Tonight the Washington Capitals returned home after a tough road trip, having picked up zero of a possible six points, and sitting on a four game losing streak overall. Their opponent, the Phoenix Coyotes, is not the kind of team that was going to make it easy on the Caps as they tried to bring an end to their losing streak (as if easy opponents exist in the NHL). The Coyotes are well-coached, disciplined, and incredibly difficult to beat when they are given a lead. Well, the Caps spotted the Coyotes a 2-0 lead, on 2 shorthanded breakaway goals (the latter needing a second-chance penalty shot to beat Tomas Vokoun), but you can throw out the Coyotes' stellar record when scoring first, as the Caps came back to tie the game before the end of the second period. The Caps came out and won the third period, ending their losing streak and sending the home fans happy.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Going into the game, all eyes were on Dmitri Orlov, as he was making his NHL debut. The book on Orlov is that he's a dynamic player with the puck, but still a bit raw in his own end. So it makes sense that he'd be paired with Karl Alzner, the Caps defenseman most capable of erasing his partner's mistakes. It also made sense that Orlov would see negligible PK time. We are a little baffled that Orlov also saw negligible PP time, though. Isn't that exactly where his skill set would seem to fit in?
- Speaking of the Caps PP, it's been struggling big time. The Caps had 5 power plays, and on those power plays 3 goals were scored. Unfortunately, two of those goals were for the visiting Coyotes. However, in the third period, the Caps had an extended 5 on 3. Of course, the Caps were in the midst of a streak of 2:47 of scoreless 5 on 3 time, spanning 3 such advantages. This 5 on 3 lasted just long enough for fans to finish asking "why is Brooks Laich on the point?" The 5 on 3 came through, and gave the Caps an insurance marker. The two shorthanded goals were ugly (for Caps fans), but the power play goal was huge. (And additionally, the Caps just missed out on another power play goal. Carlson scored one second after a power play expired, immediately cutting into the Coyotes' two goal lead and preventing Phoenix from sucking the life out of the game.)
- That insurance goal became even larger later in the third period, as a bad rebound by Vokoun and bad net coverage by Orlov allowed the Coyotes to cut the Caps' lead back to 1. Hey, Alzner can only do so much.
- So far this season Caps fans have become too accustomed to seeing the Caps come out of the second intermission tied and laying eggs in the third period. Tonight the Caps got an early third period goal to set the tone for the period. Even better, it came from the top line. And even better, it came after Alex Ovechkin dumped the puck in, Nicklas Backstrom won the battle on the end boards, and Joel Ward continued the good work down low and got the puck to the front of the net for Backstrom to finish. The top line cycled effectively for the entire third period, we can only hope it isn't a phase.
- Mathieu Perreault returned to the lineup after prolonged absence. His legs were moving all night and he drew the first power play for the Caps. We understand there's a tough competition among the forwards, but it still seems strange that Perreault is having such a difficult time getting a sweater.
- There's no denying that the Caps got good bounces on their first three goals, but if you look past the bounces you'll see that the Caps had great pressure on the Coyotes' D, forcing a turnover, and then crashed the net creating traffic for Jason LaBarbera on the first goal. On the second goal the Caps executed a crisp neutral zone regroup and hit the offensive zone with speed, forcing the Phoenix D to drop deeper in the zone than they otherwise would have. And on the third goal, as noted above, the Caps won battles down low and got one of those dirty goals fans have been asking for.
- Which forward led the Caps in ice time tonight? Why, Mike Knuble of course. After skating on the fourth line for weeks now, Knuble got huge minutes tonight, playing a significant role in all three phases. There's no doubt Knuble didn't like the decreased ice he got, so we just assume he must have voiced his displeasure behind the scenes, forcing Bruce Boudreau to play him some more. We're anxiously waiting for the upcoming articles detailing the "rift between Mike Knuble and Bruce Boudreau."
- Roman Hamrlik has taken a lot of heat from Caps fans for his play so far this season, but he deserves credit tonight. In our opinion this was his best game of the season to date (or at least it's on the short list). He was one of the 4 D Boudreau went to late in the game when he shortened the bench, and in particular he had a very nice play to break up an odd man rush in the second period, tipping the puck harmlessly out of play into the netting. Time will tell if he's turning a corner, but it's nice to see him playing up to our pre-season hopes and expectations.
- A red balloon hovers down near ice level with the Caps trailing by a goal. Moments later Cody Eakin scores to tie the game. Coincidence, or ginger bat signal? You be the judge.
- So in the last two games, David Steckel and Boyd Gordon, two players who aren't exactly known for creating offense, have a goal and an assist against their former team. Is Eric Fehr going to play on Wednesday? Someone might want to cover him.
And just like that the losing streak is over. The Caps followed up two of their worst performances in the Boudreau era with one of their best games of the season. They were patient, they worked hard, and, most importantly, they didn't start running around like individuals when they went down a couple goals. And, hey, Alex Semin didn't take a penalty today. Sure, the Caps didn't mop the ice with their opponents, but don't fret, we have no doubt they kept it close because true men don't kill Coyotes. Up next, a chance for some revenge against the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday.