Shots Down, Shot Down – Prior to their departure from the District on their current two-game Western Canada road trip, the Capitals identified limiting opposition shots on goal as an area in which they’d like to improve. On Thursday in Edmonton, the Caps made some strides in that area. They also lost a 2-1 decision to the Oilers.
“We started the game well,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “We had the momentum, but then we took too many penalties. The penalty [killers] did a great job. If you have so many chances on the power play, you have to score. [The Oilers] used it.”
Edmonton scored both of its goals on the power play, and rode Nikolai Khabibulin’s netminding to its fifth win in seven home games this season.
The Capitals played the way they wanted to play for the first 15 minutes or so of Thursday’s game. They drew the game’s first power play, drawing a penalty on an Edmonton defenseman (Theo Peckham) in the game’s third minute.
Washington also grabbed an early lead, going up 1-0 on a Karl Alzner shot from the left point at 5:36 of the first.
At even-strength the Caps had their way with the Oilers, dominating zone time and putting pressure on an Edmonton defense that has overachieved in the early going of the 2011-12 season. The Oilers managed just two even-strength shots on net in the first period, and only a dozen on the night.
When the Oilers got their first power play of the night at 15:23 of the first, it began a rugged stretch in which the Caps were forced to kill an inordinate number of penalties in a tight span of time.
In a span of 24 minutes and 51 seconds of game action that stretched from late in the first period to the early seconds of the third, the Caps were shorthanded for 11 minutes and seven seconds. Had they been able to manage flawless penalty killing, that shorthanded total would have been greater.
During that same 24:51 stretch, the Caps did not have a single power play of their own. Washington was whistled for seven straight minor penalties in a span of just 21:37 at one point.
“We were just trying to forget about it,” says Alzner, of the team’s stretch of nearly constant penalty killing. “I think we got a little bit too worked up there, yelling and screaming about the calls when there’s nothing you can do about them once they’re called. We came into the room [after the second period] and regrouped and the guys had a ton of energy going into that third [period]. We threw it all at them and hit a couple of posts and there’s not a whole lot else you could do.”
“It was not good,” says Caps center Marcus Johansson of the penalty-killing stretch. “I don’t know how many minutes we had. But playing four guys or three almost the whole period, I think a lot of guys played a lot and got tired and some guys didn’t play at all. It’s tough.
“I think for those guys who play a lot of penalty killing, they had to play a lot in the second period. It’s hard to playing the penalty killing [unit] and it takes a lot of energy out of you. I think it makes it a little tougher for those guys to come back in the third period.”
Those guys gamely tried to come back in the third period. The Caps had three power play chances in the third, and they outshot the Oilers 19-6 in the final frame. But Khabibulin stood tall, stopping all 19 shots.
The Caps’ best chances came on their first power play of the final frame. Cruising toward the net on the back door of the left side, Washington defenseman Dennis Wideman got the puck and had a gaping cage at which to shoot. But he pushed his shot just off the mark. Seconds later, Wideman again had a one-timer opportunity. This time, Khabibulin flashed his right pad to deny the defenseman’s low laser.
The Oilers scored on a 4-on-3 power play and on a traditional 5-on-4 to get all the offense they’d need to back Khabibulin’s 34-save efforts in the Edmonton net.
“We played a good game 5-on-5,” says Alzner. “I thought we were pretty tough to play against. They have a really good power play. They move the puck right along the wall. They get a lot of shots. They keep guys right in front of the net and off to the sides. They executed well. Obviously we would have liked a few more goals, but it happens.”
Washington outshot the Oilers 28-12 at even strength in Thursday’s game. The Capitals launched a total of 76 shots, getting 35 on net, having 18 blocked and missing altogether with 23 tries. The Oilers had exactly half as many shot bids with 36. Edmonton got 19 on net, had a dozen blocked and missed seven times.
“I thought we played pretty good in the third period,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “We came at them. They were feeling it pretty good. Once that first five minutes [passed] and we didn’t get one with the pressure we had on it, and on that first power play when he made that stop on Wideman, I said, ‘It’s going to be tough to score on this guy tonight.’ We threw everything we could at him but he was good.”
“I think the first 10 minutes we had it in their zone the whole time, and our goal was to try to get a 2-0 lead and make them come out of the shell after the first. But those four penalties at the end of the first period and then five in the second definitely took you out of the flow of the game. Give [the Oilers] credit. They played well.”
Streaks Stopped – Washington was thwarted in its bid to become just the sixth team in NHL history to win each of its first eight games of the season. The Caps’ franchise record streak of wins at the start of a campaign came to a halt at seven.
Someone said after the game, “You can’t win ‘em all, right?”
To which Caps winger Joel Ward replied: “You said it. It’s 82 games and it’s very tough to go 82-0.”
