On Tuesday night the Washington Capitals played to an entertaining, if frustrating, come-from-behind shootout loss. After spotting San Jose three goals in the first ten minutess, the Caps started chipping away in the second period (with some self-inflicted bumps in the road along the comeback trail) and finally tied the game late in the third when Troy Brouwer skated from the Sharks' blue line to their crease literally unopposed. To that point the comeback had been fueled by the usual suspects - the power play, the top line, Mike Green. Troy Brouwer (at even strength) might have been an unlikely hero for the Caps, but the way the second line had been playing, they were due. The trio (Brouwer skating on the right side of rookie Andre Burakovsky, opposite Marcus Johansson) had dangerous shift after dangerous shift throughout the second and third periods, and a goal from them seemed just a matter of time; that line was going to score.
In the second period, with the score sitting at 4-3, the Sharks broke out of their zone with Patrick Marleau and Chris Tierney moving through the neutral zone with speed:
Nate Schmidt shows why skating is so crucial for defensemen by quickly tracking down Tierney's dump in and curling away from pressure and making a quick pass up to Johansson. Johansson relays the puck cross-ice to Burakovsky, and the Caps quickly turn an opposing rush with speed into an offensive opportunity.
Burakovsky and Johansson out-battle Scott Hannan and Jason Demers, ultimately allowing Burakovsky to set up a cycle and free up enough space for Johansson to get free for a shot. They didn't score, but Antti Niemi kicked out a juicy rebound that could have caused some trouble. All from some beautiful dirty work:
In the third period, the Caps turned another dumped puck by San Jose into a Capitals offensive opportunity. This time San Jose was attempting to dump and change, but the quick passing by the Caps caught San Jose unprepared:
Matt Niskanen chases down the puck with a San Jose forechecker coming hard. Niskanen takes a look over his shoulder and sees the open ice as the rest of the Sharks change. He quickly rims the puck around the boards to Brouwer (who had just come on from a Caps line change), who hits Nicklas Backstrom in stride moving through the neutral zone (notice Johansson stepping on the ice as Nick hits the red line). The Sharks still only had one player on the far half of the ice from their bench, and Backstrom uses the open space to easily gain the zone.
Whatever Backstrom was trying to do, Brent Burns deflected it to the corner and Backstrom left the ice for a change while Johansson and Brouwer went to battle the Sharks defense. The two force the Sharks along the end boards behind their net, where Brouwer is finally able to kick the puck free to Johansson. A last second poke check from Burns prevents Johansson from taking clean possession, but fresh off the bench comes a charging Burakovsky. And his toe drag:
The second line generated a few chances to no avail, but when the Sharks finally did get the puck out, the Caps trio kept the pressure on so that the Sharks couldn't get a full change and Green was able to skate back into the Sharks' zone and get one more quality shot off. All told, the Sharks dump-and-change turned into a full line change and three or four good scoring chances for the Caps, foreshadowing what was to come.
Late in the third the second line finally broke through when Brouwer took advantage of ... some regression of fortunes for Matt Irwin:
After a quick up from Green, Brouwer drove wide and took advantage of Irwin's misfortune by driving to the net... where nobody tried to stop him. Johansson's net drive occupied Burns and Matt Nieto and Niemi committed to going down as Brouwer passed the faceoff dot. That let Brouwer skate around Niemi, leaving him face-to-face with an open half-net (it didn't hurt that Burns' attempted stick check was thwarted by the back of Niemi's leg). Brouwer buried the puck top shelf. Of course he did. Because Troy Brouwer is money from in tight with a mostly open net.
Three great shifts from the second line with prime scoring chances, all the result of quick puck movement up ice, and the third time was the charm. The second line showed speed and physicality below the goal line, setting up their cycle and creating scoring chances against one of the best teams in the League. And with that kind of play, especially late, it's hard not to wonder why Barry Trotz looks to be breaking up the trio in the wake of Tuesday night's loss. Regardless, if they (or whomever skates on that line) can keep it up all year, secondary scoring may not end up being as much of a concern as many anticipated.