Realignment brought the Caps a whole new set of familiar division rivals, but it also gave them a brand new conference rival in Detroit. Tonight marked the first of three meetings between the Eastern Conference foes, in a building that the Caps haven't visited in over a year - but one that has been something of a house of horrors for the Wings, having dropped their last six at Joe Louis Arena.
So with the Caps on a bit of a losing streak on the road, and the Wings having no success on home ice, it was the typical "something's gotta give" situation... and thankfully it was in the Caps' favor.
Ten more notes on the game:
- It's no secret that the Caps' second line has been one of the more disappointing this season, with poor stats all around and an inability to get going regardless of who was placed at the center spot. So it was refreshing to see them get on the board early, even if it wasn't the kind of goal that line usually scores. Nice job by Steve Oleksy to find a streaking Brooks Laich with a pass up ice, and a better job by Laich to not only get the initial shot but the rebound offered to him by Jimmy Howard.
- That goal for Laich - his first since 10/19 - was just the start of a very solid game for the winger-turned-center-turned-winger on an individual level, and for the second line as a whole (which took on a new look by the third period... more on that in a minute). And while it was Laich's first goal in a long time, it was also his third point in five games, a much better trend than the 0-fer stretch he'd been on before that. Perhaps the tide is starting to turn for #21?
- The Caps were on their heels a bit prior to the Laich tally, giving up the first four shots on goal, but their usual sluggish start didn't seem to be as big a factor tonight, as they started to tilt the ice the other way as the period went on. At one point they were actually outshooting the Wings to the tune of 10-1 (albeit with a power play mixed in to help boost those shot totals) and controlled the play for large stretches of the opening frame...
- ...until the last five minutes or so, of course, when the Red Wings first tied it up on the power play and then took the lead a little over two minutes later when Tomas Tatar found Johan Franzen with a ridiculous pass to put the Wings on top. For those keeping track, that was two first period goals given up by the Caps - even without a sluggish, sloppy opening frame, they still got burned twice and continue to struggle with early deficits. Heading into this game, the Caps were in the bottom-third of the League in first period goals-against, and that number didn't get any prettier tonight.
- Another number not looking any prettier - the suddenly slightly slumping penalty kill, which ceded two power play goals (although made it through a Nicklas Backstrom penalty in overtime unscathed) to Detroit's middle-of-the-pack power play. It was just the second time this season that they've given up more than one power play goal in a game, but also the second time in four games.
- With Mike Green on the shelf, the expectation was that Adam Oates would lean heavily on his top defensive duo of Karl Alzner and John Carlson. That was definitely the case, particularly where Carlson was concerned - by the end of overtime Carlson had logged well over 30 minutes of ice time, including almost seven minutes on the power play and almost six minutes of penalty-killing. The amazing part? Not only was he not on for a single goal-against, but he was also on for two of the Caps' goals and picked up an assist on Michael Latta's game-tying goal. Studly.
- Two penalties (both of which resulted in goals-against) and not much else wrap up a pretty awful game all around for Tom Wilson, probably the first bad night he's had since joining the team. He gets a pass for exactly that reason (and for the fact that he's only 19)... just don't let it happen again, eh, Tom?
- Lots of late goals tonight, with the Wings striking in the final two minutes of the first period, and then again in the final 30 seconds of the second. Those kind of goals can be nails in the coffin for a team if they let it weigh on them heading into the locker room - major credit to the Caps for being resilient enough to not only shake off those goals but claw their way back into the game for a big two points.
- Down by two heading into the third period, Oates made the decision to mix things up a bit, a rare move for the bench boss in his tenure here but one that seemed to do the trick this time around. Back to the top line went Marcus Johansson, with Martin Erat sliding down to the second line, and just a few minutes into the period Johansson made sure to make his coach look brilliant with yet another primary assist - and a pretty one at that - on Ovechkin's tally to bring the Caps to within one.
- And then it was up to the guy everyone expected to score the game-tying goal... Michael Latta. Wait, what? In all seriousness, though, congratulations to Latta for picking up his first career NHL goal by putting himself in the right place at the right time - and doing so exactly when the Caps needed him to.
- Prior to tonight's game, the Caps had exactly zero 4-on-3 power play goals, in overtime or otherwise. Well, after tonight's game... that doesn't change. Because more space on the power play is totally overrated and is only for teams that can't score the much tougher 5-on-4 goals. That must be it.
- How money is Nicklas Backstrom in the shootout? Scratch that...how money is Nicklas Backstrom, period? His performance tonight went well beyond the one assist he picked up and the shootout-winning tally, as he had some great plays that just missed around the net and made life difficult for the Wings in their own end. He is somewhat quietly having a very impressive season, and it's great to see.
A power play goal in the dying seconds of the second period seemed to be the nail in the coffin and a sign that the Red Wings' home woes were about to come to an end - but the Caps made sure their third period counted, cutting the lead to one and then zero before taking the shootout victory for a huge two points. At some point you'd like to see the start of the game be as strong as the endings have been of late, but two points is two points, and tonight's two points were nothing to sneeze at.