The Ottawa Senators defeated the Washington Capitals, 2-1, in overtime, in a game that meant nothing in terms of playoff seeding to the Caps but was ultra important for the Sens post season chances.
With one team being desperate while the other was hoping to win, but more importantly, not sustain any injuries, it was not a surprise that Ottawa was the club that had more net presence for the majority of the contest. With NHL goalies being as good as they are these days, it made sense that the Sens came out on top given their willingness to crash the crease.
Crash is the operative word there. The scrappy Senators, who are offensively challenged with number one forward Jason Spezza out due to a back injury, know that in order to score goals they have to get the puck to their star offensive defensemen, Sergei Gonchar and Erik Karlsson, and blast the biscuit away with traffic in front. They must try to get the opposing goalie off of his game by getting in his grill and initiating contact when they can. On Thursday night they were very good at doing that.
On the flip side, the Capitals knew this was coming and were prepared to do what they could to stand up for their goaltender, Michal Neuvirth. Unfortunately for Washington, their keeper protection tactics were not allowed on this night by referees Tim Peel and Kevin Pollock. Late in the first period in which the Caps carried the play and the scoring chances but only received one power play, Matt Hendricks was whistled for a very questionable roughing penalty while trying to protect Neuvy after one of his 41 saves on the evening. Hendricks shouldered Sens forward Erik Condra and he lost his balance and fell into the net. Nearly 100 times out of a 100, that is not a penalty, but Pollock and Peel felt otherwise.
Suddenly a precedence was set. Ottawa basically had the green light to poke or contact Neuvirth with the comfort of knowing they weren’t going to the box. Even Daniel Alfredsson, one of the cleanest players in the league, realized he could take some liberties so it seemed that whistle after whistle the Capitals were forced to push Ottawa players away from their net minder. Ottawa even had a goal disallowed for contacting Neuvirth before the puck went in (not sure why the Caps didn’t get a power play out of that considering there was physical contact with #30 by Ottawa?). Add in the fact that some ticky tack calls went against Alexander Ovechkin and Mike Green after similar things were let go on the Senators in the first period and the frustration started building on the Washington side. The result was a five to one power play discrepancy and for the second time in three games against each other, Paul Maclean’s team scored the game winner on a late power play tally.
Afterwards both Karl Alzner and Ovechkin, who scored his league leading 32nd goal on a sweet move after a nifty pass from Marcus Johansson, admitted that getting called for penalties when they were trying to protect Neuvirth was frustrating. Even Coach Adam Oates, who fielded several questions about the players losing their cool and retaliating, smartly took the fifth when asked about the curious call on Hendricks that set the tone for the remaining 40 minutes.
But in the NHL you are going to have nights where the game is not called in your favor, although it seems that tends to be the norm these days for Washington, so you have to rise above the frustration and play to the whistle. However, what is pleasing is how this club sticks up for one another, especially their goaltender. The Caps players should take pride in that despite how Peel and Pollock called the contest. Sticking together is how they overcame adversity this season and won the Southeast division title.
In the end, the Caps lost a game tonight, but given that they didn’t have much to play for and mostly avoided going to the net to prevent getting hit with their own shots, it isn’t something to be too concerned about. Ottawa is a potential first round matchup now (they are currently in the 6th spot) and even though the Sens were 3-0 against the Caps, they all were close games. The Senators were a desperate club on Thursday and still had to get some help from the guys in the stripes to win the contest.
But Washington still has momentum and they continue to play as a team. There is one more game to go against Boston on Saturday night before the real season begins next week.
Notes: The Caps still could play any of Ottawa, Toronto, the Islanders, or the Rangers in the first round…the Capitals won the faceoff battle heavily, 41-28, with Hendricks going 6-0…Ottawa had more shot attempts, 68-43, but they had five power plays while Washington only had one.