Having lost four straight games, and six of their past seven, the Washington Capitals did not panic when they fell behind 2-0 last night to the Phoenix Coyotes. That is impressive when you consider how they fell behind. Washington's struggling power play allowed not one, but two shorthanded goals.
The first came when the Coyotes Lauri Korpikoski was in the penalty box for tripping less than five minutes into the contest. Phoenix’s’ Radim Vrbata picked off a cross ice pass by Caps defenseman John Carlson and scored on the short-handed breakaway.
Despite more than doubling up Phoenix in the shot category, the Caps were missing something in their game. Perhaps it was a break, or a bounce, but Matt Hendricks decided to literally take matters into his own fists, and dropped the gloves with the Coyotes Kyle Chipchura with just 54 seconds remaining in the opening stanza.
Hendricks busted the nose of his opponent while suffering a cut above his left eye himself, and on his way to the dressing room, Hendricks was seen yelling at his bench in an effort to fire them up. It worked, as Washington kept up the pressure on Phoenix to start the second period.
They killed off an early hooking penalty by Jason Chimera, and were rewarded with a power play of their own when Derrick Morris got the gate for hooking. However, Lauri Korpikoski, who was in the penalty box when his team scored the first shorthanded goal, battled Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman at the blue line just inside the Washington zone.
The puck bounced free and was wacked to center, where Korpikoski picked it up on a breakaway. Following him down the ice was Wideman, who hooked Korpikoski often enough to hinder his breakaway. This forced the hand of the referee to call a penalty, which in the NHL under these circumstances, is a penalty shot.
Korpikoski beat Caps starter Tomas Vokoun (20 saves) over his left shoulder, and Washington was down 2-0 seven and a half minutes into the middle frame. Impressively, Washington never got down, and pulled to within a goal less than a minute after the NHL’s eighth successful penalty shot this season.
Caps defenseman John Carlson drilled a slap shot, which deflected off the stick of the Coyotes Martin Hanzal, and past Phoenix net minder Jason LaBarbera. Carlson’s goal made amends for his errant pass which contributed to the breakaway that resulted in the first Phoenix goal. .“It felt really good,” Carlson said of his goal speaking to reporters after last night’s game.
“Just from a team aspect we needed that to get us going. We haven’t been getting too many bounces. There are 10 people skating by the net and it squeaks in. Cody [Eakins]’s goes in off someone’s stick and that’s what you need to jump-start us. You saw after that we had the spark and momentum and everyone seemed to be going.”
With momentum, and continuous hard work from their third and fourth lines, Washington would tie the game on another deflection less than four minutes later. From just above the left face-off circle, recent Hershey Bears call-up Cody Eakins cranked up, and with his stick over his head, fired a slap shot that deflected past LaBarbera, for his second career NHL goal.
Washington's hard work had payed off despite allowing two-shorthanded markers. They played hard for the first 40 minutes, and were outshooting the Coyotes 2-to-1 (25-12) to start the third. What the Caps have not been doing in their last seven games was playing 60 minutes of hockey, but that wouldn't be a problem on this night.
During Saturday's loss to the Maple Leafs, the Capitals allowed six goals in either the first or last three minutes of all three periods. Last night, the Caps cashed in early to start the third. They stole the lead 3-2, and added jump to their step in the process, as the Caps leading points scorer, Nicklas Backstrom, used his nine iron to chip the puck over LaBarbera’s shoulder for the go-ahead goal.
Backstrom’s sixth of the season coupled with his assist on the Caps fourth goal, added to his team leading 22 points for the season. The goal was earned by Washington’s 2006 first round (4th overall) selection, and was one he may not have scored in seasons past. Backstrom began the play after a dump-in by outworking two Phoenix players behind the net. He forced the puck back to Joel Ward, who fired the shot that Backstrom eventually chipped home.
The home team took a two goal lead, and in the process possibly jump started their struggling power play. Already down a man, the Coyotes David Schlemko cleared the puck over the glass from within the caps offensive zone causing a delay of game penalty. Washington’s power play, which had not scored with the extra man since back on Nov-8, now had a two-man advantage to work with. Not able to find any open lanes from the point, or on the side of the net, the Caps looked as if they wouldn’t be able to take advantage, but with 26 seconds left in the 5-on-3, Nicklas Backstrom won a key offensive zone face-off back to Brooks Laich, who blasted home the eventual game winner.
Laich's fourth of the season, was his third with the extra man, as the tally snapped an 0-for-28 drought on the power play for Washington. Korpikoski continued to torture Caps fans, adding his second of the night to pull Phoenix to within one, but the Capitals held on to snap the four game losing streak.
The win was head coach Bruce Boudreau's 200th of his NHL career, and came in just his 326th game behind the bench. That is technically the fastest in NHL history. I say technically because the flamboyant Don Chery reached 200 wins in 341 games. However, all of them came in regulation time, as overtime and the shootout had not yet been introduced.
Boudreau took over four years ago today with a 4-3 overtime win vs. the Philadelphia Flyers. It will be interesting to hear what Cherry says this Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada about the record.
While snapping a losing streak is always big news, the biggest news may have occurred before the start of last night's contest when Bruce Boudreau made the Caps once superstar forward, Alex Semin, a healthy scratch.
Tiring of his on ice antics, Boudreau sat down the much maligned Russian. Semen’s play has been lazy at times, and he's costing his team goals, as he sits in the penalty box.
Semin has four goals and nine points but leads the team in penalty minutes (28) and minor penalties (14) in 18 games this season. Semin is second in the league in minor penalties behind Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks, and he has sat in the sin bin for at least one minor in each of the past seven games.
Boudreau talked with the local media last night following the game about what is officially a benching for the one-time 40 goals scorer.
“We’ve talked about it; I guess the talk has gone away from it because we were starting to lose. He’s taken penalties seven games in a row. At some point, you have to be accountable for your errors. I don’t like doing those things to people who are that talented, but everybody’s got to know that everybody’s accountable. It was a tough decision but it was a decision I thought that had to be made for the group.”
His roster spot was given to another Russian, although this one was making his NHL debut.
The Caps young defenseman Dmitri Orlov looked composed and impressive in his NHL debut. He skated 11 minutes and 56 seconds on 12 shifts, but was more than comfortable in his own skates. He was credited with three hits and one attempted shot on goal, but if you saw that shot, than you know the potential he possess at the Caps blue-line
Whether to like “Orlov” the Caps second round (55th overall) selection in the 2009 entry draft will depend on his work ethic.
According to Hockey Futures, Orlov is a talented, smooth skating offensive defenseman who prefers to press the attack and create scoring opportunities at all times. His freelancing at times creates openings for the opposition, but Orlov is a constant threat. He is a decent sized player with a strong core but does not play an overly physical game. His strong suit is his creativity and high skill level which allows him to execute the complex plays he conceives. His shooting is accurate if not powerful and he is also adept at finding teammates with quick passes.
“I was very happy with him,” Boudreau said of Orlov speaking to reporters. “He looked very composed. I thought he did a great job, I really did. He didn’t try to do too much in his first game. He stayed back, like there were probably times he was itching to jump in but he played it smart. He took a lot in, in the last 24 hours -- all in English -- and played it pretty well.”
The Capitals host the Winnipeg Jets on Thanksgiving eve, and then host the New York Rangers in a 4:00 p.m. matinee the day after Thanksgiving.
Look for my article tomorrow on what’s wrong with Alex Ovechkin, and how ultimately his decline in play will lead to his, or more likely Bruce Boudreau’s departure before March-1.