The Washington Capitals seven game winning streak came to a tough end in Edmonton on Thursday night as a young Oilers team rode numerous power play chances and the outstanding play of their goaltender to a 2-1 victory. Nikolai Khabibulin, who won a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, was very good and also lucky stopping 34 shots, including 19 in what was an all out Capital assault in third period. The loss drops the Caps to 7-1 and their next game is in Vancouver at 10 pm on Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada.
Here are the highlights and analysis from a contest that saw the Capitals whistled for seven straight minor penalties:
- The Capitals dominated the opening 15 minutes of this game using their superior talent to grab a 1-0 lead on a Karl Alzner point blast. #27 was able to get his first marker of the year because Joel Ward did a great job of screening Khabibulin. Washington could have been up at least another puck in the early going but the Bulin Wall, who had only allowed six goals in six games coming into this tilt, was once again looking like he did in Tampa in 2004.
- Things started to get crazy towards the end of period one when referees Dan O’Halloran and Stephane Auger decided they were going to be the show and proceeded to call a dive on Matt Hendricks, who does not have a reputation for doing that, and then a shaky stick infraction on Hamrlik late in the period. With an Oiler in the box and John Carlson off for a delay of game, Edmonton had a 4 on 3 and their young talent capitalized as Jordan Eberle slid a sweet cross crease pass to 2010 1st overall NHL pick Taylor Hall for a tap in at the right post. The second period would be even more bizarre as the Caps were sent to the box five more times and a Troy Brouwer hooking penalty would allow the game winner. This time it was Eberle who got the goal on a rebound tally. Shawn Horcoff was screening Tomas Vokoun (17 saves) and the Corey Potter (2 assists) point shot bounced off of the goalie’s pad where #14 deposited it into a vacant cage. Edmonton would then get a 5 on 3 after that but the Caps did a super job of not allowing the Oilers to get many shots. In fact, after two periods the Caps, despite the manpower advantage at that point being 8-1 in favor of the Oilers, were still outshooting Edmonton 16-13.
- In the final stanza the Capitals stormed the castle and did a lot of good things but it was the former Stanley Cup winner’s night. Washington had three power plays in the final 20 minutes as a result of being all over the Oilers but they could not convert. Dennis Wideman hit the pipe late in the game and Brouwer had a glorious chance from the slot but he hit Khabibulin in the Oiler logo.
- Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom ended up having Brooks Laich on their line in the third period and they were all over the ice. It is clear that both the Gr8 and #19 are in much better condition this season than last. If there was a big complaint tonight, besides the uneven and at times nauseating officiating, it was Washington’s power play, especially late in the game. The point men were unable to get shots through. I’ll give the Oilers some credit there and also the absence of Mike Green, who missed the game due to an ankle injury he suffered last Saturday night, played a big role in the lack of productivity. Washington also struggled with their breakouts without #52, who also came into this season in outstanding condition.
- In summary, it was a fun streak to start the season and it was clear that the Capitals players did not want it to end. They played hard but they need to adjust their game when the zebras start over focusing on stick infractions (although some of those calls were totally bogus, like the holding call on Alzner). Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau will see several things he will like on the film from the first part of the game and the last period. I would have liked to have seen Washington do more cycling of the puck down low, because when they did that they generated chances, but it was hard for them to do that when they spent nearly the entire second period in the penalty box. When the Caps play 5 on 5 hockey they are the best team in the league, but tonight the guys in the striped shirts didn’t want to see that. Oh well, on to Vancouver.
Notes: Alexander Semin had his second straight poor outing. #28 shied away from contact and just looked out of sync…Edmonton went 2 for 8 on the power play while the Caps were 0 for 4…the Capitals won the faceoff battle 29-24 with Jeff Halpern going 6-1 and Backstrom winning 11 of 17 draws…the attempted shot tally was 76-38 in favor of Washington…Sean Collins was recalled from Hershey and took Green’s spot in the lineup.