The Washington Capitals had lost the last three times they have played on Saturday after a Friday night contest. After two periods at Rexall Place in Edmonton they trailed, 2-0, despite some good goaltending from rookie Michael Neuvirth, and it looked like they would drop another. But on the opening shift of the third period Alexander Ovechkin decided to take over the game. The Great #8 and his linemates, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin, would go on a tear and score three times in the final 20 minutes with Alexander the Great notching two goals and an assist en route to a 4-2 Washington victory. Tomas Fleischman would get credit for the game winner when he blazed one in after a Brendan Morrison face-off win with 6:47 left.
The Caps are now 22-8-6 and lead the Southeast Division by 11 points over second place Atlanta, although the Thrashers have two games in hand.
Below is the Washington line-up, the period by period highlights and analysis, plus the end of game wrap-up:
Lineup changes: Shaone Morrisonn (Injury), John Erskine, and forward Kyle Wilson are out.
Caps D pairs are: Green-Schultz, Alzner-Sloan, Poti-Juricna
Forward lines are: Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin; Fleischmann-Morrison-Knuble; Fehr-Laich-Clark; Laing-Steckel-Bradley
Michael Neuvirth is in net taking on Jeff Deslauries of Edmonton. Neuvirth has not played well in his first two starts this season.
End of 1st Period: Caps 0, Oilers 0
- Alexander Semin, who was the Caps best player in Vancouver on Friday night, had an early breakaway after a super Tom Poti breakout pass but #28′s move to the backhand did not fool Deslauries.
- Who says Alexander Ovechkin doesn’t play defense? The Great #8 made a great back check, at one point, when it appeared the Oilers had a 4 on 2 break.
- Deslauries made some nice saves including a superb one in tight at the right post on Tomas Fleischmann after a strong Karl Alzner point blast. Then he stopped Mike Knuble in front on the only power play attempt for either team in the first period.
Analysis: Washington had the edge in shots, 16-10, and overall play but could not beat the Oilers goalie. Washington needs to get more traffic in front of him and fight through the Edmonton defense for rebounds. The Caps power play looked better than last night but still isn’t getting enough rubber on goal. Neuvirth didn’t give up any rebounds and looks better than last week. The Caps will need him to keep that up for two more periods.
End of 2nd Period: Oilers 2, Caps 0
- Chris Clark and Steve Staois dropped the gloves early in the second period but it was more of a wrestling match than a fight.
- Jeff Schultz with a terrible centre ice giveaway allows Edmonton to have a 2 on 0 breakaway and Neuvirth stops Patrick O’Sullivan but Shawn Horcoff puts in the rebound. The Green-Schultz pairing has had a rough weekend so far.
- Ovechkin and Backstrom set up Eric Fehr for a nice back door chance but #16, who appeared to have an open net, had his stick tied up by an Oiler defender. Brendan Morrison then was robbed in front by a super glove save.
- Washington received another power play and it was bad again. In fact, the Oilers had the best chance going 2 on 2 after a Morrison giveaway and Neuvirth was forced to make a huge save on Horcoff. I am still not sure what Mike Green was doing there with his hand gesture to Ovechkin inside his own blue line and #52 gave Horcoff way too much room with his bad positioning.
- Neuvirth continued to be solid and he stopped O’Sullivan on a great chance in the slot.
- Edmonton ratcheted things up and had several good shifts in a row and their hard work paid off as they got a fluky goal off of Alzner’s foot to make it 2-0. I am a big Backstrom fan but he flat out got outworked by Ethan Moreau on that shift, although the Edmonton forward did mug him a bit right before the goal.
Analysis: Plain and simple, Edmonton wanted it more and outworked the Caps in that period. Washington continues to want to “play the easy game” by not going hard to the net and not being strong on the boards. That was a pitiful effort and the top line is as guilty as anyone on this team right now. On one play, Ovechkin had the potential to take the puck to the net for a good chance when it appeared he had a lane and instead he went east-west and the Oilers closed on him quickly. Neuvirth is doing his job but a bunch of other guys were in “passenger” mode that period.
End of 3rd Period: Caps 4, Oilers 2
- The big line was put on the ice to start the 3rd period and they went right down and scored as Backstrom set Ovechkin up for a stuff attempt at the left post and after two whacks the Great #8 got it by Deslauries.
- Any momentum gained could go out the window as Poti, instead of moving his feet on defense, used his stick and he held up Gilbert Brule to give Edmonton its first power play of the evening.
- After a super defensive play by Alzner in his own end, he makes a good breakout pass to the Great #8, who goes into the Oiler zone like a freight train and fires one on net. When Deslauries gives up a rebound Ovechkin slaps one home from a bad angle to tie this contest up.
- The first line pressure continued and Ovechkin hit the post. Semin would draw a trip to put Washington back on the power play. When Tom Gilbert shot it into the stands the Caps received a 1:51 five on three advantage. Washington’s PP continued to struggle and the Oilers did a good job of blocking shots but the Caps were making it easier for their opponents by telegraphing their shots.
- Even strength though, would be a better story for Washington as Tomas Fleischmann buried one off of a face-off win (Morrison) after a nice Mike Knuble pass. That was a laser by Flash.
- Fleischmann would take a penalty right off of the face-off after the goal but Washington would kill it off.
- The top line would continue to sizzle and Washington made it 4-2 as Backstrom put in the rebound of a Tyler Sloan shot after Ovechkin & company were just buzzing in the offensive zone.
End of Game Analysis:
Ovechkin flat out took over this game setting the tone on the very first shift of the third period. The Caps were a totally different team in that 3rd period showing energy, drive, and passion and they manhandled the Oilers after Edmonton had dominated the middle period. It was almost as if the Great #8 said, “enough is enough” and he just carried the team in the final stanza on Saturday night. Can you say 3rd straight NHL MVP award?
Kudos to Neuvirth for improving his game this week and getting a much needed win. #30 did his job for 40 minutes allowing the Caps to have a chance despite a subpar middle period. He was very good with his rebound control and he was making the key save. Neither goal by the Oilers was his fault. He is now 3-3 at the NHL level and this one has to be a huge confidence boost for him. Give the Washington coaching staff credit for helping him get to where he needed to be this week in order to help this team get a big victory.
Despite the 2nd Edmonton goal going in off of his skate, Alzner was outstanding tonight. If you go back and watch the Washington second goal you will see his superb defensive play set the whole sequence up. Also, #27 was on the ice in the last minute with Poti so you know where he stands in Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s book. The 2007 5th overall pick in the NHL draft played 19:10 of ice time and the Caps are 7-1 with him in the line-up. He stabilizes the back end.
Fleischmann now has 14 goals and 8 assists in 25 games this year. He had several chances tonight, including a really good one in the first period off of an Alzner shot.
The Caps had 42 shots on net and that was a season high (thanks Caps Media!).
The biggest negative on the night was that the power play continues to struggle. Washington was 0 for 4 and that included an almost full two minutes with a 5 on 3. Usually a team loses when they don’t score in that situation but the Caps were just so good at even strength tonight they were not to be denied.
Washington is now off until Wednesday when they come home to face the Buffalo Sabres.