The Capitals returned home for a very brief home stand after their road trip to Canada, this time hosting the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday December 8. They had ended their previous week in first place in the Metropolitan Division but the New York Rangers had moved back into first while the Caps were idle. After that, the team took a road trip to Florida, featuring games with the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Florida on Thursday December 10 and one in Tampa Bay on December 12. This trip to Florida also featured the annual Dads’ trip where the fathers and other mentors of the players and of other team personnel would travel with them, see the games, and partake in other activities, with or without their sons.
Capitals vs Detroit Red Wings (December 8)
The Capitals came out flying in that game, with Justin Williams scoring less than a minute into the contest, earning the 600th point of his NHL career.
However, Detroit tied up the game, with about 4 ½ minutes left to go in the first period. Detroit pulled ahead just over three minutes into the second period, making the score 2-1, where it remained throughout the period and for just over half of the third period. At 10:51 Alex Ovechkin scored the equalizer on the Caps’ fourth power play of the game.
The Caps had previously had three power plays and had not been able to convert on any of them. The score remained at 2 apiece as it went into Overtime. It was a scary moment for the Caps when Ovechkin took a penalty about half way through the overtime period (and Caps fans could not help but think, “Our Captain giveth but he taketh away”). Fortunately for the Caps, they killed off to the penalty. Detroit ended up getting a penalty with only a half-minute to go in the overtime period but the Caps were not able to convert on that brief power play. So the game proceeded to a shootout. Detroit used two shooters, Nyquist and Datsyuk, but neither could score against Holtby. Meanwhile, the Caps used T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov and they both converted so the Caps won the game.
Overall, this was a game where the Caps outshot Detroit, getting 40 shots to Detroit’s 23. The Caps’ shot total was aided by the discrepancies in power plays awarded. But their goalie, Jimmy Howard, seemed to take over where Petr Mrazek left off in the team’s previous two meetings against that team, stopping nearly every shot made by the Caps. This was a game where, in spite of not scoring at even strength, the top line was the Caps’ best line, but it was a poor game from the bottom line and bottom defense pairing, with Orlov, Chorney, Latta, and Laich all on the ice for both goals against while Wilson and Burakovsky were each on the ice for one. The advanced statistics highlighted this fact as well, with low Corsi For and Fenwick For percentages for them. Before the game, the organization and fans were worried that Karl Alzner would not be able to play in this particular game, as he had left the game against Winnipeg the previous week and had not practiced on Monday. Marcus Johansson, who had missed the previous game, returned to the lineup for this particular game.
This was a game with milestones, including the 200th game played by Braden Holtby and the 600th game played by Nicklas Backstrom. In addition, Red Wings Center, Pavel Datsyuk played in his 900th NHL game. Justin Williams’ goal was his 600th NHL point.
Period 1 – 0:43 Justin Williams (8) — Assists by Evgeny Kuznetsov (19) and Marcus Johansson (9)
Period 3 – 10:51 Alex Ovechkin (13) — Assists by Marcus Johansson (10), Nicklas Backstrom (14) (PPG)
Capitals vs Florida Panthers (December 10)
The Capitals began their road trip to Florida with a game against the Florida Panthers. With occasional exceptions, the Panthers have generally not been a good team in recent years and have generally been closer to the bottom of the standings than to the top. This year, they sit in fifth place, have won nearly half their games, and are just barely out of the playoff picture. In other words, they have improved over their recent past. Back in 2012, defenseman Karl Alzner said the Caps have had trouble getting “up” for games there, as crowds tend to be light. The performance of the team in this game reflected Alzner’s old words. The game started off badly, with Florida scoring a goal by Jaromir Jagr less than a minute into the contest. Jagr’s goal was the 731st of his long and illustrious career and moved him in a tie with Marcel Dionne for fourth place in goals in NHL history.
The game was one where both teams used their backup goalies, the Panthers using Al Montoya and the Caps using Philipp Grubauer. The Caps also scratched Andre Burakovsky in favor of Chris Brown, who was making his season debut for the Caps. It seemed to be a sleepy game, with neither team getting many shots on goal during first period, as the score remained 1-0, in favor of Florida. The Caps had two power plays during the first period but could convert neither. They nullified their second power play early, when Nicklas Backstrom got a penalty. About 7 ½ minutes into the second period, Alex Ovechkin got penalized for high-sticking. The Panthers scored about 1 ½ minutes into that ensuing power play, making the score 2-0. While the Caps have come back from greater deficits throughout their history, even a 2-0 lead seemed insurmountable, given that the team seemed incapable of generating any sort of offense in this game. The score remained 2-0 at the end of two periods. But nearly six minutes into the third period, Tom Wilson earned a major penalty for boarding Brian Campbell, along with a game misconduct and was ejected from the game. Yes, it was the same Brian Campbell who Ovechkin had boarded in a game against the Chicago Blackhawks back in March, 2010 where he also earned a suspension. In recalling that Ovechkin had slumped after returning from that particular suspension, there were many uncomfortable flashbacks. Still, that major penalty to Wilson and the fact that it occurred so late in the game, would quell any hopes of a Caps comeback. The Panthers added a goal during the major penalty, making the score 3-0. Alex Ovechkin did score a power play goal, with just over three minutes to go in the game, to break the shutout but it was too little too late. However, the Panthers scored an empty net goal, to make the score 4-1, which was the final score.
