After leaving the “Sunshine State”, the Caps traveled to Pittsburgh to play their long time arch-rival, the Penguins on Monday December 14. They came into Pittsburgh with a two point lead in the Metropolitan Division over the second place New York Rangers. After their trip to Pittsburgh, they would return home for a two game home stand against the Ottawa Senators (Wednesday December 16) and the Tampa Bay Lightning (Friday December 18) which would be followed by a road trip to Madison Square Gardens to play the New York Rangers (Sunday December 20).
Capitals vs Pittsburgh Penguins (December 14)
The Capitals would be the first team to play the Penguins under their “new management” as, over the weekend, the Penguins fired their coach, Mike Johnston, and replaced him with Mike Sullivan who most recently was Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate at Wilkes Barre and last coached in the NHL in 2006 with the Boston Bruins.
After withstanding an early barrage of shots on goals by the Penguins, the Capitals were the first to get on the scoreboard, with a goal by Nicklas Backstrom after a pass from T.J. Oshie just under four minutes into the game.
They added a second goal by John Carlson a little over two minutes later.
After what seemed like numerous chances by Pittsburgh, Evgeny Malkin scored for the Penguins, with about six minutes left in the first period. So, the first period ended with the score 2-1 in favor of the visiting Caps, despite the fact that the Penguins had outshot them, 15-10. Near the end of the first period, Oshie lay a shoulder check on Bennett, causing him to go into the boards and resulted in an injury to Bennett. Adding insult to injury for the Penguins, the Caps ended up on power play as a result of Brian DuMolin earning an “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” on a counter-hit to T.J. Oshie.
The second period was notable for numerous shots on goal by both Pittsburgh and Washington but no shot made it behind either goaltender and the score remained the same. Nearly nine minutes into the third period, soon after successfully killing off an offensive zone penalty to Brooks Laich, they scored again, from a shot by T.J. Oshie after an assist by Backstrom, which gave the Caps an insurance goal and put them up 3-1.
With about 2:40 left to go in the game, the Penguins pulled Marc-Andre Fleury from goal in favor of an extra attacker to improve their chances of scoring. However, at the 2:10 mark, Olli Maatta hooked Tom Wilson on a near breakaway and ended up going to the penalty box. As soon as the Penguins regained possession in their offensive zone, they pulled Fleury in favor of an extra attacker, again, to create a 5 on 5 situation but, once again, the Caps broke into the offensive zone and Malkin hooked John Carlson for another penalty to create a 5 on 3 power play situation. T.J. Oshie scored on the ensuing power play, after a series of passes, making the score 4-1 which was the final.
Essentially, the Penguins self-destructed in the “extra attacker/empty net” situation by taking two late penalties and killing any more chances of generating offense. For Pittsburgh fans, the goals for T.J. Oshie rubbed salt in the wound, as his (legal) check resulted in injury to Bennett.
Period 1 — 03:53 Nicklas Backstrom (10) — Assists by T.J. Oshie (7), Karl Alzner (7)
Period 1 — 07:04 John Carlson (5) — Assists by Jason Chimera (8), Jay Beagle (5)
Period 3 — 08:50 T.J. Oshie (9) — Assists by Nicklas Backstrom (16)
Period 3 — 19:11 T.J. Oshie (10) — Assists by Nicklas Backstrom (17), John Carlson (18) (PPG)
Capitals vs Ottawa Senators (December 16)
The Capitals returned home to Verizon Center for a brief two game homestand that began with a contest against the Ottawa Senators, who represent the capital of Canada. Coming into the game, the Senators were in playoff position in the Atlantic Division and hoping to get closer in the standings to the now slumping Montreal Canadiens, especially after their most recent win against the Los Angeles Kings. Andrew Hammond, who had been spectacular in goal for the Senators the previous year during their run to the playoffs, had missed a good chunk of this season due to a concussion, but was now returning to the lineup.
For most of the first period, the Caps outshot the Senators but the game remained scoreless for just over 14 minutes. But then Dmtry Orlov caught the Sens on a line change, made a pass to Michael Latta who then shot at Hammond and scored.
During the second period, Ottawa seemed to wake up and had more shots on goal but John Carlson got a second goal for the Caps that period, taking a pass from Justin Williams, just under six minutes into the period.
There was no more scoring for that period, so the score remained 2-0 in favor of the Caps. The third period was also scoreless for most of the way. But then there was a scrum that resulted in Tom Wilson getting a match penalty for the Caps and Chris Neil getting a minor penalty, of which the net effect a 3 minute power play for Ottawa and treated as a major penalty against the Caps. The Senators scored one goal on that power play, making the score 2-1. Even when the power play was over for the Senators, the Caps were still virtually short-handed, as the Senators had pulled their goalie in favor of an extra attacker. The Caps ultimately prevailed to win, 2-1. But the match penalty to Wilson was still controversial and resulted in a media firestorm, with Wilson getting support in the media from unexpected sources. Much of the Caps’ blogosphere pointed out the increased amount of penalty minutes doled out to Wilson since the article by Elliott Friedman that had talked about the NHL Department of Safety wanting to talk to “repeat offenders” and included Tom Wilson on that list.
