Already on a two game winning streak, the Washington Capitals started a 5 game home stretch tonight against the New York Islanders. The Caps don't have much margin for error, and considering how they've played on the road this year they really need to pick up points at home. The Islanders have given the Caps fits so far this year, out-scoring the Caps 8-3 coming into tonight's match-up. Things didn't look good for most of the game, but two goals from Troy Brouwer in the final 3+ minutes got the Caps into overtime where Alex Ovechkin would put one through Evgeny Nabokov's legs and secured two huge points.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The first period saw the Islanders jump out to a 1-0 lead despite the fact that hte Caps heavily dominated the shot count to the tune of 13-3. Unfortunately for the Caps, Jay Beagle led the team in shots with 3 (and his best chance wasn't even on net). It's not a good sign when the 4th line is your best line. If only Beagle had better hands... he wouldn't be making $525K. So no need to remind us every time the kid misses a shot.
- Despite the overwhelming shot total, the Caps can't exactly be accused of playing textbook defense in that first period. Of the 3 Islanders shots one was a Michael Grabner shorthanded breakaway and there was the goal, in which Josh Bailey (recently switched to the wing, presumably to acclimate his game a bit) abused Jeff Schultz up high and then skated to the net as nobody picked him up in the slot. Or as he picked up his own rebound off the post.
- Thankfully for the Caps, Bailey gave one back when he tried to beat two D by himself in overtime. He coughed the puck up and Ovechkin went the other way and ended the game in a matter of seconds.
- That third period Islanders goal involved two of the top 28 scorers in the league. Matt Moulson (28th leading scorer) tipped a Steve Staios shot into the top corner, but the play was made by P.A. Parenteau (20th leading scorer). Parenteau picked up a loose puck on the boards and found Staios across the rink, giving the veteran plenty of time to get his shot off (and he needs it). Parenteau's stat line (15-43-58) tells you all you need to know. The kid has vision and a great set of hands to distribute the puck. Could he be the next Ron Francis? No, he's not. But he's much better than he gets credit for.
- Speaking of nice passes, Mathieu Perreault helped give the Caps some late life when he picked up a loose puck in the corner and immediately fired a puck right to Troy Brouwer's stick. Brouwer tapped the puck home and the Caps had a chance to tie the game up in the final 3 minutes of the third period. Don't underestimate Brouwer's finish, either. That was a tough play to make with the puck fired into his feet. It was also a great job by Jason Chimera to negate a would-be icing and keep the play alive. Solid work all the way around.
- Brouwer got both goals by going to the net, that'll be the obvious takeaway from the comeback tonight. But Brouwer can stand at the net all day and it won't make a difference if 4 other guys don't win puck battles and move the puck well to open shooting lanes. Tonight both third period goals came off of quick passing following a puck battle.
- Mathieu Perreault's continued growth has been one of the silver linings to this season. It's hard to see how he fits into a healthy lineup (though it's clear at this point he's outplaying Marcus Johansson), but he's gotten a chance to play in a top 6 role and he's taking advantage of it. He's the most confident and poised center with the puck on his stick, and he's consistently putting himself into position to make plays. He's trying to prove there's room for him in this league, whether or not it's with this team.
- Whenever you control an opening period and don't capitalize, it just seems to come back and bite you. After the Caps left the first down 1-0 despite all the shots, you had to expect the Isles to come back with a better effort. Well, the Islanders put up 12 shots to the Caps' 7 in the second period, and then an early third period goal had the Caps staring at a 2-0 deficit at home.
- The Caps' chances have hinged on goaltending, and tonight it's tough to fault Michal Neuvirth for either goal. The first goal saw a man skate right down the slot and get his own rebound off the post without any real pressure. The second goal was tipped into the top corner of the net. He also made a couple huge saves on Grabner when the game was in doubt. Neuvirth deserves a lot of credit for making some tough saves to keep the game within reach for an offense that has struggled.
- The special teams battle continues to be a huge part of these coin flip games. Until the late outburst the Caps looked like they would regret the 0/4 power play performance. Thankfully, the penalty kill came to play, stopping all 3 Islanders power plays and not giving up many dangerous looks.
The Caps have now won 3 straight games and have 4 more home games in a row. This is a real chance for them to pile up points, and they'll need to. Win at home, .500 on the road remains the mantra, and a tough 5 game road stretch looms on the horizon (starting with these Islanders). The Caps are back in playoff position, and there's no reason any of the teams behind them should catch them. They've been presented with opportunities to grab a playoff spot and lock it down for over a month now. It's time they reach out and snatch one.