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After a surprisingly decent first (considering the team’s previous meeting), this matchup between the Caps and Blue Jackets slowed down considerably. This favored Columbus, which tallied very early and late in the third to snatch a 3-2 win.
Here's Sunday afternoon’s Plus/Minus:
- Plus: Nicklas Backstrom (during the first 58 minutes). His goal and assist were both a little fluky—he admitted at intermission he was trying to pass to Marcus Johansson in front, and his pass on Alex Ovechkin’s power play goal was deflected by Matt Calvert—but his passing was generally on-point and frequently dangerous, he was tough to knock off the puck, and played his usual good defense.
- Minus: Advancing the puck. Much like in the teams’ last meeting, the Caps had trouble getting the puck up the ice cleanly, which meant the team couldn’t establish its forecheck and get into a rhythm offensively.
And now, this...
Top #CapsJackets on @CSNMA pic.twitter.com/nhCDylvRIQ— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) November 20, 2016
Ten more notes on the game:
- After an initial feeling-out period, the Caps struck first. Backstrom threw the puck on goal from the wall with Johansson cruising in front and it surprised Sergei Bobrovsky five-hole.
- This goal seemed to jump-start the Caps. A minute later, Jay Beagle, Tom Wilson, and Paul Carey had a great shift in the offensive zone. A couple of minutes after that, Johansson set up Justin Williams for two great chances off the rush. And a minute later, Carey was robbed on the doorstep by Bobrovsky’s right pad.
- But Columbus controlled the latter half of the first. Braden Holtby had to make a nice save on Cam Atkinson off the rush. He then stopped Lukas Sedlak’s tip-in try in front of the net, and another shot that deflected off a skate on the rush.
- The Blue Jackets were able to get cross-slot and cross-crease passes through most of the game. They turned one into a goal on the power play in the second period, when Nick Foligno’s cross-crease pass deflected in off John Carlson’s skate to tie the game. With the Caps up 2-1 less than 20 seconds into the third, Brandon Saad’s centering pass deflected off Atkinson’s skate right to Brandon Dubinsky, who deked around a Holtby poke check and put the puck into an open net. And on the game-winner, Sam Gagner went cross-slot to Scott Hartnell, who went right back across to Wennberg for a tap-in.
- That final goal was the worst moment of the game for Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen, who were otherwise fairly good once again. Niskanen jumped into the rush to help create opportunities multiple times—a David Savard shot block was the only thing between him and a potential go-ahead assist seconds after Dubinsky tied the game at 2—and Alzner put a shot towards the net that Beagle deflected inches wide of a half-open net late in the third.
- This contrasts with John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov, who had a difficult time getting the puck up the ice. The space wasn’t there for Orlov to carry the puck into the neutral zone as he likes to do.
- The team’s power play units combined to go 3-for-4—Columbus 2-for-3 and Washington 1-for-1. The Caps in particular were fine at denying the Blue Jackets clean entries, but really struggled once Columbus set up. The Blue Jackets switched between its 1-3-1 and 2-1-2 formations fluidly, and those changes flummoxed the Caps.
- The Caps’ power-play goal was out its usual setup—Backstrom looked for Ovechkin with a seam pass. Although it was deflected by Calvert, Ovechkin took a step forward and roofed the shot.
- There were only four power plays in this game. There was some rough stuff that resulted in two minutes of 4-on-4 twice, but this wasn’t a game where the referees were “letting them play.” Not that much happened to merit more penalties, and two of the penalties to the Caps (both of which Columbus scored on) were of questionable merit, too.
- Although limiting an opponent to 23 shots on goal is terrific, getting only 21 yourself is pretty poor. Unless an opponent completely break downs in their defensive zone, 21 shots on goal won’t lead to enough chances to score a healthy amount of goals.
The Caps are a very good team, but they need to figure out how to get past teams that make it tough to carry the puck up the ice. If Columbus can outplay Washington with this strategy consistently, more talented opponents will pick up on it, and the remainder of the season will be an uphill climb for Washington.