The Washington Capitals extended their losing streak to three games with a loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. The loss didn’t come easy, but it sure wasn’t an ideal way to begin 2014–especially considering that it could’ve been avoided, had the Caps played better defense. While that knowledge isn’t anything new, the team’s second-place rank in the Metropolitan Division was further put in jeopardy.
The first period got off to a fast start, with both teams getting a few shots on net. However, a holding call on Ron Hainsey gave the Capitals an early man advantage. While the Caps couldn’t convert, they garnered a few decent chances and outshot the Canes 15-10.
However, things took a turn for the worse as a few defensive lapses on Washington’s part led to several close calls for Philipp Grubauer. Unfortunately, the Caps continued to do him no favors as Mikhail Grabovski served a penalty (too many men on the ice), followed by Brooks Laich’s trip to the sin bin (high-sticking former teammate Semin.)
The 5-on-3 proved to be too much for the Capitals to handle, especially after Nicklas Backstrom’s stick broke. The ensuing sequence of Eric Staal’s pass to Alexander Semin led to a Jeff Skinner wrist shot, which sailed past Gruabauer and put the Canes up 1-0. The goal would be the only tally of the period and seemed to act as a catalyst for Carolina’s offense, as the team rallied to put more shots on goal.
The Caps’ attempts to counter were mostly fruitless, as they struggled with controlled zone entries and reclaiming the puck along the boards. And while they demonstrated how winning faceoffs can set a team up to generate scoring chances, they trailed the Hurricanes in faceoff wins, 13-9.
Early in the second, Alex Ovechkin took Marcus Johansson’s pass and ran with it–literally. He scored to tie the game, and things seemed to be promising–until the Caps, in typical fashion, allowed a quick-response goal, courtesy of Manny Malhotra.
This set the stage for some eventful minutes of hockey. In less than four minutes, Troy Brouwer scored–a goal that Johansson quietly helped set up. Shortly after, Ovechkin was fed by (you guessed it) MoJo, before Justin Faulk ruined his breakaway attempt. Fear not, he earned a penalty shot–but couldn’t capitalize.
Enter Steve Oleksy, who notched his second goal of the year to put the Caps up 3-2.
Of course, the surge of success was awfully short-lived. The ugliness that’s sometimes mistaken for Washington’s defense helped set up Skinner’s second goal of the evening. Unsurprisingly, it was a quick response goal, coming forty seconds after Oleksy’s tally.
The action didn’t stop there, as Ovechkin took a high-sticking penalty about halfway through the period. The Capitals demonstrated just how good they can be on the penalty kill, as they were frequently able to clear the puck–perhaps due in part to their good positioning around the net.
Jason Chimera would continue the trend, as he too went to the box for the same reason. The Caps allowed three shots during their time with the man advantage, although their strong, physical penalty kill held up yet again.
The period concluded with Washington surpassing Carolina in shots, 30-22. While it was refreshing that the Caps weren’t the ones being outshot, the period was a reminder of the danger in allowing too many shots.
Washington went into the third period knowing it had to tighten up in both zones. Several Caps stepped up: Chimera and Eric Fehr both got several good looks, and Johansson continued his strong play around the net. Grubauer made a handful of stellar saves, as did Anton Khudobin.
The Capitals had some excellent chances, but they weren’t enough to end the game in regulation, hence overtime.
After a fair amount of back and forth, Jeff Skinner earned his second career hat trick by taking advantage of the Canes’ 3-on-1. Blame the defensive collapse on whoever–Mike Green, Dmitry Orlov, or Ovi–but it doesn’t change the fact that Washington must make smarter decisions when defending its blueline or risk losing games like tonight.
In summary, this game was one the Capitals needed to win, but didn’t. They’ve now lost three straight, though something can be said for their offense–after scoring a total of two goals in their past two games, they notched three tonight.
The Caps’ next outing takes place on Saturday, with the Minnesota Wild playing host.