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The last time these two teams faced off, the Caps rode a masterful 38-save performance by Braden Holtby to a 2-1 victory. While he's only gotten better since then, the Caps probably didn't want to see a similar storyline play out when they arrived in Ottawa tonight. Thankfully they gave him a bit more of a break, as Holtby faced just 26 shots (and stopped 25 of them) en route to the exact same score.
Thursday night's Plus/Minus:
- Plus: The penalty kill. No, Ottawa is not the toughest power-play team on the block (far from it, in fact), but when you give a team multiple chances with the extra man, their odds of finally cashing in improve dramatically. Kudos to the Caps' PK unit (which is only marginally better than the Sens' power play) and especially to the best penalty-killer on the ice most nights, Braden Holtby, for shutting the door during the parade to the penalty box. Speaking of which...
- Minus: So. Many. Penalties. From the final five minutes of the second period to the first five minutes of the third, the Caps took five minor penalties in a row (including three in a row to open the third period). That's insane, even for a Caps team that has become notorious for taking undisciplined penalties at bad times.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The first period of this one may have been the dullest, fastest-moving opening frame we've seen in a long time. No goals. No penalties. Very few whistles, very few scoring chances and an almost hypnotic back-and-forth pace that was both riveting and coma-inducing. Love playing the Sens, right?
- Every offensively-gifted defenseman had a target on his back early on tonight. First Mike Green took a knee to the leg and briefly left the bench to get patched up (although thankfully he returned shortly after). Later, Alex Ovechkin exacted a bit of revenge with a hit on Erik Karlsson that, yes, was perhaps a bit from behind. Predictably, every Senator on the ice went after Ovechkin; equally predictably, all of them basically bounced off of him.
- Things started to heat up over the course of the second period, and a little past the halfway point the Senators had the Caps hemmed into their own zone on an absolutely dominant, and prolonged, shift. It was the kind of forecheck that you knew would end in only one of two ways: a penalty for the Caps, or a goal for the Sens. Unfortunately it was the latter, as Kyle Turris finally broke the stalemate with a bullet over Holtby’s shoulder to put the Sens up 1-0.
- Quick. Response. Goals. It’s been a refreshing trend all year long, and it continued tonight, as the Caps answered back just 1:13 after Turris’s tally. Nice work along the boards by Andre Burakovsky, with backup from Joel Ward, to keep control of the puck and maintain pressure in the offensive zone, and good job by Brooks Orpik to lay a heavy shot right on net. Robin Lehner was able to handle that initial shot, but the rebound dribbled over to the side where Evgeny Kuznetsov was lurking, and no one seemed to realize it… except for Kuznetsov. Tie game.
- And then, because they’ve gotten so good at it, they went ahead and offered up a quick-response goal to their own quick-response goal. After seeing the way Ovechkin batted the puck out of mid-air and into the net, it’s obvious that all he needed to connect at the All-Star skills competition was Jay Beagle setting him up.
- Of course with that goal, Ovechkin propelled himself back to the top of the leaderboard in goals (albeit in a tie) just 24 hours after falling behind Rick Nash for the top spot. He continues to have the hottest hand in the League, and it doesn't seem to show any signs of cooling off.
- Penalties, penalties, penalties. The rate at which this team takes penalties would be funny if it weren't insanely frustrating, with the Caps making another six trips to the penalty box (compared to the one minor taken by the Sens, and that only being whistled in the final minutes of regulation). That said, very impressive work by the penalty killers and Holtby, who were able to extinguish every chance with the extra man.
- Speaking of Holtby, while there were certainly times in this one where he looked a bit scrambly (largely due to the team in front of him looking more than a bit scrambly), he continued to be exactly the goalie he's been for the better part of the last three months. Just another 25-save, one-goal-against performance for the man between the pipes.
- Mike Green has been playing really well of late... but tonight he took the night off from that. He did have a golden scoring chance that was denied by Lehner, and there's a chance that hit he took in the first period slowed him up a bit, but he was one of only two Caps to finish the night with a negative CF% (the other being Jack Hillen, his defensive partner), and had a front-row seat to ten of the Senators' 18 scoring chances at even strength...while being on the ice for only three generated by the Caps.
- They did it! They DID IT! Finally, a win after giving up the game's first goal! With that victory they've now got a grand total of... well, two. But that's still better than one, so we'll take it.
The Caps now head home with two hard-earned points from a gritty road win - but they don't have much time to celebrate, as they're back in action tomorrow night against our old pal Bruce Boudreau and the Ducks. And while they weren't bad tonight, they'll need to be better against the League's best team - and perhaps stay out of the penalty box, too.
And now, this...