The Washington Capitals dominated the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night, yet because of a late phantom major on Tom Wilson and some great goaltending from Andrew Hammond, the Caps had to escape a Sens charge in the last five minutes and hold on for a 2-1 victory.
Braden Holtby made 26 saves and Michael Latta, responding to a healthy scratch in Pittsburgh, added a goal and an assist in just 7:29 of ice time as Washington built a 2-0 lead through 40 minutes. The Holtbeast is now 12-0-1 in his last 13 games. His stats during the streak are a 1.67 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage. Wow!
But on this night, Holtby wasn’t the biggest reason the Capitals won. Don’t get me wrong, #70 is in the zone and played a big factor, you always need strong goaltending, but Washington was superb in its’ ability to support each other on the ice to take away opposition space and they routinely won the loose puck battles. Their only real lulls came in the middle frame, but after it was 2-0.
In the third period, the Caps were outstanding thwarting the speedy Senators rush and holding them to just three shots on goal until just five minutes were remaining. But then with 4:40 to go, Wilson, who was back checking, made contact with Curtis Lazar and the small forward, who was bent over, had his head fly back and he appeared to suffer whiplash. It was a totally clean hit, but after Chris Neil body slammed #43 to the ice the referees, Wes McCauley and rookie Jon McIsaac, erroneously called Willy for a match penalty. They did give Neil two minutes, although he deserved more, and that gave Ottawa a three minute “score as often as needed” power play. The Sens would get a quick goal and seven total shots on goal during that power play, but the Caps held on for the win, not allowing a single Senators shot on Holtby over the last 1:40, when the penalty expired, to get their 22nd victory of the season.
Unfortunately, the Caps great effort will be overshadowed and tainted by this terrible call. Once the referees and the league see the replay they will admit the mistake and strip Wilson of the match penalty, which carries an automatic suspension and review. It’s too bad that the zebras missed this so badly at real speed and also couldn’t benefit from replay, in that instance.
Afterwards, the Caps made #43 available to the media and the 21 year old gave a thorough and intelligent explanation, as Alan May pointed out on Comcast in the post game show. Wilson noted that he was just doing what he was taught, to take away Lazar’s space, and that he wasn’t even trying to hit him. He noted that the major point of contact was at the hip and then his shoulder came in on Lazar. Bottom line, if you look at the play, Lazar was bent over with the puck, Wilson makes side contact with him, but nowhere near the head, and then the physics of the situation take over. Wilson is 6 foot four and 220 pounds and Lazar is six feet and 189 pounds. Add in the angle at which Lazar was skating and it’s no wonder he got whiplash.
In the post game on Comcast, Caps announcer Craig Laughlin stated “I think Tom Wilson is being targeted.” That is bang on and it’s a terrible “reputation” call. As I predicted after the 30 Thoughts column came out last month, the referees would read that stuff and be influenced. The way things have been terribly called against Big Tom since then certainly backs my premise up.
Overall, the Capitals played a much tighter game than we’ve seen recently. As Caps reporter Mike Vogel pointed out beforehand, the Caps had allowed over 30 shots on goal in eight of their last 12 games. On Wednesday, it was only 27 against and as mentioned above, seven of those came on the incorrect Wilson major penalty power play. Washington was much more structured versus a speedy Ottawa team that typically gives them fits because of their skating ability. That was not the case in this one and the Capitals dominated the quality chances, including a big save by Hammond on Alex Ovechkin in the third period after the Gr8 went around two time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson like an orange road cone.
Washington is now 22-6-2 (46 points) and has a four point lead over the Rangers and five point lead over the Islanders in the Metropolitan Division. They have two games in hand on both squads. They also lead the Eastern Conference by three points over the Montreal Canadiens and have two games in hand on the Habs, as well.
Next up are the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Verizon Center on Friday night. Hopefully the NHL will see the error in the Wilson call and Willy will be able to play against a tough Bolts squad.
Notes: Coach Barry Trotz disagreed with the Wilson call following the contest, as well…Trotz and his staff did a really nice job of spreading the defensive minutes out on Wednesday. Matt Niskanen led the way with 23:53, but the lowest blue line total, for Taylor Chorney, was 14:46. That’s good stuff because the top two defensive pairs had been logging a lot of time lately at the expense of the third pairing and that can increase the chance of injury…John Carlson had the GWG after Latta’s neutral zone takeaway allowed Justin Williams to set up #74 with a sweet feed that Captain America buried…Andre Burakovsky only logged 7:33 but I thought he was strong on the puck and playing the way he needs to and I see a goal in his future very soon…the faceoff battle was even-steven at 26 apiece…the Caps had 25 shots on goal and were 0 for 2 with the power play. Ottawa was 1 for 3 with the man advantage…the Capitals wore their new third jerseys, which were the road uniforms they wore back in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, and they looked fabulous!