If a regulation hockey game was forty minutes long, the Capitals would own a 2-3-1 record. Such is not the case however, as the Washington Capitals blew a two goal lead that they held for over half of their game with the Ottawa Senators on a frigid Tuesday night. It was a game in which it seemed as though the Caps had finally gained some form of a comfort level with Adam Oates’ new system, and for the majority of the first two periods, Washington looked like a very dominant, and efficient hockey club. Troy Brouwer opened up the scoring in bitterly cold Ottawa just passed the thirteen minute mark of the first period when Wojtek Wolski turned a loose puck over at center ice and created a two-on-one opportunity with Brouwer. Wolski snuck down the left wing and fed a saucer pass to the forehand of Troy Brouwer in the low slot, who then passed up the quick shot, and opted to deke Craig Anderson. Brouwer finished the play by tucking the puck on his backhand passed a sprawling Anderson, who actually caught a piece of it before he saw it roll across the goal line.
Washington kept up the intensity and aggressiveness on their forcheck throughout the remainder of the first period and cashed in for a second time when Matt Hendricks redirected Jay Beagle’s sharp angled wrist shot from the half boards along the right wing. Hendricks was able to catch a piece of the puck with the blade of his stick, as it snuck through Anderson’s five-hole and into the back of the net. For at least one period, it appeared that the NHL’s leader in save percentage and goals against average, Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson, was a mere mortal. That, however, proved not to be the case as the game progressed.
The Caps played arguably some of their best hockey during the second period, but were not rewarded for it. Their passing game was crisp, their cycle game was exceptional, and their forchecking was relentless. For most of the second period, the puck barely left the Senators’ zone, and rarely crossed center ice. Through two periods, Washington had outshot Ottawa 24-15, and outplayed them enough to cause the “boo birds” to emerge in ScotiaBank Place, yet the score was a close 2-1 hockey game. Jim O’Brien narrowed the gap when he was able to get his stick on a pass from Erik Condra that was sloppily thrown to the middle of the ice and manage to dodge four backchecking Caps. A fluky goal, that found the Capitals in almost ideal defensive positions, gave life to the Senators with just over a minute and a half remaining in the second period.
Disaster struck in the third as the Capitals seemed to lack the intensity they played with through the first forty minutes. The roles assumed by the two teams through the first two periods seemed to be reversed, as it was now Washington that was being outshot and unable to clear pucks out of their own zone. Ultimately, poorly timed penalties, and in Joel Ward’s case specifically, another case of bad luck, kept the Caps from building a two-game winning streak. Caps fans may have tried to repress the memory of Joel Ward’s high sticking penalty in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the New York Rangers last spring that ultimately cost them the win. That nightmare seemed to emerge as a harsh reality as Ward, once again, fell victim to taking a penalty with three and a half minutes left that proved to be the difference. It was a questionable call, at best, when Ward’s follow through on a swat at the puck deep in Ottawa territory came up high and caused the penalty to be called. Typically per NHL rules, on follow throughs for shots, high sticking penalty calls are not made. This instance allowed for ex-Capital Sergei Gonchar to break the Ottawa power play draught, whom at the time was 0-5. Washington made a strong push in the last minute and fifteen seconds to desperately force the game to overtime. Mike Ribiero’s point blank wrist shot from the low slot was Washington’s best chance at forcing the game to extra time, but Craig Anderson glove was too good and he continued to prove why he is among the NHL’s best goaltenders.
It was an encouraging sign to see the Capitals play as well as they did for the better part of two periods of hockey. Unfortunately, at a time when points are so crucial and teams are still within striking distance, no one gets points for trying. The Caps will have to put forth the full sixty minutes in order to get back on the right track against the Maple Leafs on Thursday evening. Hopefully Toronto isn’t as cold as Ottawa.