On Sunday afternoon the Washington Capitals spent the better part of fifty minutes digging themselves a 4-1 hole and then spent the final ten minutes of regulation in a frenetic comeback attempt. Mike Green's goal with just under nine minutes left looked like lipstick on the proverbial pig. Dmitry Orlov's tally with three-and-a-half to go provided a glimmer of hope. But as the seconds ticked away and Wes Johnson announced the game's final minute, the Caps looked like they would fall short of pulling off a second miracle in less than a week. That is, until Alex Ovechkin jumped on the ice for Philipp Grubauer as the extra attacker, intercepted a pass intended for Green, and rifled a quick wrist shot that beat Steve Mason.
The Caps went on to win in the shootout (yet again), securing two points in a game that looked destined for zero points, and here's how they did it. First, the video of the goal:
The sequence starts off with Green dumping the puck behind Mason's net, trying to let the Caps establish a forecheck. Mason cuts the dump in off and is poised to quickly move the puck to the Flyers' defenders, but instead Mason bobbles the puck. That momentary bobble allowed the Caps forecheckers, specifically Joel Ward, to get in better position:
After the bobble, there is some miscommunication between Mason and Braydon Coburn. Mason tries to fire the puck hard around the glass, but Coburn is looking for a direct pass. Coburn tries to cut off the puck but since Mason puts the some heat on the puck and fires it along the boards, Coburn can only deflect the puck... right to Ward.
At the same time, Grubauer had skated off and Alex Ovechkin joined the Capitals attack as the sixth skater, no doubt a strategic decision by Adam Oates to try to sneak him into the play, insomuch as the most dangerous scorer in the game can do anything stealthily. And you may have expected Ovechkin to skate as fast as he could into the action, but he hung back, read the developing play, and waited for his moment to strike:
Ovechkin coasts into the play (he even hits the breaks with his right skate right before he passes Green so he can time the play perfectly), but once he sees the passing lane from Ward to Green he jumps into the open ice, steals the pass from Green, and fires the puck past the Flyers defenders and Mason:
Ward, Green, and the entire Flyers defense probably thought that pass was going to Mike Green, but Ovechkin timed it perfectly, stepped in, and got off a more threatening shot than Green could have (notice how Green's momentum has him floating back towards the blue line, not towards the net as Ovechkin's is).
Finally, because Mason misplayed the puck behind the net, he was never able to get in solid position in the crease; at the time of the shot his left leg is aligned approximately with the middle of the net. He was off his angle when the shot approached, and the attempted blocked shot by Matt Read obscures Mason's vision. Read tries to drop down right in front of Ovechkin but the shot is released too quickly and Ovechkin manages to get the puck under the sliding defender. The result is a screened shot (Kimmo Timonen provides a bit of a screen at another level) into an open half-net:
The Capitals surely have not played their best hockey yet this season, and they can't continue to rely on late third period comebacks, even if they have the most prolific goal scorer of the past 15+ years. We all know that banking points in shootouts isn't exactly a recipe for success... but as long as the team can find a way to rack up the points, they can buy themselves some time to turn their game around. Second in the Division without playing great hockey is nice, but if they don't start playing great hockey at some point it'll just be delaying the inevitable... again.
All of that said, take a moment - or several moments - and appreciate what Alex Ovechkin did last week and what he's doing this season. It won't last forever and shouldn't be taken for granted. He's a truly special player playing truly special hockey. These moments matter... in lots of ways.