Although they played a strong game and did a lot of good things against the league’s best and hottest team on Monday night at Verizon Center, the Capitals also allowed three unanswered goals and lost a two-goal lead for the second straight game. The end result was a 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.
“We have 20 more minutes to go to play,” says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. “It was just a couple of mistakes that cost us the win. Overall, I thought we played all right. But it’s hard to say that you played all right when you lose. That’s for sure. We have to find a way to win the next one.”
Washington had the game’s first power play opportunity when Anaheim’s Saku Koivu went off for hooking at 3:45. But the Caps weren’t able to get established for any sustained attack zone time with the extra man, and they were even guilty of a couple of icing violations during Koivu’s sentence.
The Caps jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a nifty even-strength goal at 7;21 of the first. Eric Fehr made a great indirect pass to Mikhail Grabovski, bouncing the puck off the wall from the Caps’ blueline to Grabovski who then gained the Anaheim zone, Grabovski worked a neat give-and-go, feeding Troy Brouwer and going right to the net to direct Brouwer’s return feed past Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller. The goal was Grabovski’s 11th of the season.
Just over four minutes later, Koivu went to the box for the second time in the period. Washington won the offensive zone draw, and Nicklas Backstrom fired a shot off the short side post and past Hiller just 11 seconds after Koivu was seated for a 2-0 Washington lead at 11:37 of the first frame.
Late in the first, the Caps had a bit of a fire drill shift in their end and the Ducks made them pay. The Ducks missed the net twice in short succession on that shift, but the visitors got on the board when Andrew Cogliano collected Koivu’s missed shot before it hit the backwall and tucked the puck into a mostly vacant cage to make it a 2-1 game with 2:45 left in the period.
Washington started a stretch of penalty trouble late in the first. The Caps took four minor penalties in a span of 16:54 starting in the waning seconds of the first. Although the Caps were able to kill off the 6:49 of power play time the Ducks enjoyed during that stretch, they also lost some rhythm and some energy in the process.
The Caps’ top line of Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom and Marcus Johansson was on the ice for a shift running nearly a minute in length late in the first, along with defensemen Mike Green and Dmitry Orlov, whose shift times were both up over a minute. The Ducks had slightly fresher troops and they exploited that advantage to even the game with 26.7 seconds left in the second period.
Orlov drove Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy wide, but wasn’t able to eliminate him or separate him from the puck. Lovejoy threw a sublime one-handed pass to the front and Koivu had enough time and space to one-time it past Washington goaltender Philipp Grubauer to tie it up.
“The second goal at the end of the second I think hurt the most,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “We’re in great shape, we’re down behind their goal-line and they get one rush and put it in the net. That goal and the third goal, we made reads on the backcheck, incorrect reads on the backcheck, which by now we shouldn’t do.”
The Caps could not connect on a power play chance early in the third period. Washington wasn’t able to get many pucks through to the Anaheim net after taking the early 2-0 lead. The Caps managed only eight shots on net in the final 43:47 of the game, but they had a golden opportunity to take the lead late in the third period.
Caps center Jay Beagle made a centering feed for Jason Chimera with 6:11 left in the third period, but Hiller made a great save on Chimera’s point blank attempt from just above the crease. The Capitals won the ensuing face-off in the offensive zone, and Chimera fired another shot that grazed the goalpost. But then the Ducks roared off in the other direction, and it was Anaheim that tallied for the late 3-2 lead.
Nineteen-year-old rookie defenseman Hampus Lindholm launched a wrist shot through a maze of bodies in front and it eluded Grubauer at the 14:24 mark of the period.
“The puck just bounced right to the middle,” says Lindholm, “and I get the puck on my stick, and I just tried to make a quick move forward so I could get it to the net and I saw it went in.
“It’s a very good feeling. It’s a huge goal, and it’s fun for Bruce [Boudreau] and those guys to win against their old team, so it’s just a blast. So we’re coming home and celebrating Christmas with a win and that’s great.”
