Alan May: Caps let Senators steal momentum
If you were sitting at home with your buddies watching the Caps play in Ottawa Tuesday night, the first half of the game would have convinced you that Washington would be victorious. An especially clean first period put the visitors in front by two goals. But a full 60-minute performance was not in the cards, as the Senators rallied to score three unanswered goals to down the Capitals 3-2.
It had to be an interesting night for Adam Oates and Paul MacLean, the two gentlemen running their respective benches, who for a good chunk of time were teammates in their playing days in Detroit and St. Louis. Oates told us that he had not spoken for awhile with MacLean since they last saw each other in Binghamton, N.Y., while Adam was coaching the Hershey Bears earlier this season and MacLean was watching the Senators prospects.
Carrying momentum from their win over Buffalo Sunday, the Caps started strongly inside Scotiabank Place. They were rolling four lines, all of which appeared to have good skating legs.
Craig Anderson, in the nets for Ottawa, would fight off their advances over the first dozen minutes of the game.
Michal Neuvirth, making his four consecutive start in goal for the Caps, was on steady ground as well, although it was Anderson who had a larger workload in the opening period.
Wojtek Wolski would help the Caps strike first. Skating down the left wing, Wolski spotted a streaking Troy Brouwer going hard to the net without a Senator defender to back-check him. Brouwer took the pass from Wolski, shifted the puck from forehand to backhand and slipped it past Anderson at 13:15 of period one.
Less than five minutes later, Matt Hendricks would add to the lead. Jay Beagle threw a sharp-angle shot toward the cage where the feisty was hanging out. With a wave of his stick, Hendricks changed the flight-path of the puck just enough to have it squirt through Anderson for a two-goal advantage.
You could fast-forward through most of the second period and you would find the Caps playing a disciplined game, keeping the likes of Erik Karlsson, Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek under control, with only a few threatening exceptions.
And then it all changed. With only 83 seconds remaining in the second period, the Senators’ fourth-line grinders contributed the turning point. Cutting in off the left-wing boards, Erik Condra slipped a pass that glanced off of Jim O’Brien and re-directed past Neuvirth to give the home team life.
The major momentum shift would continue at the 2:20 mark of the third period. Only seconds after the puck had been dropped for an offensive zone faceoff, Ottawa sharpshooter Milan Michalek managed to slice a backhand shot past Neuvirth off the far post and into the goal to tie the score.
Scotiabank Place was going nuts, but the Caps were able to stabilize their game. Each team was able to kill off a critical third-period power play to keep the score deadlocked.
The game ultimately would hinge on a high-sticking penalty that was whistled against Joel Ward. From my point of view, Ward took a big chopping swing at the puck in an attempt to play it deep into the Senators defensive zone. On his follow-through, his stick would come up and clip Ottawa defender Patrick Wiercioch in the face. After a moment or two of uncertainty, the officials decided to call Ward for high-sticking. Normally a player is not penalized should his stick strike an opponent on a follow-through. The officials told Joel that he was not playing the puck when he swung the stick (replays showed that he missed the puck), but to me that was clearly his intent—to get the puck further into the zone. The officials deemed it reckless and the Senators power play came on the ice.
Sergei Gonchar, the former high-scoring Caps defenseman, would be the man who brought the curtain down. He took a mid-point relay from the sublimely talented Karlsson and slammed a slapshot that deflected off Hendricks and past Neuvirth, who never had a prayer to stop it.
The game-winning goal came at 17:30 of the third and it stung. A last ditch effort from Mike Ribeiro was snuffed out by Anderson in the final minute. The goalie didn’t flinch as Ribeiro let it fly from no more than 15 feet away.
That difficult-to-swallow loss sends the Caps off to Toronto where they will square off with the Maple Leafs Thursday night.