Historic season hangs by a thread.
Even Michael Phelps Couldn’t Win This For the Caps…
This bunch was the closest thing the Caps had to a Dream Team tonight, with Chimera, Ward, and Erat combining for five points between them. (All Photos Credit: M. Richter)
On an evening that felt more like June than December, the Washington Capitals faced the New Jersey Devils for the first time this season. Despite having Olympic Champion Michael Phelps in house to cheer them on, the Caps fell to the Devils 5-4 in overtime after giving up repeated two-goal leads. It’s only the fourth time this season that the Caps have lost when failing to reach a decision in regulation, and the first time such a loss has occurred on home ice.
Tonight’s scoring, impressive though a nine-goal combined total might be, went in very distinct phases that seemed to coincide with whomever was defending the “Home” goal. First period belonged to the Devils, second to the Caps, and then the third (and OT) went again to New Jersey.
Sharing the Wealth
While they may have jumped to a two goal lead repeatedly over the course of the game, the Caps as a group got off to remarkably a slow start. They didn’t manage to break onto the scoresheet (with the exception of Tom Wilson’s high-sticking penalty) until midway through the second period, when Jason Chimera tied the game at 1-1 (with help from Martin Erat & Joel Ward). Ward went on to have a solid evening, scoring Washington’s third goal and giving the team a comfortable two-goal lead, and building on Mikhail Grabovski‘s go-ahead goal just five minutes earlier (helpers from Eric Fehr & Troy Brouwer). Unfortunately, that was where the fun ended, and the scoring pendulum swung back to the Devils in the third period .
The Great 8: Keeps On Keeping On
It took until the third period, but Alex Ovechkin did snag his thirtieth goal on the season tonight (making him the only NHL player with a thirty goals/season for each year since 2005-6). It was a fitting response to the crowd’s earlier standing ovation in response to an announcement about last night’s 400th career goal. It just didn’t have the staying power that one might have hoped for. The tally should have been the final nail in the Devils’ coffin, since it increased Washington’s lead to 4-2 with just twelve minutes left in regulation. Instead, the Devils kicked things into gear just 1:21 after Ovi’s goal and wrangled an overtime victory from Washington’s inconsistent defense.
We All Fall Down
The penalty kill was not kind to the Capitals tonight, with New Jersey’s first two goals coming while on the man advantage (it should be noted that they only had two attempts, an impressive feat of restraint on the part of the Caps, who rank 27th in the league for least penalty minutes – they’ve earned almost twice as many as the Devils so far this season).
In contrast, Washington’s own power play had only one crack at goaltender Martin Brodeur (New Jersey ranks first in the league for least-penalties), and they failed to capitalize on it. Poor rebound control was also a factor in Braden Holtby’s unhappy evening, resulting in five goals on thirty-seven shots against in his second loss in as many starts (and third consecutive poor showing). Holtby was by no means alone on the ice, but he certainly bears some of the blame for the evening’s late negative turn.
With just a single game remaining before the NHL’s Christmas break, the Caps will have their work cut out for them if they intend to take any positive momentum into their vacation. They play the top-ranked Anaheim Ducks on Monday, a team currently 15 points ahead of them in the standings and riding an eight-game winning streak.