If you attended or watched the Caps-Flyers contest today, you saw one wild hockey game.
After a strong start by the Capitals, Philadelphia rebounded to tie the game late in the first period, dominated the second frame, and scored two quick goals early in the third period to take a 4-1 advantage. The third of those four goals came from Sean Couturier from the corner and behind the goal line. He shot the puck off of Philipp Grubauer and into the cage for a goal that deflated the Caps and the crowd. Then when Jakub Voracek deflected a Michael Raffl shot home at 3:32 of the final frame (74 seconds after the third goal), it looked like the Flyers would avenge the 7-0 drubbing they took from the Capitals back on November 1st.
But not so fast with the 2013-14 Capitals, who had already come back four times after two periods to win contests this season. The Caps started getting pucks and bodies to the net and Mike Green’s goal with 8:40 left gave Washington life. After a failed power play, the Caps kept the pressure on and Dmitry Orlov lasered one by Steve Mason with 3:31 to go after a face off win and suddenly it was a one goal hockey game. The Verizon Center crowd went nuts and the Capitals kept on coming with wave after wave like they were storming the beaches of Normandy. With Grubauer pulled and the extra attacker on, Mason decided to try and play the puck behind his own net but he gave it right to Joel Ward. #42 then found a streaking Alex Ovechkin in the slot and the Gr8 doesn’t fail in the clutch, snapping one by Mason giving the Capitals their third goal in just under eight minutes to send the game to overtime.
The Caps would go on to win, 2-1, in the gimmick and improve to 18-12-3 (39 points), good for a four point lead over the third place Carolina Hurricanes in the Metropolitan division.
Trying to make sense of this game, quite honestly, makes little sense. Green told me afterwards that the vast swings in play were simply typical momentum shifts you see in games. He said that there are real no answers for it. #52 is probably right.
Both the Caps and the Flyers wanted this game very badly and were giving all they had at various times. Washington did manage to get those last three goals by getting pucks to the point for shots with traffic. Green stated afterwards that the coaches and players noticed that Philly was sagging back and that the forwards were reminded that the defensemen were getting room to shoot. With big guns like Green, John Carlson, and Orlov on the point, it made sense for the Caps to “simplify” as Marcus Johansson (1 goal, 1 assist) called it and get shots with traffic on Mason. Clearly it worked and the Flyers were likely guilty of thinking they had the game won when they were up 3 pucks.
With the Caps offensive skills, they are rarely out of a game these days.
Once the game goes to the skills exhibition, it’s anyone’s to win. However, Grubauer said that he watched video of the two previous shootouts this week and he learned some things from it. He said that his objective was not to commit and make the first move because it gives the shooter an advantage that they often capitalize on. Only world class forward Claude Giroux got one by the German goalie while Eric Fehr and Nicklas Backstrom scored for the Caps in the shootout. Grubauer made 24 saves plus the two shootout stops and is now 3-0-1. He made some great saves at other times during this contest, but would definitely like the second and third goals back. With the Caps going to Philadelphia on Tuesday for round three of the season series, I’d imagine that Braden Holtby gets the nod in the cage given his good record on Broad Street.
As for Ovechkin, he had a sweet pass to set up Johansson for the first goal on the power play and his tying tally was his 27th goal of the season. He had seven shots on net in 25:08 of ice time. He, Green, Johansson, and numerous others were way better than they’d been in Florida on Friday and that was a big reason the Caps came back. The Flyers let off the gas and appeared to run out of energy too. Perhaps they used up too much fuel when they seized the middle portion of the game?
Who knows? Like Green said, there are no easy answers for it.
One thing for sure, though, is this Capitals team has character and does not fold the tent when down. Five of their victories have now come from third period rallies and that is very impressive.
The naysayers will complain about too many wins coming from shootouts or state that they are in a weak division, but this team has been in nearly every game this season. They are still figuring out the best way to play on the back end under Oates’ system and that has been complicated by a rotation of different personnel on defense. The coach told me after the game that he prefers that his defensemen move the puck within the first five feet once they get it, and that has to be an adjustment for guys like Green and Orlov, who like to carry the biscuit. Perhaps that is why #52 has been very up and down this season?
Former Coach Bruce Boudreau called Green the “One Man Breakout” and Orlov has that capability too. But if your head coach doesn’t prefer that style, one would have to think that would cause mistakes and an adjustment period? It’s something to continue to watch as the season progresses. Do the players adhere to Oates’ preferred method or is there a give and take between players and coaches to maximize some seriously strong defensive puck handling ability on the back end that the Caps could and probably should take advantage of? After all, what if Glen Sather told Paul Coffey he couldn’t skate with the puck more than five feet, how would that have worked out in Edmonton?
Oates is a smart hockey mind and I understand why he wants the puck moved up as quickly as possible. If a defensemen is coming with speed, he can pass the puck and then get it back from a player who is further up the ice. The puck moves faster than the players, at least that is the philosophy of the strategy, but if the forwards aren’t open or are being taken away by the opposition then the defensemen certainly have to adjust, right? It’s an interesting topic and I’m guessing that there have been many discussions on it between the head coach, assistant Calle Johansson, and some of the defensemen.
Whatever they end up doing, one thing is for sure: you can’t win hockey games with a bad defense. The Caps need to find a way to maximize the skills they have back there. Carlson and Karl Alzner are playing great hockey but the team needs Green and Orlov to play at a strong level too for Washington to be a puck possession dominating club.
Notes: Mikhail Grabovski didn’t play due to illness and that forced Oates to move Jay Beagle to center Troy Brouwer and Fehr while Michael Latta was recalled from Hershey and centered the fourth line. Nate Schmidt was sent to Chocolatetown to make room for #46, who ended up leaving the game early with a lower body injury. Latta did have a good scrap with Zac Rinaldo in period two. Steve Oleksy fought Wayne Simmonds early in period three, right before the third Philly goal…Washington had the shots on goal advantage, 33-28, but the Flyers won the shot attempt battle, 55-50…Washington was 40-29 from the dot, including some big offensive zone draw wins in the final 10 minutes…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 29:38.