Five thoughts on the Capitals’ 4-3 shootout win in Detroit

November 16, 2013

Braden Holtby poke checks the puck off the stick of Pavel Datsyuk during the shootout Friday night. (AP/Carlos Osorio)

The Capitals rallied in the third period and went on to win for a second consecutive game, capturing a 4-3 shootout win against the Red Wings in Detroit. Washington has won six of its past eight games, three of those victories coming in a shootout.

Five thoughts on the win in Motor City.

1. Change them up. At the end of the second period, Coach Adam Oates wasn’t particularly unhappy with the way his team was playing. But if the Capitals were going to mount a comeback against Detroit, they needed to find some offense. He and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe talked about making a swap on the top two lines and after the Capitals failed to convert on a power play at the start of the frame, Marcus Johansson rejoined the top line and Martin Erat moved down to the second.

“I was just looking for a spark as always. I actually thought Ovi was looking a little flat,” Oates said. “Teams have been taking him away on the PP so I just tried to generate something. We got lucky with it and the puck had eyes on his goal.”

On the first shift with Johansson back with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, the speedy forward set up the star right winger for a goal that kicked off the Capitals’ third-period rally. It was the second time in as many games that Johansson set up Ovechkin for an important goal – they combined for the game-winner in overtime against Columbus.

While no one necessarily expected that group to convert immediately, the chemistry that Johansson has with the two franchise pillars is readily apparent. He’s had plenty of experience playing with the two of them now and, this season, has been making more significant contributions to the unit’s offensive production. And after five games and two periods, the combination of Erat with Backstrom and Ovechkin still didn’t have an even strength goal. Every team needs more production than that from its top line.

“It hasn’t been working, really the first two lines I would say,” Backstrom said. “He wanted to switch it up but I think it was a little lucky we scored the first shift when we were put back together.”

Oates wouldn’t commit to keeping these lines, Johansson-Backstrom-Ovechkin and Erat-Laich-Brouwer together for Sunday’s contest against the St. Louis Blues following Friday’s win. But it certainly seems like that would be a likely course of action.

2. End of a drought. Way before Oates switched up the lines, Brooks Laich recorded his first goal in 12 games and third of the season. It was a nice hustle play by Laich, who followed up on his own rebound after being sprung on a breakaway by Michigan native Steve Oleksy once the defenseman picked off a Detroit clearing attempt.

The tally marked Laich’s third point in five games, which isn’t a breakneck pace but perhaps the multi-purpose forward is beginning to find his offensive footing. It’s no secret the Capitals could use some form of consistent offensive production from their second line at even strength. Of the eight goals Laich and Troy Brouwer have scored, half have come at even strength, but at times their line has spent more of their shifts chasing the puck in their own end than generating possession or momentum of any type.

Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson (74) takes control of the puck as Detroit Red Wings left wing Justin Abdelkader (8) is checked by Washington Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner (27) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit, Friday, Nov. 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
John Carlson takes control of the puck as Detroit Red Wings left wing Justin Abdelkader Karl Alzner. (AP/Carlos Osorio)

3. Without Green. As is the case whenever Mike Green is out of the lineup, the greatest burden of ice time and additional responsibility falls on John Carlson, who already sees the toughest matchups on a nightly basis.

Carlson played a team-high 32:26 that included 5:51 shorthanded and 6:43 on the power play. He was on the ice for both of the Capitals’ third-period goals without being on for a single Detroit goal against. His defensive partner, Karl Alzner, was second on the team with 24:12 and was also a plus-2 and they combined to help create the play that led to Michael Latta’s game-tying goal.

“After those PP goals I thought we moved the puck well out of there,” Carlson said. “Their D come hard on the walls and I thought we did a good job for the most part to put it in good spots for our forwards, either put it in the middle or at least get it out and get it into the neutral zone and put a little pressure on them.”

The Capitals needed their dynamic duo defensive pairing to be solid, steadying presences with Green out and especially considering only one of the other four blueliners – Tyson Strachan — in the lineup at Joe Louis Arena have played more than 100 games in the NHL. Oates leaned on Strachan and rookie Nate Schmidt as well and they clocked in with 21:43 and 22:05, respectively.

“Carly played 32 ½ minutes, Alzy played a ton. They played great. Tyson came in and played a fantastic game for us for what we asked of him, he moved the puck,” Oates said. “Schmidtty’s playing better every night, Urb’s playing better every night, Stevie O did a great job tonight. For going into this building for the first time for a lot of guys it’s hard and they did a good job.”

Alex Urbom (12:38) and Steve Oleksy (10:51) rounded out the group and had the roughest night of all three pairings as they were on the ice for two of three Detroit goals. But when the other four were able to carry such a significant workload it helped to cancel that out.

4. Penalties. The Capitals gave up two power-play goals in a single game for just the second time this season Friday night and after absorbing that hit, the penalty kill is now ranked second in the league at 87.3 percent. Washington’s shorthanded play has been a source of strength, but occasionally the group has too many infractions to kill off in a single contest or simply runs up against a team that can break down their scheme. Both happened in Detroit.

The Capitals are tied for second in the league for the most minor penalties (89) have the third-most total penalties (108) and are fourth in total penalty minutes with 289. Even with as good as the penalty kill has been, they could use a game or two where they don’t need to kill off a handful of penalties.

5. Shootout magic. Washington is tied for a league leading 5-1 record in shootouts and with his decisive tally against the Red Wings, Backstrom improved to 4-for-4. It was the second game-deciding shootout goal of the year and just the fourth of his career. Prior to this season, Backstrom was 9-for-26 in the tiebreak.

Obviously to be as successful in shootouts as the Capitals have been, you need solid goaltending to go along with the goals. Braden Holtby, after making 34 saves through 65 minutes of play, was perfect in the shootout Friday night making deft poke checks on Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi. Of the 12 shots he’s faced in shootouts this year, Holtby’s only allowed three goals.

“You could tell he was on,” Oates said. “In the shootout, the three shots, he was on. That’s a huge feeling for the bench.”

Here’s the full shootout.

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