Downed In Detroit – For the third time in as many games, a Capitals contest ended with one team up 2-1 after the first 20 minutes and with the score tied at 2-2 after two periods of play. On Sunday against Chicago and on Tuesday against Montreal, it was the Capitals who led 2-1 after one and who saw their lead disappear on a second-period strike.
Tonight, the Caps were the team in the 2-1 hole after 20 minutes, and they were the team that drew even in the second frame. And like the Blackhawks on Sunday and the Canadiens on Tuesday, they were never quite able to overtake their foes, losing a 3-2 decision to the Red Wings in Detroit.
After Alex Ovechkin netted the game-tying tally at 5:53 of the second period, Washington had a pair of power play opportunities in which it could have gained the lead for the first time in the game. But the Caps couldn’t get anything done with either of those extra-man chances.
The midway point of the third period approached with Washington having four power play chances to Detroit’s one on the night, and it was highly unlikely the Wings would finish the game with just that single extra-man chance. Former Red Wing Mike Knuble was whistled for an offensive zone tripping call at 9:20 of the third, and that’s when the game took its final turn.
Just over half a minute after Knuble was seated, Henrik Zetterberg carved his way down the right side of the ice on the Detroit power play. As he dipped down to the deepest part of the right circle, he lifted a backhander high over the left shoulder of Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth to give the Wings a 3-2 lead.
“One of our keys was we thought that the difference would be the special teams tonight,” laments Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “It usually is when we play them. We’re 0-for-4 [on the power play] and they’re 1-for-2. That’s the difference right there.”
Although Washington had some late pressure in the attack zone and a pair of near-goals from Alexander Semin in the waning minutes, it fell to its first setback in the last 19 days.
Shortly after Zetterberg gave the Wings their 3-2 lead, an Ovechkin feed sent Semin in with a one-on-one opportunity against Wings goalie Jimmy Howard. Semin wasn’t able to get a good shot off, and Howard easily set that bid aside. In the waning seconds of the game, Semin fired a rocket of a shot from near the Detroit blueline that clanged off the crossbar behind the Red Wings goaltender.
“Semin had that play from Ovi and if he was sharper tonight, he would have scored that goal,” begins Boudreau. “It was unlucky; it shouldn’t have gone in anyway, but [he] hit the crossbar in the last five seconds. Granted, you should never hit the crossbar on a shot from there.
“Those things happen. We have been getting the breaks in those situations the last couple of weeks. Tonight we didn’t get a lot of the breaks and they played well enough to win.”
Streaks Stopped – Washington’s nine-game winning streak – the third longest run in franchise history – came to an end. The Capitals’ six-game road winning streak matched the longest road spree in franchise history, but it also came to a halt on Wednesday in Motown.
It’s noteworthy that Washington achieved its nine-game winning streak without several of its key players in the lineup for some or all of those nine games.
“It’s time to play,” says Ovechkin. “It’s time to be good. We have 10 games after tonight. We have to be ready for playoffs. We’re missing a couple key guys in [Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, Eric Fehr and Jason Arnott]. All those guys, when they’re healthy we’re going to be a scary team. Right now we’re scary, but when they come back, it’s going to be cool.”
Tall Task, Tough Town – Going into Wednesday’s game, it was clear that extending their winning streak to 10 straight games was going to be a daunting challenge.
Washington was playing its second game in as many nights, having played in Montreal the night before and having had to clear customs after that game. The Caps were also playing for the third time in four nights, while the rested Red Wings were playing their first game in four nights, since earning a road win over the Blues in St. Louis on Saturday.
Detroit came in with a 10-3-1 record against Eastern Conference opponents, and the Red Wings had won eight straight against Eastern foes, outscoring them 36-18 in the process.
The Wings were playing the first half of a set of back-to-backs games when they hosted Washington on Wednesday, a situation that has proven extremely favorable to them all season. They went into the game against the Caps with a 9-1-2 mark this season in the front end game of back-to-back contests.