Wideman had picked up at least a point in each of Washington’s first seven games of the season to match his career-high scoring streak, but his run also came to an end on Thursday night in Edmonton.
Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun suffered his first loss as a Capital after winning six straight, one shy of his personal best.
Tough Town – Edmonton will likely have a new downtown arena in the not-too-distant future, and the Capitals are likely to have only one or two more regular season visits to Rexall Place in their immediate future. They’re certainly not going to miss the old barn, which opened for business in 1974.
Washington has won just one of its last nine visits (1-8) to Edmonton, and has been outscored by a combined 39-16 in those nine contests.
Kid Stuff – Heading into Thursday night’s Capitals-Oilers clash in Edmonton, the Oilers’ youthful trio of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle had accounted for more than half of the team’s offense in its first eight games.
That threesome had tallied eight of Edmonton’s 15 goals on the season, and the three kids had totaled 22 points and an aggregate plus-13 in the Oilers’ first eight games.
On Thursday against the Caps, they were at it again. Hall and Eberle scored Edmonton’s goals, and Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins each picked up an assist. The three kids have now accounted for 10 of the Oilers’ 17 goals (58.9%) on the season, and they’ve picked up 26 points to go along with a combined plus-10 on the season.
Star Power – The rosters of Edmonton and Washington contain a total of 20 former first-round picks in the NHL Entry Draft. Eleven of those players are members of the Oilers and nine are Capitals.
A dozen of those players – eight Oilers and four Capitals – were chosen in the top 10 selections of their respective draft years. And four of them – Washington’s Ovechkin and Roman Hamrlik and Edmonton’s Hall and Nugent-Hopkins – were the first overall choices in their respective draft years.
The 800 Club – Caps center Jeff Halpern played in the 800th game of his NHL career here tonight, just over a dozen years after his first contest. Halpern made his NHL debut with Washington in the 1999-00 season opener against the Panthers in Florida on Oct. 2, 1999 and scored the first of his 142 career NHL goals weeks later, on Oct. 19, 1999 against Anaheim’s Guy Hebert.
That initial Halpern tally was the lone Washington marker in a 7-1 loss, and it also featured the only point in the NHL career of former Caps’ first-rounder Miika Elomo, who assisted on the goal.
In his 800th game, Halpern picked up an assist, was a plus-1 and won six of seven face-offs (86%) he took on the night.
The 400 Club – Washington winger Alexander Semin skated in his 400th NHL game tonight in Edmonton, just over eight years since skating in his initial contest in the league on Oct. 14, 2003 against Montreal. Semin tallied his first NHL point – an assist – in that game against the Canadiens.
Semin’s first NHL goal was scored on Oct. 31, 2003 against Pasi Nurminen of the Atlanta Thrashers.
Hey, Nineteen – Playing in his first NHL game of the season, Caps defenseman Sean Collins was originally credited with a helper on the game’s first goal, Alzner’s first tally of the season. But a scoring change later in the game gave the second assist on the Alzner goal (Jason Chimera was credited with the primary helper) to Halpern.
Collins would have been the 19th different player to record a point for Washington this season had the original scoring stood up. As it is, Alzner is the 14th different Capital to find the back of the net.
By The Numbers – Wideman led the Caps with 23:26 in ice time … Wideman and Ovechkin were each on the ice for 5:36 of the Caps’ total of 7:06 in power play time on the night. Hamrlik was third on the team in power play ice at 4:31 … Alzner (5:28) paced Caps defensemen in shorthanded ice time while Brooks Laich (5:18) led the team’s forwards in shorthanded ice … Hamrlik’s 15:11 in even-strength ice time topped the defense while Semin’s 15:03 of even-strength duty paced the forwards … All 18 Washington skaters fired at least one shot netward during the game, with only Joel Ward, Jeff Schultz and Mathieu Perreault failing to register a shot on goal … Ovechkin led the Caps with seven shots on net. Wideman missed the net five times; Ovechkin four … Troy Brouwer accounted for a third of Washington’s dozen hits on the night, getting credited with four hits … Nicklas Backstrom won 11 of 17 face-offs (65%) while Laich won just one of eight (13%) … Tom Gilbert led Edmonton with 23:52 in ice while Shawn Horcoff (20:58) paced Oiler forwards in that department … Hall was on the ice for 7:02 of Edmonton’s 11:21 of power play time on the night … Gilbert led the Oil with 4:29 of shorthanded duty … Ryan Smyth and Corey Potter led the Oilers with four shots on goal each … Ladislav Smid led the Oilers with four blocked shots.
1 - 0 WSH
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 EDM
Delaying Game-Puck over glass
Closing hand on puck
Holding the stick