After dropping their last two at home, the Caps headed up to Toronto in hopes of snapping the skid at two - some new-look lines in place and a guy in their lineup who is pretty familiar with the confines of Air Canada Centre. And after a couple of games that saw them fall behind early and struggle to get anything going, this was the strong road game the Caps needed to hopefully get back on track... even if it did ultimately end in a shootout loss.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Coming into tonight's game, the Caps and Leafs were among the League's worst in terms of giving up shots, with the Caps averaging 34.9 shots-against per game and Toronto a robust 35.5 shots-against per game. Considering that Washington has at least provided a fair number of shots of their own, as well, it's not surprising that if one team was going to have the upper-hand in that department it would be the Caps - and they did, and then some, peppering James Reimer with 50 shots by the end of the game while ceding just 28. In case you're keeping track, the Caps have given up 30 SA in all but three games prior to tonight
- Further to that point, only one forward finished with a CF% on the wrong side of 50% tonight, and that was Tom Wilson (who was well below 50%, but also had a very small sample size to draw from with just about 5 minutes of ice time). Sure, it was against a team that makes the Caps' puck possession struggles look like a drop in the bucket, but still...
- After sticking with the same forward trios for the last few weeks (despite a largely ineffective second line) two straight disappointing losses inspired coach Adam Oates to change things up a bit up front, with former Leaf Mikhail Grabovski switching places with Brooks Laich on the second line and Martin Erat taking Eric Fehr's seat in the pressbox. And while the new lines didn't result in an explosive offense for the Caps tonight, they did look slightly more balanced than before and both the second and third lines generated their fair share of chances.
- The Caps have a pretty potent power play, but the Leafs aren't far behind - and no one is better on home ice with the extra man than Toronto, who pace the League in that department with an amazing 30% rate in front of their home crowd. They showed that with another goal on the power play tonight, a nice deflection in front by David Clarkson on which Braden Holtby had no chance (although considering the Caps' strong penalty-killing unit has actually been better on the road than at home, my money would've been on a stalemate).
- Between Alex Ovechkin and Phil Kessel, among others, matchups between these two teams never lack for firepower... but tonight it was the goalies earning the spotlight, with Braden Holtby making several huge saves for his team (particularly early on) and James Reimer blanking the Caps through almost 55 minutes in his own right despite facing 36 shots in just the final forty minutes. A great goaltender's duel, somewhat dampened by going to a shootout and yet somehow fitting, with Reimer proving just a little better on this night.
- One of the main points of discussion leading up to tonight's game was the return to Toronto of Grabovski, who left the Leafs under less-than-harmonious circumstances (to put it mildly). He certainly seemed pumped to face his old teammates, and set up some nice plays with his new linemates, but the biggest moment of the night for him was a scary one that saw him get clipped by Clarkson's skate up near the eye. 20 stitches and several minutes later he was back out on the ice... but that's probably not the way he was planning on celebrating this reunion.
- It's no secret that the Caps have struggled early in games, ceding a whopping 24 goals in the opening frame prior to tonight (among the most in the NHL) and falling behind early in two straight games that ultimately fell into the loss column. So to see the Caps not only get out of the first period unscathed but look awake and focused in the process was a nice change of pace to be sure.
- Alex Ovechkin has a knack for stepping onto the biggest stages and putting on shows, and he loves playing Toronto - in fact, only four teams have felt Ovechkin's wrath more than the Leafs, with 25 goals in 30 games. Well, make that 26 in 31, thanks to a nice airborne pass up ice by Mike Green (who looked like he was going to get that first goal tonight and had a great game). Ovechkin was able to settle the puck just in time to fire it past Reimer and tie up the game late in the third. Ladies and gentlemen, your first 20-goal scorer of the season... in Game #24. Wowza.
- The Caps didn't have a ton of power play chances tonight, but the ones they did have went awry - something which probably wasn't helped by losing all but two of the nine draws they took with the extra man. We've seen how potent the power play can be when it can get set up and control the puck early, but if they have to constantly reenter the zone and set up again, they have issues, and that's what was happening with every lost draw. And it was part of a larger trend throughout the night, as they won just around 40% of their faceoffs. The only Cap who won more than he lost? Grabovski.
- Last year the Caps went 32 games before having to participate in the shootout, and then only twice more after that. In 24 games this season, they've more than doubled that amount, with tonight's appearance their seventh on the year...and just their second loss. Strange choice to throw Troy Brouwer out there on the deciding turn, but I'm sure Oates had his reasons. Probably.
Win or lose, nothing heals wounds and restores a bit of confidence like a strong, tightly-defended road game. And while the win would have been nice, the Caps can head home knowing they played a good game (and gained an important point in the standings, with the Penguins falling to Montreal in regulation) - and get a few days off to get ready for their pre-Thanksgiving date with Ottawa back in DC.