Then there was Washington’s record over the last decade and a half in Detroit, 2-5-1-2, and winless since Nov. 24, 2003 when netminder Rastislav “The Rat” Stana became the first Slovakian goaltender in NHL history to record a win in the league. It turned out to be the only victory he ever achieved in the circuit.
After two periods of play on Wednesday, the Caps were even, but they were a shade on the fortunate side, too. Washington was being outshot 26-18 after 40 minutes of play, and outshot in pure shot attempts by a margin of 46-27. The Wings shot high or wide 14 times in the first two periods, doing so on some fairly glorious chances in the process.
By night’s end, Detroit owned a decided 64-42 edge in shots attempted.
Back In The Saddle – Caps winger D.J. King got a sweater on Wednesday and was back in the lineup for the first time since Feb. 21. He skated 10 shifts totaling 7:47 in ice time and notched his second assist of the season on Carlson’s first-period goal.
Wednesday’s game was the 15th for which King has suited up this season, and it’s the second highest single-game ice time figure he has recorded. King skated 9:02 against Calgary in a 7-2 Washington win on Oct. 30.
Two-Spot – Detroit’s two-goal first period was the first time the Caps had allowed as many as two in any period since Feb. 25 when they were nicked for two in each of the three frames in a 6-0 loss to the Rangers.
Neuvirth had personally gone 13 straight periods without allowing multiple goals before Detroit scored twice on him in the game’s first 20 minutes.
Thirty For Carly – Caps defenseman John Carlson’s goal was his sixth of the season and his first in exactly two months, since he netted the game-winner against Ottawa on Jan. 16 at Verizon Center.
The goal also gave Carlson 30 points on the season. He joins Robert Picard (37 points in 1977-78) and Leif Svensson (31 points in 1978-79) as just the third rookie Caps blueliner to reach the 30-point plateau.
In addition to Carlson’s goal, Scott Hannan started the play that led to Ovechkin’s goal with a quick defensive zone exit pass to Alexander Semin.
“I think we’ve been really trying to chip in,” says Carlson of the offensive contributions from the blueline. “I think we lost our offense there for a little while. It starts with defense, though. It starts in positioning. It’s just one of those things that we’ve been working on. We didn’t win tonight but hopefully it will jumpstart that aspect of our game.”
Seventy-Five – With his 29th goal of the season, Ovechkin now has 75 points for the sixth consecutive campaign at the start of his career. He becomes just the 10th player in NHL history to achieve that feat.
If he can get to 80 points, he will be one of only seven players to start their NHL careers with six straight seasons of 80 points or more. (Thanks to Nate Ewell for that nugget.)
Welcome Back – The Wings welcomed veteran puck-moving blueliner Brian Rafalski back into their lineup on Wednesday, and he was a huge factor after missing the previous eight contests because of a back ailment.
The 37-year-old Rafalski – one of eight players aged 35 or older on the Detroit roster – earned assists on all three Detroit goals on Wednesday for his first three-assist game since Dec. 22.
No. 20 for No. 40 – Zetterberg’s two-goal night pushed his total for the season to 20, marking the sixth straight season he has reached that level. He now has seven 20-goal campaigns in his eight seasons in the league.
One More – Detroit coach Mike Babcock earned his 299th win in the last six seasons on Wednesday against Washington. He has a dozen games left in which to reach 300.
Only two other coaches in NHL history have ever won as many as 300 games over a six-season span. Scotty Bowman won 321 games with Montreal during a six-season run in the 1970s and Glen Sather racked up 307 wins in half a dozen seasons behind the Edmonton bench in the 1980s.
By The Numbers – Wideman skated 9:17 in the game’s first period and Ovechkin 9:16 … Washington won just 38% of face-offs on the night … Brooks Laich led the Caps with five hits but was just 4-for-19 (21%) in the face-off circle … Ovechkin led the Caps with seven shots on goal and Zeterberg paced the Wings with seven … Washington’s record against Western Conference opponents fell to 7-9-1 on the season. The Caps have one game remaining against Western clubs, a March 31 home date with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
1 - 0 DET
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 DET
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 DET
Delaying Game - Puck over glass
Holding the stick