Overall, it was one of the worst games for the Caps, as they gave up four goals, including an empty netter, and could score only one goal against a team’s backup goalie. Most of the players had Corsi For and Fenwick For percentages below 50%, with the advanced stats showing that the team was having a bad game. The fathers (and mentors) on the road trip were probably embarrassed by their sons’ collective performance.
Period 3 – 17:52 Alex Ovechkin (13) — Assists by Marcus Johansson (10), Nicklas Backstrom (14) (PPG)
Capitals vs Tampa Bay Lightning (December 12)
Two days after their poor effort against the Panthers, the Capitals traveled north-west in the state of Florida to Tampa Bay where they met the Tampa Bay Lightning, the defending Eastern Conference winner from 2013-2014 and Stanley Cup Final runner-up and a very talented team. However, the team has been struggling this year. Two of the members of the previous year’s “Triplets” line, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, have spent most of the season being dogged with injuries, with the Lightning’s offense suffering as a result. Meanwhile, Steven Stamkos, the team’s superstar, is in the last year of his contract so there is much speculation as to whether or not he’ll stay with the Lightning after this season. With all their injury struggles and other drama, the Lightning began the evening, just outside of playoff position.
With last game being so poor for the Caps, Coach Barry Trotz decided to shuffle the personnel in the lineup. Michael Latta and Chris Brown were scratched in favor of Andre Burakovsky and Stan Galiev. This game started better for Washington than the previous game did, with Jay Beagle scoring a goal just over two minutes into the contest, redirecting a pass from Galiev, to put the visitors up 1-0.
That lead held up throughout the first and throughout the first part of the second. Evgeny Kuznetsov added to the Caps lead, with a beautiful goal after an assist from Carlson.
So the Caps lead 2-0, which was the score at the end of two periods. The third period was a rough one for the Caps, with Tampa Bay getting 25 shots to the Caps getting just one. The Lightning seemed to have scoring chance after scoring chance but Holtby turned most of them back. The Lightning also earned two power plays and scored on one of them, making the score 2-1, which held up as the final score. Holtby basically stole this game for the Caps, as the Lightning had more shots and scoring chances and, rightly, earned First Star of the game.
Period 1 — 02:09 Jay Beagle (4) — Assists by Stanislav Galiev (2)
Period 2 –11:16 Evgeny Kuznetsov (9) — Assists by John Carlson (17)
This week, the Capitals were 2-1, which has been a typical performance for the year. Their record is now 20 wins – 6 losses – 2 OT losses, 42 points. At the moment, they lead the Metropolitan Division by 2 points. The previous week they had briefly moved into first but the New York Rangers had temporarily regained first while the Caps were idle. The Caps regained first place during this week. This weekend, the Caps beat Tampa Bay while the Rangers were only able to gain 1 point in the two back to back contests they had played this weekend. They continued their home winning streak, which now sits at five. Unlike many road trips of the recent past, the Caps were able to beat Tampa but lose to Florida which is a reverse from typical trends.
It was not a prolific week for goal scoring, as they scored two goals at most in each game, scoring two in the games against Detroit and Tampa Bay but only one against Florida. Among the five goals, they had three power play goals, so only two were at even strength, a disturbing trend. The Detroit game was one where the Caps did better in possession but could not generate goals at a commensurate level, as the opposing goalie (Howard) stole a point for the visitors. The Florida game was bad overall. The Tampa Bay game was one where the Caps won, despite having less shots, especially during the third period. That was another game that Braden Holtby stole for the Caps.
The Caps fathers and mentors witnessed one win and one loss, with the team looking particular bad in that one loss.
There were multiple milestones achieved, all in the Detroit game. They were: Justin Williams scoring his 600th point, Nicklas Backstrom playing in his 600th game, and Braden Holtby playing in his 200th game.
Other Caps activities, besides the games, were the activities done with their fathers and mentors on the road trip to Florida, including a boating trip and a trip to the Everglades. Ovechkin’s fiancé, Nastya Shubskaya, also came on the road trip. She and Ovi went to one of the local outdoor ice rinks, rented skates, and took a spin around the rink.
Looking to the week ahead, the Caps travel to Pittsburgh to play a game against the Penguins on Monday December 14. After that, they return home to play games at the Verizon Center against the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday December 16 and the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday December 18. They travel to New York City after that to play against the New York Rangers on Sunday December 20 and then to Raleigh, North Carolina to play the Carolina Hurricanes. All those games will start at 7:00 pm.
By Diane Doyle