Period 1 — 14:06 Michael Latta (2) — Assists by Dmitry Orlov (7), Taylor Chorney (3)
Period 2 — 05:43 John Carlson (6) — Assists by Justin Williams (11), Michael Latta (3)
Capitals vs Tampa Bay Lightning (December 18)
The homestand continued for one more game, as the Tampa Bay Lightning traveled to DC, into Verizon Center. The Capitals had already played the Lightning twice this season, in Tampa Bay, and this game would finish the season series against them, with all three games taking place after Thanksgiving but before Christmas.
Unlike the previous two games where the Capitals scored first, this time Tampa Bay opened the scoring, just over twelve minutes into the period. During that period, the Caps outshot the Lightning 9-4, but Tampa Bay had scored on one shot, after a defensive breakdown by the Caps.
The Lightning had more shots during second period and added two more goals to their total before the middle of that period, with the first goal scored just under seven minutes and the second one scored just over two minutes later.
Steven Stamkos, the Lightning Captain and their best player, scored the third goal, breaking an eleven game drought. At that point, with the score now 3-0 in favor of Tampa Bay, Coach Barry Trotz decided to replace goalie Braden Holtby with backup Philipp Grubauer in hopes of sparking the team.
About thirteen minutes into the period, Stamkos, got a slashing penalty. Alex Ovechkin got the Capitals on the board about 30 seconds into the resulting power play.
The second period ended with the score 3-1. Nearly eight minutes into the third period, T.J. Oshie traveled across the rink with the puck, going from the defensive zone to the offensive zone, shot, and scored, decreasing the deficit to 3-2.
About a minute later, Tampa Bay took another penalty and Alex Ovechkin scored his second power play goal of the game, tying up the game at 3 apiece.
It was bedlam at Verizon Center, as the fans cheered loudly and had hope the team could win. Just over three minutes later, Tampa Bay took still another penalty and this time, Marcus Johansson scored on the resulting power play to put the Caps ahead for the first time.
T.J. Oshie added an empty net goal with about 30 seconds to go so the final score was 5-3. This was a game where the Caps converted on three of the four power plays they received for a 75% conversion rate. The Caps now had a four game winning streak going into their next game in New York City against the Rangers on Sunday December 20.
Period 2 – 13:49 Alex Ovechkin (15) — Assists by T.J. Oshie (8), John Carlson (19) (PPG)
Period 3 — 07:54 T.J. Oshie (11) — Unassisted
Period 3 — 10:02 Alex Ovechkin (16) — Assists by Jason Chimera (9), Justin Williams (12) (PPG)
Period 3 — 14:16 Marcus Johansson (6) — Assists by T.J. Oshie (9), Alex Ovechkin (12) (PPG)
Period 3 — 19:35 T.J. Oshie (12) ASST: Nicklas Backstrom (18), Alex Ovechkin (13) (Empty Net)
This week, the Capitals were 3-0, which combined with a win last week in Tampa Bay, meant they were on a four game winning streak. They now have a home winning streak of seven games. Their record is now 23-6-2 for 48 points and lead the second place Rangers by 6 points. Both the win against the Penguins and the win against the Ottawa Senators were notable for amazing performances by Braden Holtby who had 36 saves (out of 37) in the first and 26 saves (out of 27) in the latter. The win against Tampa Bay was amazing similar to a win against that same team two years earlier, featuring a comeback from a 3-0 deficit, the goaltender being pulled, and goals from Alex Ovechkin. Overall, the Corsi For and Fenwick For percentages were under 50% for most of the team this week. It was especially pronounced in the Pittsburgh game, which, judging the advanced statistics, Holtby basically stole the game for the Caps. Corsi For and Fenwick For statistics were better for the Caps in the Ottawa game, with many of the players over 50% in Corsi For and Fenwick For. The Tampa game also featured many Caps with Corsi For and Fenwick For percentages under 50%. For this game, it was fortunate that the Caps’ power play worked as well as it did, with a conversion percentage of 75%.
Milestones achieved this week include: Jason Chimera playing in his 900th NHL game and Nicklas Backstrom earning his 600th point, both achieved in the Tampa Bay game of December 18. Besides all the events on the ice, this week also included the team’s visit to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital on Tuesday Dec 16.
Looking to the week ahead, the Caps travel to New York to play a game against the Rangers on Sunday December 20 and then to Carolina to play a game on Monday December 21. After that, it is the mandated break for the Christmas holiday. They return home to play a game at Verizon Center against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday December 26. All those games will start at 7:00 pm. They all will be televised on CSN except for the game against Carolina, which is on CSN Plus. Recappers’ note: the Rangers game report will be grouped in next week’s report with the Carolina game and the Montreal game, given the fact that next week is a short week and the fact the Rangers game is the first of a back to back set of contests.
By Diane Doyle