Back In The Barn, Back In The Saddle – Coming back home after a 16-day absence from Verizon Center, the Capitals welcomed Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott back from injury-related absences on Tuesday as they opened a three-game homestand against the Carolina Hurricanes. But the Caps lost defenseman Dennis Wideman to a second-period injury, and they also lost the game despite entering the third period with a 2-1 lead.
The Canes came away with a 3-2 decision in the shootout.
A desperate Carolina team picked up a pair of points to pull within three of eighth-place Buffalo for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference standings. The Hurricanes still have six games remaining, as do the Sabres. The two teams meet on Sunday in Raleigh.
Washington only occasionally exceeded Carolina’s energy in the game, but the Caps displayed more jump than they had the last time they came home after a long absence. That Feb. 25 game was a 6-0 home ice loss to the New York Rangers.
“I thought at times it was a very lackluster game,” says Boudreau of Tuesday’s tilt. “If you don’t play with emotion, it’s tough.”
Getting his second start in the last three games, Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov made some big stops – including a pokecheck denial of Chad Larose’s penalty shot bid – in the game’s first 40 minutes as the Caps forged a 2-1 lead on goals by Alexander Semin and Marcus Johansson.
Varlamov was dented early in the third when he allowed a deep angle shot from Carolina rookie Jeff Skinner to find its way through the short side and into the cage to draw the Canes even at 2-2.
Ovechkin and Arnott held up well in their return. Ovechkin in particular seemed to be virtually in peak form, and got better as the game wore on.
Wideman absorbed a hit up high from Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu midway through the game and did not return. Afterwards, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said Wideman was “day-to-day.”
Tuesday’s shootout setback mathematically ended Washington’s bid for a third straight season with 50 or more victories. The Capitals sport a symmetrical mark of 44-22-11 with five games remaining in the 2010-11 regular season.
Stepping Up – Caps defenseman John Carlson was arguably the best player on the ice for his team in Tuesday’s game. With Wideman unavailable for the second half of the contest, Carlson stepped up and absorbed 28:12 in ice time, his single-game career best. It was the 28th straight game in which Carlson skated more than 20 minutes.
Carlson and defensive partner Karl Alzner (who skated 26:49), each took 32 shifts to lead all Capitals and each blocked five shots. Playing in the 99th game of his NHL career, Carlson had a team high and single-game personal best of eight shots on goal, was plus-2 and had an assist.
With 33 points (six goals, 27 assists) on the season, Carlson trails only Robert Picard (37 points in 1977-78) and Greg Theberge (37 in 1981-82) on the team’s all-time list for points by a rookie defenseman in a single season.
Carlson has now paced the Capitals in ice time in 19 of the team’s 77 games this season.
Not So Special – Carolina scored the game’s first goal on a power play, its third of the game. The Capitals were 4-for-5 on the penalty kill in Tuesday’s game. The Caps were blanked on the power play for the third straight game, going 0-for-3 with the man advantage.
The Caps took some penalties at inopportune times, going down 4-on-3 in the first frame and also going shorthanded on a Semin hooking call with just 3:19 left in the third period.
Semin did not appear during the five-minute overtime session.
“I think we obviously took too many penalties and that got momentum for them,” says Johansson. “And I think for our penalty kills it was hard. We [have] to stay [as] five guys on the ice as much as possible and not take those penalties, hooking and stuff where you don’t have to. That’s a big part of the game we have to be better at.”
The Caps had some good puck movement and they generated some decent looks on their three power play tries. Washington had six shots on goal with the extra man, but also looked a bit out of synch as it tried to re-integrate both Ovechkin and Arnott into its extra-man unit. The Caps were victimized by a handful of odd-man breaks in the other direction during their time on the man-advantage, one of which resulted in the Larose penalty shot.
“We practiced with the team only one time,” says Ovechkin. “And we skated without the puck most of the time. In power play, we give so many chances to them to score goals, like on the breakaway, we make some mistakes. But we come back and it’s good when we come back. It’s good when you play that kind of game.”
Non-Support – Varlamov was once again the victim of poor offensive support. He won a 4-1 decision over the Blues in St. Louis on Dec. 1. Since then, he has been in the net 20 times. He has started and finished 18 games, relieved and finished in one, and started but did not finish another. In those 20 games, the Capitals have scored only 32 goals in support of the sophomore Russian goaltender. That’s just 1.6 goals per game.
No Sweep For You – The Caps finished the season’s series with a 5-0-1 record against Carolina, missing a chance to author what would have been just their second ever sweep of a season’s series against the Hartford/Carolina franchise. The Caps went 4-0 in four meetings with the Hurricanes in 1997-98, the season prior to the formation of the Southeast Division.
And Then There Were Three – With Chimera missing his first game of the season on Tuesday against Carolina, the Caps are left with three players who have played in all 77 games this season.
Double Grand – Canes netminder Cam Ward made 38 saves on the night to exceed the 2,000-save level for the first time in his NHL career. In doing so, Ward added to his single-season franchise mark for most saves in a single campaign.
Ward is just the sixth NHL goaltender to exceed 2,000 saves in the last six seasons.
By The Numbers –Scott Hannan paced the Caps with 22:36 in even-strength ice time … Carolina won only 44% of its draws in the game, but the Canes won half (11 of 22) of the face-offs taken after the start of the third period … Tuomo Ruutu led all skaters on both sides with eight hits … Ovechkin and John Erskine led the Caps with five hits each.
1 - 0 CAR
1 - 1 Tie