Alexander Ovechkin scored the game winning goal in overtime on one of his patented highlight reel type of plays after he and newly acquired Jason Arnott set up Brooks Laich with just under 48 ticks left in regulation for the tying tally to give the Washington Capitals a much needed win on home ice on Tuesday night. The Caps, who hadn’t scored a goal at home since February 12th (nearly three games ago) and were in danger of being shut out at the Verizon Center for the third time in four games, rallied for the 2-1 victory over a young, fast, and pesky New York Islanders squad. Michal Neuvirth was outstanding stopping 28 shots in net, including several quality opportunities. The Capitals are now 34-20-10 (78 points) and are three points behind the Southeast Division leading Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bolts do have two games in hand on Washington.
Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis of an overtime win that snaps a streak of eight straight OT/shootout losses for Washington:
– As expected with the three new acquisitions all in the lineup, Arnott, Marco Sturm, and Dennis Wideman, the Capitals came out on fire. Sturm had an early breakaway that was stopped by Islanders goalie Nathan Lawson (40 saves) and Arnott nearly scored in tight off of a super centering pass from Laich. Washington would dominate and grab an early 10-1 lead in shots but they could not score.
“It was very similar to the game [Saturday night at the New York Islanders]. We had nine shots [early] and two breakaways and when we don’t score I’m going, ‘Uh oh.’,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on what he was thinking when his club could not convert on some of their early chances.
– As Boudreau alluded to above, not scoring after dominating the opening portion of the game is usually a very bad omen. Then after John Erskine took a bad interference penalty at 15:01, the New Yorkers carried the rest of the period and closed the shot tally to 11-7. Neuvirth made some decent saves on the Islander power play and the Caps were fortunate not to be two men down when John Tavares was cross checked from behind on one sequence. In period two, the Caps would have 17 shots on net but they were of the typical perimeter variety while New York patiently used their trapping neutral zone style to force Washington into turnovers. Coach Jack Capuano’s strategy eventually paid off as Matt Moulson scored on the second of two odd man rushes within 30 seconds in the middle frame. John Carlson, who just looks dog tired on the ice right now after playing so many minutes with Mike Green out injured, turned the puck over to Tavares. #91 gave it to Patrick Parenteau who made a nice cross slot pass to Moulson that Karl Alzner couldn’t cut off and #26 buried it through a sliding Neuvirth. Anyone watching the game could see that marker coming as the Caps had gotten lazy and weren’t moving their feet or playing smart. That has to change if this team is going to go deep in the playoffs.
“They were just waiting for our mistakes. Every turn over, they had an odd-man rush. That’s the game I don’t like to play, but that’s what it is sometimes,” said a seemingly frustrated Neuvirth on how his squad played in front of him. And guess what? He’s right!
– In the 3rd period, it was much of the same and the Caps were so bad on the power play once again, that they only generated a single shot on goal (Wideman) after the Islanders appeared to take a costly too many men on the ice penalty. Washington was 0 for 2 with the man advantage and it seems like they are losing the face-off to start each opportunity and then they struggle to get set up in the offensive zone. Awful, awful, awful is the only way I can describe the power play right now. The current set up is not working at all.
– Things appeared to be bleak when Nicklas Backstrom took two lazy holding penalties in the last 10 minutes but the shorthanded unit continues to be a big area of improvement this season and they stopped both Islanders power plays and all four on the game. The biggest reason for that was Neuvirth who was calm, positionally sound in his cage, and did not give up many rebounds in this contest.
“I’m just focusing on my game and trying to stop every shot and hoping that the guys are going to get one and two and that’s what we did tonight. It’s a huge win for us. It’s good to win for our fans,” added #30 on why he is having success.
– I thought all three of the new guys had good outings, especially Arnott (1 assist in 16:19 of ice time) and Wideman (team leading 26:44 of time and +2). #44 is so big up front that he is hard to move on the boards, something that is a huge upgrade over the smaller players who have tried that 2nd line center hole all season. In addition, Laich seemed to really have some chemistry with Arnott and looked like a power winger again, like he did last Saturday night on Long Island. Even Alexander Semin had some chances but he still is struggling to hit the net. He had a glorious opportunity to tie this one up in the third period but fired high over the cage.
– Boudreau commented after the contest that this was the first time all season long that the Caps have scored with the goalie pulled.
“I thought it was very important [for morale]. We scored one goal in 11 periods at home. It’s important to get the idea that teams can’t come into this building and win so easily,” said Boudreau.
Yes, it was a nice win, but as Arnott told Jill Sorenson of Comcast afterwards, this team has a lot of work to do if they want to win in April and beyond. Sorenson said that #44 made it clear that there are things that need fixing on this team and he won’t be afraid to speak up, that is why they brought him here. AMEN, I say, some of these young guys need a swift kick in the pants and have to realize that hard work is what wins hockey games. Too often this Capitals club thinks it can get by on talent and a young, speedy team like the Islanders, who work hard, nearly defeated them on this night. The win was good because it takes some pressure of the Caps and perhaps they can relax a bit at the Verizon Center and just play. But no one should be thrilled with that overall performance on Tuesday night. Fortunately there are 18 more games to get this all worked out before things really count, and let’s hope Arnott lives up to what he told Sorenson tonight.
Notes: With Semyon Varlamov still out with a lower body injury (believed to a be a knee), Todd Ford was recalled from Hershey and served as the backup goalie…Washington lost the face-off battle, 36-31. Arnott was 4-10 and Sturm was 2-6. Boyd Gordon won 11 of 17 draws taking over Dave Steckel’s old role…Neuvirth is 20-10-4 this season and is just one win away from the Capitals rookie record (Bob Mason had 20 in 1986-87)…Ovechkin leads the NHL with nine game winning tallies and Capuano described the winning marker as follows: “Just world class skill on the last goal”…next up for the Caps are the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night at 7pm at the Verizon Center. The Blues were just shut out by Mikka Kiprusoff of the Calgary Flames in a home and home series.