With just four games remaining on the schedule before the Olympic break - all at home, all conceivably "winnable," given the opponents - the Capitals took to the ice against the Red Wings for their Super Bowl Sunday matinee with a sense of both urgency and reality, knowing that this week could give them momentum heading into the three-week layoff... or essentially bury them in the hunt for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
The Caps came out and played with intensity and executed... for a while. But bad habits - namely penalties and poor defensive coverage - crept back in over time, and made a game where maybe there shouldn't have been one. Ultimately, however, the Caps were able to escape with a 6-5 win in overtime to kick off their four-game homestand with a victory.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The Caps got off to a strong start with their top-three lines all having strong shifts that eventually resulted in a Jason Chimera goal 4:43 into the game. It was the Caps' fourth shot of the game and came before the Wings got their first. Two minutes and change later, the Caps doubled their lead on the power play with Joel Ward (in the Troy Brouwer slot) converting a Marcus Johansson (in the Nicklas Backstrom spot) feed. Two goals, no shots against (that's one way to help make sure a possession edge translates to an edge on the scoreboard), and multi-point game for Chimera and Ward.
- At 2-0, the game could have gone one of two ways. Unfortunately - and unsurprisingly - it went the way it usually has for the Caps, as the Wings grabbed the momentum and got on the board with a power-play goal that essentially became a 5-on-3.5 after Brouwer lost his stick while losing the draw that kicked off the man-advantage.
- The Caps killed off another penalty soon after that (Aaron Volpatti took a minor just about as far from the Caps' net as physically possible), and then went back to the power play on a Wings delay-of-game. This time, it was Backstrom in the Backstrom spot and he ran the power-play like he was an quarterback running the read option, drawing a defender in and then flipping the puck back to John Carlson who bombed on past soon-to-be Olympic teammate Jimmy Howard to re-establish the Caps' two-goal lead.
- The first period ended with the Caps holding a 3-1 lead on the big board, an 8-4 edge in even-strength shots-on-goal, a 22-15 lead in shot attempts overall and an 18-7 edge in the faceoff circle. It was an all too rare combination of effort (speed and forechecking up front with Brooks Laich out of the lineup... hmmm...) and results, and obviously much needed.
Alex Ovechkin missed an easy goal. Would it loom large? Stay tuned!
- The teams traded goals late in the second as Tomas Tatar beat Michal Neuvirth on one that the Caps' netminder would certainly want back, one that Joel Ward did get back just 19 seconds later. For a Caps team that has yielded 23 goals within two minutes after scoring one themselves, it was nice to see them turn the tables and do it to an opponent for just the eighth time this season. (Also, it was Ward's career-high 17th goal of the season, the third point of the day for him and Chimera, and the second for Connor Carrick, the first multi-point game of the rookie blueliner's career.)
- Detroit would cut the lead to one for the third time on a late second-period power play after John Erskine and Carrick failed to win the puck from Tatar, leaving Henrik Zetterberg alone to make a cross-crease pass to Gustav Nyquist for a tap-in. Once again, momentum had shifted, setting up a critically important third period...
- ... that opened with the Wings covering 200-feet of ice in mere seconds, going end to end with the puck ending up in the Caps' net off of Nyquist's stick on a gorgeous feed from Zetterberg. Tie game. Blame Erskine, Backstrom, Neuvirth, Oates, McPhee, Leonsis, Obama...
- Not to be outdone by the Caps' crappy defensive coverage, the Wings gifted Brouwer a chance a few minutes later, and Brouwer made the most of it, giving the Caps a lead again. It wouldn't last, of course. It wouldn't even last two minutes, of course. Bad, bad, bad, predictable, bad.
- The game would go to overtime (despite the Caps being outshot 13-3 in the third, even though they had both of the period's power plays), where the Caps got a power play on an iffy call, and then... Ovechkin happened. Game over.
The Caps' problems - from roster construction to coaching to execution - persist. The defense (personnel and coverage) isn't reliable, and the offense and goaltending can barely be counted on with much more confidence. But when you've got Alex Ovechkin, you've got a chance, and on this afternoon, that (along with a strong game from the third line) ended up being enough. Barely.