You know that sports story about the guy who was benched the game before coming back the next time out and being the hero? Well that happened on Thursday night at the Verizon Center as Jason Chimera scored the game winning goal in overtime to give the Washington Capitals a 4-3 victory against a scrappy Columbus Blue Jackets squad after being scratched in Tuesday’s shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. #25 took the rebound of a Brooks Laich shot and potted it at the door step against his old club at 2:30 of extra time to improve the Caps record to 45-22-11 (101 points). This is the third-straight season the Capitals have reached the 100-point plateau and the only other time Washington has recorded three consecutive 100-point seasons was from 1983-84 through 1985-86. Tampa Bay defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins on this night so the Caps need any combination of points for or Bolts points lost that totals to four to clinch their fourth consecutive Southeast Division title. In addition, they pulled within one point of Eastern Conference leading Philadelphia, but the Flyers have a game in hand.
Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis of a contest in which Washington played nearly the last 40 minutes or so with just five defensemen due to John Erskine’s injury:
- This game was an up and down performance by the Caps and they did do some good things, like forwards going to the net for the tough, in traffic tallies. All four Washington goals came from in front or in the slot. John Carlson scored first on a rebound of a Laich shot, the second marker came from Mike Knuble at the top of the crease after Alexander Ovechkin (1 assist, +1 in 20:51 of ice time) set up Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist, +1 in 21:42) for a shot in the high slot, Jason Arnott then notched his 16th goal of the season by finding open space in the slot and burying a nice feed from Marco Sturm, and then you had #25′s tap in for the win.
- On the down side, the Capitals were sloppy in their own end quite a bit and two of the three goals allowed were from defensive zone breakdowns. Columbus’ first goal was the result of Matt Calvert beating Karl Alzner out of the corner and when Carlson went to challenge #11, Calvert banged the biscuit off of Michal Neuvirth (20 saves) and into the slot where Antoine Vermette beat Boyd Gordon to the puck and deposited it in the cage. The Blue Jackets second tally was aided by linesman David Brisebois picking Scott Hannan off while he was covering Tomas Kubalik in the left wing circle and that gave #33 time to find a charging Fedor Tyutin who put a point shot by #30 short side. That shot may have been tipped, which threw the young Czech goalie off. Finally, the Jackets tied the game with 5:37 left in regulation when Alzner and Sturm both seemed to think the other had Scottie Upshall in the right wing circle, and when #9 shook free he fired one past a seemingly stunned Neuvirth. The play away from the puck by Washington was something that Arnott commented on after this tilt.
“We definitely need work. In our own zone, little things, panicking with the puck too much. It all comes with confidence and everything and we got a few key defensemen out right now that can move the puck real well and can skate. I think everybody’s just got to chip in a little extra for us. But our zone, we have to clean up our own zone and its’ starts tomorrow with the video and try and correct it and come out with a better effort to back our goaltender up,” added a straightforward #44, who has become a major team leader since coming over on NHL trade deadline day (February 28th).
“Tonight we had a lot to learn. We talked about it before the game that this was an important thing about playing away from the puck and I thought we weren’t that good at it. So it will be hopefully a learning session tomorrow watching the video,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau when asked for his take on Arnott’s post game comments.
- The two blue liners that Arnott was referring to are Mike Green, who has been out since February 25th due to a concussion, and Dennis Wideman, who was injured on Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes on a hit from Tuomo Ruutu. TSN’s Bob McKenzie tweeted tonight that #6 is in the hospital with a hematoma and the deadline day acquisition is out indefinitely. Knuble mentioned that Wideman had sent teammates some gruesome photos (h/t to Katie Carrera of The Washington Post) of the injury. Based on what I could gather from media members and then talking with a medical doctor there are A LOT of variables to this injury. A hematoma is basically a blood bruise and they are sometimes opened up to relieve pressure. Healing time depends primarily on how deep and large of an incision was made. The good news is that this is not a broken bone or ligament injury. In fact, Wideman could likely be able to work out with this injury once cleared and can stay in shape without contact. Given that the playoffs are two weeks away, it is highly possible he won’t play the rest of the regular season. It is far too early to tell if he will be able to play game one of the post season but again, the fact that this is not a bone or ligament issue is a good thing, according to the doctor I spoke with following the victory. As for #52, there was talk that he could take part in his first practice with the team on Friday. Green has been skating all week on his own before the rest of the Caps have begun their full sessions.
- Erkine got into a bout with Jared Boll, the player who injured Ovechkin on November 1st of 2009 . #4 pounded #40 but he only played one shift afterwards. Boudreau quickly dismissed any hand injury and said that the physical defenseman is day to day and was held out for precautionary reasons.
“It happens to everybody. Everybody’s got injuries. I’ve been on a lot of winning teams and they’ve had to fight with more guys being out than we have,” commented Boudreau when asked about the rash of injuries occurring this close to the post season.
- Jeff Schultz had a solid outing going +2 in 26:35 of ice time. #55 was very strong in the first period and was more physical than usual. With so many of the Caps top d-men out the club will need Sarge to get back to playing at the level he was at in 2009-10 when he lead the NHL in plus/minus at +50. Thursday night was an encouraging step for a d-man who has struggled, at times, this season.
- The Capitals top line was their best on the night, especially in the first two frames when the Caps had a 27-15 shots advantage. Ovechkin was buzzing all evening and narrowly missed notching his 30th goal of the season. I also thought Laich turned in a superb game. Alexander Semin was held off the scoresheet in 18:54 and he had a golden chance early in the contest and then kind of disappeared. He did get to take the first shift in the overtime period after being benched for the extra session on Tuesday following his bad penalty late in regulation. Washington has to hope that #28 ramps his game up in the post season. Too many times tonight he fumbled the puck or fell to the ice without cause or barely being touched. It is one of the reasons that he doesn’t draw as many penalties as he should, the referees see him going down so easy that sometimes they overlook when a penalty really is warranted.
- Speaking of penalties, there were only three minors called on this night and two of them overlapped. As a result this was mostly an even strength affair with the Caps having 41 seconds of man advantage time while the Blue Jackets logged 2:41 on the power play. Neither team scored during that time.
“That seems normal for us. I mean if you look, I think we’re, I didn’t look today, but I thought we had the second fewest power play opportunities in the league and in the upper third of penalties being called [against], so I think there is quite a discrepancy there,” added Boudreau when I mentioned that he didn’t get much time to work on his power play in the game on Thursday.
- At the end of the day, the Caps received a big two points but the injuries on the blue line are becoming a concern. Columbus plays a much more aggressive style under first year coach Scott Arniel, and as a result the shorthanded Washington defense struggled in numerous situations.
“Yes, and add to the fact that that is a really good forechecking team and they came at us and for two periods we only had five D and [that] didn’t help,” finished Boudreau when asked if his team struggled to move the puck out of their own zone versus Columbus.
Notes: Columbus won the faceoff battle, 32-26. Backstrom was 10-7 to lead the Caps…Hannan led the Capitals in ice time with 28:19 and was +2…Washington’s 4th line did not have one of their better tilts going -1. The holding call on Matt Hendricks, however, was pure nonsense and should have been a hook the other way…Tyler Sloan was -1 in 12:55 on the back line, not good, but Boudreau mentioned he was likely tired from lack of recent game time…Ovechkin led the team in shots with five but was not credited with a hit…the Caps are tied for second in the league in penalty kill percentage (86.2%)…next up for Washington are the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night at the Verizon Center at 7 pm. Buffalo is in a dogfight for a playoff spot.