Five thoughts on the Caps’ win over the Red Wings

February 3

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Despite giving up a two-goal lead three times, the Capitals managed to come away with a 6-5 overtime win against the Red Wings on Super Bowl Sunday thanks to the 15th overtime game-winner of Alex Ovechkin’s career.

Five thoughts on the win against Detroit.

1. Ward ties his career high. If anyone tells you they knew Joel Ward would be the Capitals’ second highest goal scorer behind Alex Ovechkin this year they’re lying. There was no way to predict that the veteran winger would have his most consistent all-around year in Washington in his third season here. Or that he would tie his career high in goals – a mark he set back in 2008-09 in his breakout year in Nashville – in game 56 of the season Sunday afternoon.

With two goals against the Red Wings, Ward now has 17 on the season and is two points shy of matching his career high (35) in that category as well. In his first two seasons with the Capitals combined, Ward recorded 14 goals and 38 points.

“It’s been a long time,” Ward said. “You just [want] to contribute. You always want to be up there and help the team win games. The coaching staff has helped me out a lot giving me an opportunity to play on the power play. You wish, everybody, to get a chance to be out there on the power play. You just try to make the most of it.”

Five of his 17 goals have come on the power play, including his first of the day against Detroit. But his second goal was the type of play that Ward has found steady success with this season, when he drove to the net in search of a loose puck and was able to convert that opportunity into a goal.

They aren’t often pretty goals, the tallies Ward scores. They’re the gritty goals that come from traversing high-traffic areas, from being willing to grind away on a cycle until a chance presents itself. They’re the kind of goals the Capitals don’t get regularly from anyone other than Ward and his usual linemate, Jason Chimera.

“They bring it every night and they’ve been reliable,” Coach Adam Oates said. “That affects the other coach’s matchups because if they’re threatening you can’t worry only about [Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin]. You need depth through your lineup because the league is that way.”

Given that the Capitals were playing without three regulars Sunday — Mikhail Grabovski (left ankle), Brooks Laich (groin) and Mike Green (concussion) – there was a need for someone to step up and set a tone. In the early stages of the game that was Ward and Chimera, who hustled to win puck battles and accounted for three of the six goals the team scored.

“We’ve got to find a way,” Ward said. “We got a lot of guys that want to play, capable of playing and filling in a lot of good roles and we take pride in this all as individuals. Especially our line with Chimmer and I, [we] just try and be leaders and positive players, helping the team win games.”

2. No icing here. One of those plays from that line that helped the Capitals get off to their strong start came early in the second period when Jason Chimera won a foot race to negate an icing call. In the grand scheme of a game that featured back-and-forth goals and an overtime winner by the league’s leading goal scorer it won’t be remembered on any highlight reel,s but it was important in the moment as he made up for an icing play by rookie defenseman Connor Carrick.

For a Washington squad that has lacked poise quite frequently and made numerous errors all season long,  it hasn’t had those plays to bail out a mistake often enough.

“That’s a huge play, he bailed out Connor on that play,” Oates said. “Connor had a little bit of time and under duress iced it and Chimmer bailed him out. That’s a huge bail-out because [if it’s an icing] it’s a faceoff in our end. We were reeling a little bit. … You feel like, ‘We’ve coughed it up a few times and oh no here they come.’ A young kid makes a mistake and he bailed him out. That’s a huge play for us.”

3. Neuvirth. Speaking of bailing out, Michal Neuvirth was a large reason why the Capitals were able to maintain their 3-1 lead in the second period as long as they did. He turned aside quality chances – a nifty glove save on Tomas Tatar, a point-blank stop on Gustav Nyquist – before the defensive breakdowns eventually became a bit too much.

But at the same time, he probably should have stopped the Red Wings’ second goal, by Tatar, which hit him and then managed to find its way into the net.

“I would say out of the five goals there’s probably one he wanted back, the one in the second period they went side to side kind of went under his arm,” Oates said. “Otherwise, the other goals, I think we broke down in front of him.”

Problem is, the Capitals defense breaks down consistently and often substantially in games. Without nearly perfect goaltending, nothing will be able to make up for that. But the Caps aren’t getting perfect goaltending either, so you wind up with games where they give up more than a comfortable amount of goals. Whether they can scrape out two points often depends on whether the offense can keep up.

4. Carrick. Third among defensemen in ice time Sunday? Connor Carrick with 19:04, behind only John Carlson (28:17) and Karl Alzner (19:26). He also jumped up in the play twice to help contribute to Washington’s first and fourth goals. On the fourth, which was Ward’s second of the game, he pinched down low to the goal line and managed to keep possession alive before throwing the puck to the net, knowing at the very least the Capitals would get an offensive faceoff out of the equation. Ward managed to finish the play in front, though, and put the Caps up 4-2.

Granted he also had the penalty that led to Detroit’s first goal and was on the ice for their second as well as another power-play tally. But with Mike Green out of the lineup, there’s opportunity for the young puck mover to gain more experience, both good and bad.

“He’s still learning the game, it can be overwhelming at times,” Oates said. “They’ve got some Stanely Cup champs coming at him, [Detroit is] one of the best puck handling teams there is. I’m sure at times it’s overwhelming but I thought all in all you know what he hung in there and did a great job.”

5. Standings snapshot. The Capitals inched up the standings with their win over the Red Wings and now sit just one point out of the last wild-card spot in the East. The standings picture likely will continue to be a tight race all the way to the end of the season, but giving points to teams like Detroit and earlier Columbus isn’t doing the Capitals any favors. The team in that last wild card spot? Detroit, which has 60 points after gaining one in the overtime loss Sunday. With three games left before the Olympic break, the Capitals need to snag as many points as they can just to stay with the pack.

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