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With a difficult road ahead and every point gained or left on the table along the way likely to be important, it's critically important that the Capitals win the games they "should win." Reasonable minds might differ, of course, as to what constitutes a "should win" game, but one played at Verizon Center - where the Caps were 19-7-1 - against a Winnipeg team that came into the game 9-16-4 on the road would seem to fit the bill.
If that set-up sounds familiar, it's because it's pretty similar to what we wrote a few weeks back when the Islanders came to town... and promptly shut-out their red-clad hosts.
The Caps seemed determined not to fall victim to the same fate Thursday night, but a failure to capitalize on early chances and an almost literally unbelievable last few minutes of regulation ultimately proved too much to overcome, as they dropped the decision in the shootout by a 3-2 count.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Given that Tomas Vokoun has posted a 1.91 goals against average and .939 save percentage in 14 home games since Dale Hunter took over behind the bench and Ondrej Pavelec came into the game with a 1.99 GAA and .938 SV% against the Caps on the season, a goalie duel was probably to be expected a goalie duel... and that's certainly what was delivered.
- One of the big stories headed into this one was the healthy-scratch for the struggling Mike Knuble. Hunter explained that he wanted to get Jay Beagle in the lineup for "more speed." Well, half-way through the second, Beagle took a pass on a good breakout and found himself streaking down the left side in a 2-on-1 with Dennis Wideman. Beagle saucered a gorgeous backhand pass to Wideman, but the blueliner couldn't beat Pavelec. Which is a shame. Because Jay Beagle will never make a prettier pass.
- By the end of the second period, the Caps had 24 shots on goal, which is more than they'd had in 16 of Hunter's 31 entire games coming into the night. So there's that. Of course, they couldn't beat Pavelec with a single one of those 24... so there's that, too.
Alex Ovechkin's 10th power-play goal of the season broke the 0-0 tie in the third when he cashed in on an Alexander Semin shot that rebounded off the end boards. Less than two minutes later, Ovechkin would return the favor with a beauty of a feed to Semin on a backdoor cut, who made no mistake and gave the Caps a 2-0 lead with both tallies coming with the extra man (and Wideman assisting on both).
- Considering his reputation coming into this season as a high-risk/high-reward offensive defenseman, Caps fans might be surprised at all they've seen from Dmitry Orlov so far in his rookie season. But they got a glimpse of some of that skill early in the third when the young Russian blueliner had a partial breakaway and flashed some sweet stickhandling before having his shot denied by Pavelec. And perhaps some of that high-risk was at play, too, as the Caps were forced to commit a penalty to break up a scoring chance moments later at the other end (though that was clearly more on Orlov's teammates for failing to adequately cover for him on a chance he had to take).
Karl Alzner and John Carlson get high marks for their work against Winnipeg's top line. Reunited and it feels so good? Well, it did until the last few minutes, at least.
- 2-man advantages are rare in the NHL. But a three-man advantage? The Jets had that late after a couple of Caps penalties and the decision to pull Pavelec. The Caps killed a bit of the disadvantage, but Evander Kane finally beat Vokoun from atop the crease with 2:15 left in the third... 12 seconds before Dustin Byfuglien beat him from center ice on a shot that deflected off of Alzner to tie the game. Stunning turn of events.
- After a five-minute overtime period didn't yield a winner, it was on to the shootout which, like it or not, is how such games are decided these days. Ovechin: goal. Blake Wheeler: goal. Semin: save. Bryan Little: goal. Mathieu Perreault: save. Shootout: garbage.
- There were positives to take away from the loss, including an effective power-play, good shot- and scoring-chance generation, and excellent success in the faceoff dot. But it is getting a bit late in the day for moral victories.
- Last thought: does anyone miss Eric Fehr? Me neither.
And so the Caps have a few days off to think about a brutally hard loss - a game they had to have and a game they did have. Until they didn't.