Division opponents.
THIRTY TIMES NINE – Ovechkin’s third-period goal was his 30th of the season, marking the ninth straight season in which he has scored 30 or more goals. He is the only player in the NHL with 30 or more goals in each of the last nine seasons.
Ovechkin now has 62 goals in his last 82 regular season games. He has tallied in four straight games for the first time since doing so in four straight to start the 2013-14 season.
LATE LOSS – Last season, the Caps lost three games in regulation in which they led after 40 minutes, tied for the second most in the NHL. They went into Saturday’s game with a record of 11-0-1 in games in which they held a lead entering the third period.
The Caps’ 11-0-2 mark (.846) when leading after two periods is tied for 16th in the NHL this season.
NO TRIPLE DOUBLE – In losing Saturday’s game, the Capitals narrowly missed achieving something they hadn’t done in more than 22 years, namely to sweep three straight sets of back-to-back games.
The Caps took games on successive nights from Montreal and the New York Islanders on Nov. 29-30 and from Nashville and the New York Rangers on Dec. 7-8. After downing the Hurricanes in Carolina on Friday, Washington needed to finish off the Devils to sweep three consecutive sets of games on back-to-back nights for the first time since Nov. 1991.
Alas, they could not.
SECOND HELPINGS – Washington erupted for three goals in the second period of Saturday’s game against New Jersey. It marked the sixth time in the last seven games that the Caps have netted multiple goals in the game’s second period.
The Capitals have scored two or more goals in the second period 13 times in 36 games this season. Washington has scored nearly half (50 of 106) of its goals this season in the second period. Only Chicago (54) has tallied more times in the middle frame this season.
POSSESSION POOR – This was not a strong weekend for the Capitals in a puck possession sense. In the two games against Carolina and New Jersey, Washington allowed a combined total of 158 shot attempts in 120:43 of action while generating only 79 of its own.
Given those numbers, the Caps are fortunate to have taken three points in the two games.
CENTURY CITY – Caps left wing Aaron Volpatti played in his 100th NHL game on Saturday against the Devils. Volpatti hit the century mark in games played almost exactly three years after making his NHL debut with Vancouver against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 18, 2010.
MATCHING MESSIER – Jagr’s third-period goal was the 694th of his NHL career, tying him with Hockey Hall of Famer Mark Messier for seventh place on the NHL’s all-time list. Ex-Capital Mike Gartner (708) is also within the 41-year-old Jagr’s sights.
With a goal and two assists in Saturday’s game against his former employers, Jagr now has a seven-game scoring streak (two goals, nine assists).
DOWN ON THE FARM – The AHL Hershey Bears were home on Saturday night, hosting the Worcester Sharks at Giant Center. Hershey dropped a 3-2 decision to the Sharks.
Worcester scored twice in the first, and the Bears were never able to pull even. Hershey got a power play goal from Julien Brouillette in the second, Nate Schmidt and Nicolas Deschamps assisting. That goal cut the Sharks’ lead to 2-1, but Worcester went up 3-1 in the third on a power play strike of its own.
Deschamps scored in the third with help from John Mitchell and Matt Watkins, but it wasn’t enough. The Bears were outshot 37-31 and they got a 34-save effort from David Leggio in a losing effort.
The 11-9-2-3 Bears host the Sharks again on Sunday.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals were in Fort Wayne for a second straight night. The Royals took a second straight game from the Komets, earning a 2-1 shootout win.
Reading’s Brandon Blandina scored his first goal of the season, a shorthanded tally, at 1:44 of the third to erase a 1-0 Fort Wayne lead. Riley Gill made 37 saves in regulation and overtime and then helped the Royals to the extra point in the skills session.
BY THE NUMBERS – Green led the Caps with 23:11 in ice time, just eight seconds ahead of Dmitry Orlov’s single-game season high of 23:03 … Ovechkin led the Caps with five shots on net … Ovechkin, Brouwer and Tom Wilson led the way for Washington with four hits each … John Erskine, Ward and Green each had three blocked shots in the game … Washington won 29 of 47 face-offs (62%) in the game … Zajac won 13 of 21 face-offs; the rest of the Devils combined to take five of 26 (19%) draws.