Down just a goal with 5:36 left, the Caps almost drew even when Ovechkin’s shot rang the crossbar with just over three minutes remaining. The puck dropped down and bounced off the goal line and out of harm’s way. A video review confirmed that Ovechkin’s shot didn’t go in, and that was as close as the Caps came to drawing even.
“I saw the one replay they showed,” says Hiller of Ovechkin’s shot off the crossbar, “and it looked like it was in on that one, but at the same time, looking at the crossbar, you can still see the mark kind of outside of the crossbar, so I was pretty sure it wasn’t a goal.
“In the end, it’s not on me to call, but it was definitely nice to get that break and I think, in the end, if you work hard, you deserve those kinds of bounces going your way, and I think that’s what we did, especially in the third [period].”
A Backstrom shot on Hiller in the game’s final minute with Grubauer pulled for the extra skater proved to be Washington’s only shot on goal after Hiller’s stellar stop on Chimera.
“I think the second period everybody lost their flow with the penalties,” laments Oates. “I thought we pushed pretty hard. [Anaheim has] got some good guys back there; they made some plays. We tried but just couldn’t penetrate.”
Returning to the District for the first time as an opposing coach, Ducks bench boss and ex-Caps head coach Boudreau saw his team come from behind to win for the second time in three nights. Anaheim swept a pre-holiday, four-game road trip and ran its winning streak to nine straight games with Monday’s victory.
“In the scheme of things,” says Boudreau, “I’m more happy we kept the streak alive. Fifty-nine points after 39 games is a pretty cool feat for what we’ve gone through. The players deserve all the credit, and it was nice in front of the crowd here. There was a lot of red out there.”
Fast First (But Not Too Fast) – During the lockout-abbreviated 2012-13 season, the Capitals scored multiple goals in the game’s first period without allowing any goals against. Washington was 6-1 in those games.
Thus far this season (through 37 games), the Caps have had just one game in which they’ve scored multiple goals in the first without surrendering any to the opposition. Washington played a strong first frame tonight, but Cogliano’s goal with 2:45 left prevented them from achieving the aforementioned feat for just the second time in 2013-14.
The Caps led St. Louis by a 3-0 count after the game’s first 20 minutes at Verizon Center on Nov. 17. The Capitals carried a 3-0 lead into the final minute of the first frame of a Dec. 7 game against the Nashville Predators at Verizon Center
Powering Up – Washington has had at least one power play goal in eight of its 10 December games, posting a 5-3-2 record in those games.
With Backstrom’s power-play tally in Monday’s game, the Caps are now 12-for-37 (32.4%) with the extra man this month.
Brouwering Up – Brouwer assisted on both Washington goals for his second multiple-point game in the last three. He has a four-game scoring streak (one goal, five assists) and he has had at least one assist in four straight games for the first time in his NHL career.
The 300 Club – Caps defenseman Karl Alzner played in the 300th game of his NHL career on Monday. The first game of Alzner’s NHL career came on Nov. 26, 2008 against the Atlanta Thrashers at Verizon Center.
Back In The Saddle – Caps forward Brooks Laich was activated from long-term injured reserve and installed into the Washington lineup for Monday’s game after missing 11 straight games with a lower body injury.
Laich logged 13:23 in Monday’s game, including 4:20 worth of shorthanded ice time to lead all Washington forwards in that department. He also won nine of 13 face-offs (69%) on the night.
“First three or four shifts were getting [my] legs under me,” says Laich. “It’s been about a month since I’ve played. And then after that, as the game wore on. I actually felt a lot better.”
By The Numbers – John Carlson paced the Capitals with 25:12 in ice time and five blocked shots … Ovechkin led the Caps with five shots on net, 14 shot attempts and four hits … Washington won 45 of 68 face-offs (66%) in the game … Grabovski won 10 of 13 draws (77%) … Backstrom has 15 points (three goals, 12 assists) in his last seven games … Grabovski has 10 points (four goals, six assists) in his last 10 games … Daniel Winnik and Ryan Getzlaf paced the Ducks with five shots on net each … Ducks defenseman Mark Fistric led Anaheim with five hits in the game … Getzlaf and Lovejoy led the way for Anaheim with four blocked shots each.