Washington has had difficulty getting pucks into the net as of late. After struggling to finish strong scoring chances in road trips versus Buffalo and Ottawa, the red sweaters started getting better puck luck.
The Caps squared off against Carolina in the last meeting in the Verizon Center, between the two division rivals. Washington started off the first period of action dominating puck possession and shots on goal. Unfortunately for them, Khudobin was making big saves early and often. Khudobin got his first start in over eleven weeks for the Canes, due to his injury sustained earlier this season. He was not as rusty between the pipes as you might have expected from missing so much time.
The first period was tilted in the Caps favor with momentum, until two costly penalties. The Caps first got a 2-minute penalty for too many men on the ice. Shortly after, Brooks Laich got a high stick penalty. The Canes had a 5 on 3 man advantage. Nicklas Backstrom tried clearing the puck out of the zone from the point, but then his stick snapped. So the Hurricanes essentially were working a 5 on 2 man advantage and Alex Semin found Jeff Skinner on the backside for the easy goal. A great first period of offense for Washington, but not the result they were hoping for heading into the locker room.
The second frame of action was one of the most bizarre periods you will see in hockey. Marcus Johansson found Alex Ovechkin up the ice and Ovi put it top shelf. It was Ovechkins league leading 31st goal of the season and came just fifty seconds into the period. This was just the start of a four-minute stretch of craziness.
The Caps have struggled after scoring goals this season, giving away momentum almost instantly after a score. The same trend repeated itself tonight. Under a minute later after the Ovechkin goal, Manny Malhotra regained the lead for Carolina at 2-1. Just over a minute after the Canes tally, MoJo found Backstrom in front of the net. Backstrom forced a rebound and Troy Brouwer finished with a nice backhander to tie the game up once again. Just before four minutes passed in the second period, Steve Oleksy scored his second goal of the season and gave the Caps a 3-2 lead. Just when Caps fans thought they could breath a sigh of relief, they were deflated once again.
Jeff Skinner scored his second goal of the night, after a rebound from goalie Philipp Grubauer found Skinners stick right in front of the net. Martin Erat was unable to find the loose puck and clear it out. Overall, an ugly hockey play, allowing Carolina to tie the game up once again.
The third frame of action had some quality chances toward the end, but Washington was heading to overtime for the sixteenth time this season. A shootout was not necessary as the overtime period quickly ended. After Grabovski and Ovechkin were working a two on two breakout, Ovi threw a pass across the ice in hopes to get it to Dimitri Orlov joining the rush. It just didn’t get to Orlov and the Canes came down on a 3-man rush against lone Caps defender Mike Green. Ryan Murphy fed Jeff Skinner an excellent pass across the crease for his hat trick goal.
It was a disappointing loss to say the least, as the Caps have struggled against Carolina this season. It also has become frustrating, that once Washington gets a lead or goal, they have consistently allowed the opposition to respond very quickly. Philipp Grubauer finished the night with 29 saves on 33 shots faced. It was not the young goalies best night so far this season, allowing big rebounds throughout the night.
Coach Adam Oates shook up the lines tonight and some of the pairings paid off. Ovechkin was paired with Grabovski, Fehr and Backstrom was paired with Mojo and Troy Brouwer. It will be interesting to see how long Oates keeps these lines together and if he makes any other small changes along the way. The Caps have struggled as of late, only winning one game of their last six contests. They travel to Minnesota this Saturday night to take on the Wild.