Sometimes the best cure for the headache a horrible game can produce is a game the very next night - wipe the slate clean, start over, and move on without much time to dwell. And after what has to be one of their least-impressive efforts (low bar, sure, but still) in Columbus last night, the Caps headed to Detroit with the chance to get back on the horse that bucked them into a barbed-wire fence, stepped on their hand and smacked them in the face with its tail.
The effort was definitely a better one tonight. And while the shots were skewed, the scoreboard and the compete level were not - fewer mistakes and a strong effort in net allowed the Caps to head home with a crucial standings point.
Ten more notes on the game:
- How great was Michal Neuvirth tonight? He was absolutely the difference in this one, particularly early on when he faced 22 - 22! - shots in the first period alone. The goal scored off his pokecheck attempt (more on that later) was less because of his pokecheck attempt - which actually was great, and really his only option - and more a product of Jay Beagle taking him out of the play (accidentally, we'll assume). All told Neuvirth turned aside 42 of the 45 shots he faced tonight, plus six of the seven in the shootout, for easily his best game of the year.
- It probably sounds weird to say that the Caps displayed more energy to open this one than they had in the first against Columbus, considering the insane shot discrepancy. But for one thing, it's a pretty low bar to look better than last night's first period; for another, the Caps really did show more energy, more fight and more aggression, and it started with a tremendous opening shift by the Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson line. The best way to start a road game is to put the home team on its heels early, and get the crowd out of it early, and the Caps did both.
- At some point the Caps will stop taking so many penalties, right? Because five, while not their season-high (that distinction goes to the seven they took last night) is still too many. Credit where credit is due, though, because the penalty-killers looked surprisingly solid throughout and managed to kill off all five man-advantages, with some extra thanks to their goalie for standing on his head at times to help them do so. Just goes to show, if you get enough practice at something...
- Martin Erat had a rough run of taking offensive-zone penalties recently, so it was nice to see him do the opposite of that and draw one by doing the simplest of things: moving his feet. That penalty set up the Caps' power play, once powerful but cold as ice lately... until tonight, when it broke through for just the fourth time in the last twelve games. And it's a product of an excellent seeing-eye pass from Nicklas Backstrom to Jason Chimera, who had snuck around the back of Jimmy Howard and posted himself next to the net for an easy tap-in and the 1-0 lead.
- There's not really an adequate way to describe what happened on the Wings' first goal, so... here:
And if you can watch this without hearing "Yakety Sax" in your head, you're a better person than I am.
- You never want to give up goals early in a period. Or late. Or ever. But the Caps managed to give up that ridiculous sequence early in the second period, and topped off the middle frame with a goal in the final 90 seconds. Faceoff draw lost, goalie screened, goal scored, and the Caps headed into the locker room trailing 2-1.
- Things got a bit better in the third period, when the Caps tied it up just under halfway through the frame. Really excellent job by Casey Wellman to stay with the play and get not one, not two, but three chances in front of the net for his second goal as a Cap, a well-deserved tally for the kid who has played well in his limited time with the team.
- You may have heard mention of the Caps' penchant for giving up the occasional quick-strike goal at times this season...it's come up every now and then. And while it was just over the two-minute mark, this one was yet another quick response that undoes the good that precedes it. That quick-strike goal doesn't happen, of course, if John Erskine doesn't turn over the puck at the red line. He mishandles the pass, Detroit heads the other way with Nicklas Backstrom and Connor Carrick skating back to cover, and Neuvirth is unable to pick up the puck through the screen. And just like that, the Caps trail again. Little mistakes become big mistakes as soon as they end up in the back of your net, and that was a BIG little mistake by Big John.
- But of course, no game is completely over when Alex Ovechkin is on the ice. We've learned that lesson so many times this year, and saw it in action once more tonight as the captain decided this game needed to be extended a bit longer. Seven seconds left in regulation, puck on Ovechkin's stick... you can keep your ridiculous plus-minus arguments, because that guy is money. Tie game, and to overtime we would go.
- Overtime couldn't solve anything, and it was off to the shootout... which amazingly was the Caps' first one in over two weeks, a long drought for a team that has had so many this year. Neuvirth and Howard both stood tall, a few pipes were hit, Jay Beagle got a turn, and after seven rounds it was the Red Wings skating away victorious - but not before giving the Caps a much-needed point.
The shot total in the first period aside, this was a much better effort by the Caps than the one they put forth just 24 hours earlier. Not a pretty game most times, and the absences of Mike Green and Mikhail Grabovski were glaring - especially when you see Beagle and Wellman getting turns in the shootout - but the Caps desperately needed to salvage at least a point tonight, and they did that.
Come on home, boys.