Like many sports, hockey is a game of momentum and lucky bounces. As Caps’ coach Dale Hunter likes to say, “That’s hockey.” The Winnipeg Jets got a few lucky breaks last night to beat the Caps 3-2 before a sellout crowd at Verizon Center.
Ii was a wild ending. Four power play goals in the span of eight minutes late in the third period left the two teams tied at the end of regulation. After an inconclusive overtime, the Jets won the game in the shootout.
The Caps came out aggressively in the first period, peppering Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec with 12 shots on goal to the Jets 4. The Caps had another 13 shots that either missed the net or were blocked. Even though both teams play a “trap” style of defense, it was wide open hockey with fast rushes in both directions. It seemed like the clock had been turned back to the run-and-gun Caps of the best of the Boudreau years. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and to me it was a lovely sight.
Lead by a resurgent Alex Ovechkin, the Caps played some of their best hockey of the year for the first 30 minutes of the game. They fore-checked hard and cycled the puck well in the offensive zone. But they were unable to solve Pavelec. “He plays pretty good against us,” said defenseman Karl Alzner. “We were able to play some good defense and keep the puck in their zone.”
A team has to take advantage of the opportunities presented. If not, the pendulum of momentum can swing the other way. When Ovechkin hit the crossbar on a power play late in the second period, it was the high-water mark of momentum for the Caps. The Jets picked themselves up off the matt and swung the momentum their way. Before the crossbar shot, the Caps were outshooting the Jets by a ratio of 3-1. After the crossbar shot, the Jets out shot the Caps 20-12 for the remainder of the game and overtime.
By late in the second period the Jets started winning the individual battles and getting the lucky bounces. During a 12-minute stretch late in the second and into the third period, it was the Jets who were outshooting the Caps by a 3-1 ratio. The Jets earned a power play when Jeff Halpern took a (smart) penalty to prevent a break away by Bryan Little.
But the Jets failed to take advantage of their opportunity. The successful penalty kill energized the Caps. The pendulum swung back. The Caps had survived the Jets’ best effort and the crowd came alive. Two minutes later Matt Hendricks drew a penalty while battling for the puck behind the Jets’ net.
On the ensuing power play, Ovechkin seized the moment. Alexander Semin took a slap shot from the point that caromed off the end wall around the net and right onto Ovie’s stick. No crossbar for Ovechkin this time – nothing but net on a sharp angle snap shot for a 1-0 lead.
A few minutes later the Caps got another power play when Hendricks took a stick in the nose. This time Ovechkin returned the favor by setting up Semin. From the left side boards Ovie found Semin alone on the far crease for a tap-in to make it 2-0.
Then the game took a bizarre turn.
The Caps’ Roman Hamrlik was called for holding at the end of a long shift with four minutes to go in the game. With nothing to lose, the Jets pulled their goalie to increase the man advantage. On the penalty kill, Brooks Laich blocked a shot by Dustin Byfuglien, then alertly poked the puck to Troy Brouwer. But the referee ruled that the shot had broken Laich’s stick and called a penalty against Laich for “playing with a broken stick.” With the goalie on the bench, this gave the Jets an unusual 6-on-3 power play. After some heroic saves by Tomas Vokoun, The Jet’s Evander Kane was able to score on a rebound.
Down by just a goal, Pavelec returned to the net. The Jets were still on the power play with Laich still in the penalty box. Byfuglien came to center ice and fired a long range dump shot toward the corner. The shot, however, glanced off Alzner’s body in mid-flight. Vokoun had moved to his right to intercept the dump in, and the shot went straight into the open net. Unlucky bounce for the boys in red.
“We didn’t give them a whole lot of opportunities,” said Hendricks after the game. “Unfortunately, we lost in a shootout. I think you chalk that one up to a couple of bad bounces.”
But, hey, “that’s hockey.”
- Early in the second period Alexander Semin turned the puck over three times in one shift, once in each zone. Ouch! But then he got an assist and a goal in the third period. Thataboy!
- Jay Beagle executed a textbook 2-on-1 with a backhanded saucer pass over the defenders’ stick to Dennis Wideman charging down the right side. But Pavelic was quick enough to move across the crease to foil Wideman.
- The bizarre goal on the shot from center ice seemed to unhinge Tomas Vokoun. After a terrific game he was unable to stop any shots in the shootout.
- The Caps earned one point in the standings for the overtime loss. This leaves them tied with the Florida Panthers for the lead in the Southeast Division.
The Caps next face the Rangers Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden (12:30pm on NBC). They play a rare Sunday-Monday back-back when they host the San Jose Sharks Monday night. Check out the schedule here, or look here for tickets to upcoming games.