Alexander Ovechkin notched his second straight hat trick to reach 28 goals in just 31 games and Jakub Vrana scored in the sixth round of the shootout to propel the Washington Capitals to a wild come from behind, 6-5, triumph over the Carolina Hurricanes. Braden Holtby, who yielded three power play goals, the last of which came on his own giveaway to Justin Williams, redeemed himself with some stellar work in the shootout allowing only one goal on six shots to give the Caps their fourth straight win. Washington is now 19-9-3 and lead second place Columbus by five points and third place Pittsburgh by seven with 51 games to go.
What a crazy and sloppy game, there are no two ways about that!
In addition, Chris Rooney and Brian Pochmara were downright horrible as your zebra duo on Friday night. They called some phantom penalties, such as the holding call on Ovi in period two and also didn’t call some obvious ones, like the Jonas Siegenthaler interference right before the Gr8’s second goal that made it 4-3. Simply put, the guys in stripes continue to struggle badly in this league so Gary Bettman and company need to stop counting their money and get on the task of fixing the poor officiating because it could ruin what is currently a very good product.
Rod Langway used to tell me back in the 80’s that everything starts with the goaltending and the defense and builds out from there. For the Caps, that is usually a strong point of their team, but for some reason in Raleigh they were off all over the place on the back end. The blueliners struggled with making passes nearly all night (perhaps it was what appeared to be bad ice?) and that put Washington on their heels quite a bit in period one. As a result, Holtby never really looked fully confident in the cage until the shootout.
John Carlson had three assists in this tilt and was +1, but he misplayed a puck on the Caps first power play in period one that took a crazy bounce to lead to a Sebastian Aho (two goals, two assists) goal on a Canes two on zero break. That shorty gave Carolina a 2-1 first period lead. After the ridiculous call on Ovi was converted by the Corsi Canes to make it 3-1, Tom Wilson took a bad interference penalty in front of the net and then Teuvo Teravainen scored on the power play to increase the lead for the home squad to three pucks with just over 33 minutes remaining.
Credit the Capitals for not quitting and when Wilson scored on the rebound of an Evgeny Kuznetsov (1 assist) shot with 7:23 remaining in period two, you could feel the momentum shift. Carolina had played the night before in Montreal and, according to the great Craig Laughlin, did not get back in town until 3 am so you knew their tanks had to be running low. Washington caught fire and Ovi made it 4-3 with 2:35 left in period two on the play where the zebras missed blatant interference on Seigenthaler. Hey, the Bad Zebras taketh and sometimes they giveth!
Just 44 seconds later, Nic Dowd picked up his third assist of the night by feeding John Carlson at the right point. Carlson fired on net and Travis Boyd was “Johnny on the Spot” in front and tipped the puck by Scott Darling (24 saves) for his third goal of the season. Suddenly, this was a brand new hockey game. Carolina almost took the lead back right at the end of the period, but the Holtbeast made a ten bell save with just over a second left.
In the final frame, the Caps power play, which was 0 for 1 while allowing a shorthanded tally, finally clicked. As I mentioned earlier, Carlson didn’t have his best night in his own zone, but the pass he made on the power play to Ovechkin to give the Capitals a 5-4 lead in the third period was as perfect as it gets.
Up by a puck with 10:11 to go, Washington started locking things down, and then T.J. Oshie took a careless offensive zone high sticking penalty to put the Canes on the man advantage. At that point they were two for four, but the Capitals were well on their way to killing this one off when Holtby made a mental error and tried to clear the puck out of the zone by himself from behind his cage. Unfortunately his attempt caught the back of the net and bounced right to Stick at the right post and Justin tapped it in to tie things up with 6:12 remaining.
Darling would rob Kuznetsov late in regulation after a super pass by Wilson and off to overtime this affair went. The Caps had puck possession early and Willy nearly won it, but missed the net high from in tight. Matt Niskanen was then boxed for tripping with 1:35 remaining, but it was another brutal call. The Capitals would kill it off and managed to not get Rooney Tuned into a loss. Again, boy was the officiating just plain bad in this affair!
In the gimmick, the first three shooters on each side could not connect with each goalie playing very well. Dougie Hamilton then scored on Braden using the Peter Forsberg move, but All Star Nicklas Backstrom answered for Washington. Holtby stopped the next two shooters before Vrana, who has been working his tail off to get better, sped in and beat Darling to end this wild and crazy game.
The bright spots for the Capitals were Ovechkin, of course, but also a fourth line that just keeps making positive things happen for Washington. Every time the team needed a momentum shift or energy boost, that unit brought it. On the night, Dowd (+3) had the three assists, Boyd (+2) had the tying goal late in period two, and Dmitrij Jaskin (+1) won a lot of individual and wall battles. The way they are going, there is just no way Coach Todd Reirden can break them up anytime in the near future.
This was not a pretty game and the Capitals had a schedule advantage getting what should’ve been a tired Canes team. Carolina, however, played hard and could’ve won. Washington did not have their best stuff, it wasn’t even close, but they found a way to win and that is what great teams do – come out on top when they don’t have anywhere near their “A” game.
As for Ovechkin, well everyone should just really enjoy what they are seeing from him. As Coach Reirden said in his post game presser, Alex is playing his best regular season hockey in recent years and just as importantly, his leadership has been stellar. The Caps bench boss, who is doing a fantastic job after taking over for Barry Trotz, said that it was the Gr8 who kept the bench up at the game’s midpoint when they were down three pucks. The 33 year old Stanley Cup Champion is truly a special player that is not sitting on his laurels, at all, and we are all blessed to watch him play game in and game out.
Notes: Ovechkin had 12 shot attempts in 21:10 of ice time…Wilson played 15:37 in his first game back from the concussion he suffered via the cheap shot hit by Ryan Reaves of Vegas on Tuesday, December 4th…Madison Bowey took two penalties in period one and was beaten several times, but at the end of the night he came out a +2 in 13:13 of ice time. Playing defense at the NHL level is the hardest position to learn for a young player so there will be mistakes. He’s has a lot of talent, but he’s played less than 82 games in “The Show.” Consistency has been an issue for #22 so far, but time is on his side…Defensemen Christian Djoos is out for a significant number of weeks, according to Coach Reirden, due to an emergency surgery he had to have on his thigh following Tuesday’s game. Siegenthaler played in #29’s absence. Brooks Orpik is back skating, but probably won’t be ready for at least another week or so, meaning a defensemen will need to be called up from Hershey for insurance. That will likely be Tyler Lewington…shots on goal were 29-27, but the Corsi Canes came out ahead in the shot attempts tally, 64-62…Carolina won the face off battle, 35-25. Dowd was 6-3 for Washington…the Caps were 1 for 2 on the power play while Carolina was 3 for 6. They also had a shorthanded goal, so it was not a good special teams night for the Capitals…next up for the Capitals are the Buffalo Sabres at 7 pm on Saturday night at Capital One Arena. The Sabres are 19-9-4 and off to a great start with Carter Hutton in net and former Cane, Jeff Skinner, leading the team in goals with 22. Jack Eichel is also playing some stellar hockey. Buffalo gets the schedule advantage in this one, so the Caps have their work cut out for themselves on Saturday.