An improved effort but still an unsuccessful result as Washington lost its third straight, 2-1 in a shootout against the Maple Leafs on Saturday night. Fortunately for Washington, in addition to gaining one point they saw Mikhail Grabovski avoid serious harm when he was hit in the face by a skate.
Five thoughts on the Caps’ shootout loss in Toronto.
1. Defending Ovechkin For 55 minutes the Maple Leafs did a thorough job of limiting Alex Ovechkin. Multiple times as Ovechkin tried to carry the puck around the offensive zone, there was a well-placed Toronto stick swatting it off his. He didn’t attempt a single shot in the first period, with his first shot on goal coming 25:22 into the contest. It wasn’t until the final frame of regulation that Ovechkin started to find space as he pushed to help tie the game — Ovechkin recorded nine of his 10 total attempts and six shots on goal in the third period and overtime.
While Coach Adam Oates said he didn’t think Toronto “did anything extra well” to limit Ovechkin, but where the star winger himself noticed the special attention on the power play most. The Leafs are the latest team to shadow the hulking winger on the man-advantage and force Washington to adjust their approach.
“Everywhere I go on the power play the guys just stayed close,” Ovechkin said, using the distance between himself and reporters postgame as an example.
“We made an adjustment on the penalty-killing to give them the one-time shot from the middle to take him away,” Leafs Coach Randy Carlyle explained. “It didn’t look very good, but consciously we felt it would be more of advantage for us to let our goalie see the one-time shot from the other players other than Ovechkin. You see what he can do with it. He gets one chance out of a puck that kinds of falls into his lap and he whips it inside the post [for a third-period goal] where I don’t think any goalie would’ve stopped.”
2. No. 20 For as well as Toronto kept Ovechkin in check for the first 55 minutes Saturday night, he showed precisely why he is such a dangerous offensive threat when he capitalized on a fluky play.
Mike Green fired a pass up ice and the puck took a slightly odd bounce, landing and sputtering over toward the left side boards – exactly in Ovechkin’s wheelhouse. He blasted a slap shot past James Reimer blocker side to tie the score at 1 with 15:50 gone in the third.
“Lucky bounce, puck kind of stop and I have opportunity to shoot it and it goes in,” Ovechkin said. “I feel my shot well.”
The goal marked Ovechkin’s 20th of the season and gives him three more goals than any other player in the league. Only two other active players have scored 20 or more goals in their first nine seasons – veterans Jaromir Jagr and Teemu Selanne.
3. No traffic in front Even though Ovechkin scored a goal and made sure that the Capitals left Toronto with a point, he wanted to see them put more traffic in front and make Reimer’s job more difficult. While Washington fired a season-high 50 shots on goal – the first time they’ve had 50 shots in a game since March 8, 2010 – Reimer saw most of them.
“Reimer make good saves, keep them in the game,” Ovechkin said. “But you can see if we get chance to shoot the puck we don’t have nobody in front of the net. Right now, this league, it’s pretty hard to score from the blueline or middle of the ice if goalie see the puck.”
Nicklas Backstrom concurred, especially when considering the looks they were able to manufacture on the power play. The Capitals had any number of quality opportunities on the man advantage but each time they fired, there was no one obstructing Reimer’s view. Given its power play setup, Washington isn’t usually looking for screens, tips or deflections in front but the unit is only as effective as the adjustments it can make to an opposing penalty kill. When the Maple Leafs opted to close off Ovechkin, leaving space available for shots from the slot and point they could have done more to make the most from those opportunities.
“We talked about it, actually, after the first power play but couldn’t get enough guys in front of the net. That’s something we’re looking at, that’s something we need,” Backstrom said. “It’s a little frustrating but [Reimer] played good, but I think still we weren’t that good in front of the net. We have to have more traffic and make it a little harder on him.”
4. Oates’s response Rarely does Oates give his players a verbal lashing about a performance and rarely does he speak to them immediately after a game but both happened Saturday in Toronto. Unhappy in the way they lost, 3-2, to the Canadiens on Friday night, Oates let the Capitals hear his frustration the following morning.
After Washington played a greatly improved defensive game at Air Canada Centre, he made sure they heard his praise as well.
“I talked to the players after the game, and I don’t ever do that, because I blasted them pretty good this morning and I complimented the D. It was night and day. Night and day,” Oates said. “We stuck to the game plan, we handled the pressure when we got it. Obviously 50 shots, in the third period, it took forever, and we finally got [Reimer].”
The Capitals held Toronto to 28 shots, just the fourth time this season they haven’t given up 30 or more. (Granted, the Leafs have taken more than 30 shots in a game just five times.) Overall, though, the Capitals did a better job overall of providing support for each other and making the right play to exit the zone or limit rebound chances their foe managed to create.
“We did a better job of not shooting ourselves in the foot giving them a second and third chance and wearing ourselves out,” Oates said. “We handled the pressure when it was there, we made a decent play, gave it to the next guy, got centered, got it in, allowed ourselves to get into our game. And before you know it, you get into a rhythm and you’re not tired. You’re fighting uphill all night, you become tired.”
5. Carlson on the power play Green returned to the lineup Friday night but in both of the back-to-back games this weekend he wasn’t manning the point on Washington’s top power play unit. Oates stuck with John Carlson, who recently found his scoring touch. Against Montreal, Carlson played 2:31 of the Capitals’ 3:01 of power play time. In Toronto, he skated for 4:51 of the total six minutes.
Before the game Oates explained his thinking behind keeping Carlson in that spot even with Green back in the mix.
“Mike missed three games and, obviously, Mike’s the man there but it’s been three games, Carly stepped up and you’ve got to earn your keep again,” Oates said. “That’s why he’s there to start.”
Carlson doesn’t have the same familiarity with Ovechkin to set up the winger for one-timers in the sweet spot like Green does, but over the past several games he’s been assertive at the point. He hasn’t hesitated to shoot – five of his seven shots on goal in Toronto came on the power play – and penalty killers seem to be respecting the threat of his shot as well. Will Green end up back with the top unit? No doubt, it’s just a matter of when. But in the meantime it’s interesting to see Oates stick with Carlson and continuing to lean heavily on the 23-year-old on the man-advantage.