Caps fans couldn’t have left the Verizon Center in a better mood on Tuesday night. Watching Alex Ovechkin score the game winner in overtime is as good as it gets for Washington hockey fans.
Ovechkin put home a rebound off a Marcus Johansson shot to give the Caps a 4-3 victory only 1:34 into the extra frame. Although after the game OV gave Johannson most of the credit for the game winner and said he got a “lucky puck”, Coach Adam Oates praised his captain’s ability to position himself in front of the net at the right time.
It was a long and winding road to get to the final horn in this one. The first twenty-five minutes were played at even strength and for the most part at a slow, deliberate pace. The Caps were playing their fifth game in eight days and perhaps were conserving some energy in the early going. But as most Caps fans know, 5-on-5 hockey is not this team’s strength and even against the last place Blue Jackets the home team was losing the puck possession battle. Columbus outshot the Caps 12-7 in the first period and led in advanced possession metrics for the better part of the first half of the game. The Caps rank near the bottom of the league in puck possession at 5-on-5 in close games and their best chance is usually to maximize time spent at 5-on-4 to showcase their dangerous power play and their top ranked penalty killing.
Finally the refs began to blow their whistles, calling four penalties (three on the Blue Jackets) the rest of the way in the second period. But sometimes you need to be careful what you ask for. Instead of taking advantage of being on the power play the Caps gave up a shorthanded goal to Brandon Dubinsky at the 7:50 mark that opened up the scoring. Not what the fans were hoping for. The Caps would respond before the frame was through however. The Caps chose 5-on-5 action to get the equalizer, when puck magnet Martin Erat drove aggressively to the net and made a perfect pass to John Carlson who got his fourth tally of the season at the 14:00 mark of the second period.
The game continued to pick up steam into the third period and provided fans with action that had been missing in the early going. Although the Caps were penalized twice in the final period their special team unit not only shut down the Blue Jackets’ power play but scored a shorthanded goal of their own when Joel Ward took advantage of a misplayed puck by the opponent’s goaltender to fire home his ninth tally of this young season, giving his team a 2-1 lead at 8:56 of the third. The shorthanded goal was the first for the Capitals this season and gave the home crowd a reason to believe their team could shake their pesky foe.
But few things are more short-lived than a Capitals lead and as the Caps again surrendered 5-on-5 puck possession time to their opponents midway through the third, the Blue Jacket’s not only tied the game at the 11:22 mark with a tally by Jared Boll, but took the lead outright only three minutes later when Cam Atkinson beat Braden Holtby on a breakaway for his fifth goal of the year. Caps defenseman Mike Green was seemingly caught out of position and was beaten to the puck by Atkinson on the play.
The momentum would swing back to the home team before this one was through. Just as the curtain seemed to be dropping at the Verizon Center Miikhail Grabovski tallied another 5-on-5 goal for the Caps with less than two minutes remaining to send the game into overtime. Grabovski’s goal was the sixth on the year for the center who has been making his presence felt on his new team. Ovechkin finished the scoring in the extra frame to gain the two points for the Caps.
This game was an unusual one for the Capitals. It broke a thirteen game streak of surrendering 30 or more shots to their opponent (the Blue Jackets finished with 27) and the Caps managed to keep the scoring even at 5-on-5, which is usually a glaring weakness. Finally, they managed to win a game without scoring on their power play and even giving up a shorthanded goal in the process. All of this adds up to a one-goal win against a bad team, but it’s the kind of win the Caps will need to scrape out to keep themselves in the playoff picture.
And when OV scores the winner in OT the post-game analysis is much simpler: Which way to the nearest beer? It’s time to celebrate.