When it comes to third periods, the Washington Capitals own them.
Facing a Minnesota Wild team that was desperate for points, had played the night before in Philadelphia, and had forged a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes, the Caps put the hammer down in the final frame getting Alexander Ovechkin’s 40th goal of the season on the power play, Dmitry Orlov’s game winner via a Harlem Globetrotters type move, and a huge victory clinching save from Braden Holtby with 33 seconds left en route to their 3-2 triumph at the Verizon Center.
Washington once again found themselves in penalty trouble in the first frame, taking three infractions, although the first one on Brooks Oprik was a total joke. The Wild capitalized on the third of those three man advantage situations to forge a 1-0 lead on Mikko Koivu’s shot that went five hole on Holtby. It was the 14th time in the last 17 games that the Capitals allowed the first tally. Their first frame was not very good once the parade to the box began and they were outshot on goal, 12-3, and 22-8 overall in shot attempts. It was an ugly period and Koivu’s tally, with 52 ticks left in the opening frame angered #70.
“Just over anticipating. I think they use a lot of tip plays and different things like that. Karl [Alzner] was in the lane and somehow the puck snuck through there. I need to be tighter there. Those are the plays I’ve been working on lately to solve, you don’t see the puck, but you still make the save. I didn’t do that,” said the Holtbeast afterwards on that first goal.
Coach Barry Trotz was not happy with his team’s play in the opening 20 minutes and he noted following the contest that he told the team they had to fix the problems themselves. It wasn’t about X’s and O’s, it was about playing the right way. In period one, Washington was very sloppy with their passes, they were losing the loose puck battles, and were making poor decisions.
They started the second period with a vengeance and Oprik scored his second goal in four games, and his sixth point in six tilts since returning from a 40 game absence due to injury, just 54 seconds into the middle frame. But another costly mistake on defense allowed Nino Niederreiter to get a breakaway on Holtby and he beat him top shelf at 5:05 of the second to regain the Wild’s one goal lead. After a few more rough minutes, the Capitals started to get their legs going and at the end of the period the shot attempts were 24-23 for Minnesota for those 20 minutes. Trotz told the media after the game that in the second period “we started fixing our battles.”
In the third period, the Caps really amped it up against a club that looked exhausted playing on back to back nights and their third game in four nights. They were also missing their top forward in Zach Parise, who was out due to injury. Ovechkin scored blocker side on Darcy Kuemper (24 saves) with the man advantage after Matt Niskanen gave him an absolutely perfect pass, which was hard to do on this evening. Carrie Underwood held a concert at the Verizon Center on Thursday and the ice was downright horrible. As one member of the media said to me, “It’s no surprise the ice is bad, because Carrie sure can melt some ice.” Isn’t that the truth and the surface was equally bad for both teams? Pucks were bouncing everywhere and skaters were falling down without even being touched.
But Washington fought through that and to their credit, they started owning the loose pucks as their coach preaches to them to do. The Caps had their fore-check going and were relentless in the last 20 minutes of this one. Orlov’s goal came after Andre Burakovsky made a nice cross ice pass to #9 and then he put the biscuit through his legs like he was Curly O’Neal and fired a backhander on the cage that Kuemper allowed to squeeze though his pads with 5:04 remaining.
The Caps then really buckled down and when they needed a big stop, the Holtbeast delivered. It was Braden’s strongest game (30 saves) in recent memory and he did it with his former bench boss, Adam Oates, the man who wanted him to play deeper in his net, in the house (Oates apparently is a paid consultant to Parise and Ryan Suter of the Wild).
The victory was Holtby’s 39th of the season and he is 31-2-3 in his last 38 games. Holtby did have to make several big stops early in this one and he also was run into by Niederreiter in the first frame. All around the league I’ve continued to see players making contact with goaltenders and the infractions are rarely being called. It’s becoming super dangerous to be a goalie these days. Kings Coach Darryl Sutter, just last week, commented on how Jonathan Quick continues to get run when he plays, as well. Following Friday’s win, I asked Holtby about this phenomenon.
“It’s one of those things where you solve the problem, but you create another one by putting the reviews in. There’s no reason for refs to call goalie interference anymore because they know it’s just going to go to review if it’s a goal. You knew that was going to happen and that’s no fault at all of the referees because if they make a mistake with the ability to have a review, then that’s not a good thing either. So we just have to play through it and hope it doesn’t cause any damage,” stated the Holtbeast on the recent trend of goalies getting run over.
My take, the referees need to enforce the rulebook and do a better job of protecting the net minders before some goalie gets seriously hurt.
After this third period domination, and the Caps lead the NHL with 80 third frame goals to just 48 allowed, they move to 45-11-4, good for 94 points. That is just sick and unbelievable and it ties them with the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most wins in a team’s first 60 games in NHL history.
Speaking of sick and unbelievable, how about that Gr8 guy, who now has scored 40 or more goals in eight NHL seasons? Ovechkin became the seventh player in NHL history to record 40 or more goals in eight of his first 11 seasons, joining Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, Marcel Dionne, Brett Hull, and “Lucky” Luc Robitaille. He’s the 10th player in NHL history to post at least eight 40 goal campaigns. Those stats are all courtesy of the Capitals excellent public relations staff.
So now it is on to Chicago to face the Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon at 12:30. GM Stan Bowman is intent on trying to win his fourth Stanley Cup in seven years. On Thursday he traded for forward Andrew Ladd from Winnipeg and then on Friday he added forwards Tomas Fleischmann and Mike Wiese from Montreal and defensemen Christian Ehroff from the Kings (who was in the minors after being waived). Those are some good moves, but it remains to be seen how Coach Joel Quenneville will integrate his new troops. After Friday’s win, Coach Trotz joked that the Caps weren’t even going to pre scout the Hawks for Sunday’s game because they have like eight new guys. Too funny!
Speaking of jokes that are also somewhat serious, Coach Trotz was clearly not thrilled with another bad start and he stated afterwards, with a sly smile, that “we’ll go on a walkabout on Saturday to see if we can find our game.” Clearly the coach who holds everyone accountable is a Crocodile Dundee fan.
Here’s to hoping that on Sunday in Chitown the Caps come out as sharp as Dundee’s knife, for once.
Notes: Orpik had another fantastic game logging 24:44 and going +2. He had eight hits and five blocked shots. #44 is really playing well and his lengthy injury absence has to help Washington for the stretch run because the 35 year old is dealing with much less wear and tear…on the bad news front, John Carlson did not play due to a lower body injury and Coach Trotz confirmed that it is the knee that forced #74 to miss 12 games after Christmas. It remains to be seen if he will need the knee “to be fixed,” but the Caps huge standings point lead and the depth they have on defense, which will increase when Mike Weber joins the team (his wife had a baby on Thursday), allows the club to be extra careful and work to get Carlson right for the post season…Ovechkin had an assist on the Orpik tally and Nicklas Backstrom had two helpers in the game, as well…Sunday in the Windy City starts a stretch where the Capitals will play six games in nine days.
WNST EVENT NOTE: Please come out to Buffalo Wild Wings on Monday night (February 29th) in Belair, Maryland as Nestor Aparacio and I will be interviewing Coach Trotz. There will also be trained personnel in attendance who will be swabbing people for the Bone Marrow Registry in an attempt to continue to fight Leukemia. It’s an easy process, so please come on out, eat some wings, listen to the coach talk hockey, and support a great cause!