Both Backstroms suited up Saturday night in the Xcel Energy Center as the Caps looked to get their first win ever on the Wild’s home ice. Braden Holtby got his first start in two weeks, hoping to be a difference maker and bring Washington’s three game losing streak to an end. Unfortunately, the home team had other plans, handing the Caps their sixth loss in the last seven games.
The game started off promising for the Caps as the defense stepped up into the play, bringing quality chances from Mike Green and Dmitry Orlov early on. They capitalized on sloppy play from the Wild, playing mostly in the offensive zone and gaining a large edge in shots.
Eventually, the Caps converted the solid play into a lead when a long wrister from Alexander Ovechkin hit Minnesota netminder Niklas Backstrom down low, leaving a juicy rebound for Marcus Johansson. The Capitals centerman put the puck past Backstrom blocker side to put the away team on the board in the first.
Not more than thirteen seconds later did Green extend the lead to two with a nifty curl-and-drag move, slicing through Minnesota forward Matt Cooke and shooting through the legs of defenseman Nate Prosser to extend the lead to two.
With star left winger Zach Parise missing his fifth game in a row, the young Minnesota squad was out of sorts, taking a timeout after the two goals to regroup. They mustered only one shot on goal for the first period to the Caps eleven shots and failed to create quality chances. Fortunately for the home crowd, the second period would bring a welcome change of pace in the form of power plays.
The Caps were again plagued by their inability to stay out of the penalty box, a problem coach Adam Oates has been concerned with for weeks. Minnesota conveniently found their scoring rhythm just in time to capitalize on Washington’s mistakes. Nino Niederreiter opened the scoring for the home team when he slipped unnoticed behind Capitals defensemen and put one away glove-side over the Washington net minder on a centering pass from Charlie Coyle. The deficet was now cut to one goal and unfortunately for the Caps, it would continue to unravel.
When Steve Oleksy went to the box for roughing, he was shortly followed by Karl Alzner for a delay of game call, giving the Wild a five-on-three power play for nearly two minutes, ample time to convert. And convert they did, when Ryan Suter scored his first of three goals on the night with a slapshot on the heavily screened Holtby, who had no chance at stopping the puck.
Suter would score again on the same power play less than a minute later, this time on a redirect from a Dany Heatley shot. What was once a sewn up game for the Capitals unraveled, leaving the away team shocked and bewildered.
Looking to spark their lost offensive prowess, Green got a bit of luck on his second of the night with an odd goal to put his team back up on the board. Unfortunately, the penalty problems were unrelenting as Mikhail Grabovski headed to the sin bin on a delay of game infraction.
Minnesota would convert again on a power play tally from Jason Zucker that was equally as lucky as Green’s earlier goal but gave the home team the lead nonetheless.
After a first period that saw only one shot from the Wild, they scored four goals in the second period, shocking an unprepared Capitals team.
Backstrom made a huge save on a Grabovski-to-Ovechkin try early in the third, preserving the lead for Minnesota on a lucky grab. Suter got whistled for tripping shortly after, sending the Caps to the power play. While the Capitals had good puck movement and generated solid opportunities, they failed to convert. Suter was sprung from the box after his penalty expired, heading straight towards the action in front of Holtby.
The rest of the game is a strong indication for what would happen next, as Suter put away his third goal of the game on a snap shot shortside past Holtby from Clayton Stoner. It was Suter’s first NHL hat trick, as he enjoys a hot streak following his appointment to Team USA for the Sochi Olympics.
The Capitals have now given up two hat tricks in the past two games, the first to Carolina Hurricane Jeff Skinner. Holtby gave up five goals on ten shots, presumably not the kind of outing he was hoping for after not starting in two weeks.
Despite only winning three of their last ten, Minnesota rebounded nicely from an challenging first period and put together fourty minutes of quality play to put the Caps away. The penalties proved to be costly for the Capitals, an all too familiar storyline plaguing them recently.
Philadelphia’s win over the Phoenix Coyotes dropped the Capitals to third place in the Metropolitan division, with the fourth place New York Rangers just two points behind them. In order to stop the bleeding, Washington needs to clean up the sloppy penalties and put a full sixty minutes together, something they’ve been unable to do as of late.