The Capitals snatched victory from the jaws of defeat Tuesday night when they rallied to erase a one-goal deficit late in regulation to force overtime, where Alex Ovechkin’s goal gave them a 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. It pushed Washington to within one point of the Metropolitan Division leading Penguins, who face the Flyers on Wednesday, but was only the team’s sixth regulation or overtime win this season.
Five thoughts on the Capitals’ victory:
1. Grabovski and the third line: Mikhail Grabovski hadn’t scored a goal in six games entering Tuesday night’s contest, but the center found his scoring touch at the perfect time for the Capitals late in regulation. And it wasn’t a bad way to record the 100th goal of his career either.
Trailing by one as time ticked down in the third period, the third line — or as Coach Adam Oates corrected it, “You mean the first line?” — had a strong, cycle-driven offensive zone shift. They hemmed in the Blue Jackets and had four attempted shots, with Grabovski capitalizing when James Wisniewski blocked a shot by Jason Chimera, causing the puck to pop out to the center. He whipped a puck just under the crossbar to tie the score at 3 with 1:45 remaining.
It was a critical goal for the Capitals, and at this point, it’s no longer surprising when this trio comes up big.
“We just try to go North-South as best we can, as quick as we can,” Joel Ward said. “Get up and down the ice and make plays, and the more you sustain pressure in their end, the more they’re vulnerable to break down and we were able to get a nice bounce and Grabo there with a nice goal.”
When Washington signed Grabovski this summer it was to fill the void at second-line center. He started the year there but has spent the past 12 games in the middle of Chimera and Ward on the third line and in that span, they’ve combined for 15 goals and 16 assists. There’s a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg situation here as to whether the veteran wingers have helped Grabovski assimilate to the Capitals systems or if the skilled playmaker is benefiting his linemates more, but it sure looks to be a combination of both.
While it might not be where many envisioned the Capitals using him, or even where he remains all season, as long as this group continues working this well together there’s little reason to split them up.
2. Columbus’ third goal. Let’s backtrack to Cam Atkinson’s goal that gave the Blue Jackets a 3-2 lead with just less than six minutes to play. It was the potential back-breaking tally, a goal that could have derailed Washington’s efforts and it was that goal that weighed on Oates’s mind after the game.
“Their third goal I’m frustrated at, because we have rules within the structure and we kind of got caught up in the moment, violated a rule and a bouncing puck got by Greenie,” Oates said. “He was in a very difficult position, the puck had a crazy bounce, but the guy’s flying on a breakaway, you’re not going to catch him. We broke down there.”
Looking back to the beginning of that sequence, defenseman Nate Schmidt took a shot on goal that Sergei Bobrovsky stopped with a kick save that sent the puck over to the half-wall, where Brandon Dubinsky fired the outlet pass up the ice.
“We work on that stuff all the time. A guy’s kind of open but late in the game kinda’s not good enough,” Oates said, absolving Green of the majority blame on that play. “He’s not the bad guy there.”
3. Speaking of Green. The defenseman is still looking for his first goal of the season. He picked up a secondary assist on Grabovski’s game-tying goal for his 11th of the season and was key in helping to keep that play alive in the offensive zone, but Green hasn’t looked like what one expects him to for much of the season. He’s undoubtedly eager to get that first goal; he took 11 shots in the back-to-back games over the weekend but fired only one on net against Columbus.
He couldn’t settle the bouncing puck to prevent Atkinson’s breakaway and the ensuing goal marked the ninth time this season he’s been on the ice for a goal against. But even after a play like that, which at Oates’s admission wasn’t Green’s fault but none the less can be a challenge for any player to bounce back from, the coach relies on the defenseman’s ability to respond and help atone for the error. On his next shift, Green helped set up Grabovski’s goal.
“Everybody makes mistakes. Your reputation precedes you. You’re out there for a reason,” Oates said. “I expect him on the next shift to do something to counter that. That’s why he is who he is. He has a leash and he’s earned it.”
4. Erat’s pass. Lest it be overshadowed by the late-game heroics, Martin Erat made one doozy of a pass to set up John Carlson’s goal that tied the game at 1-1 in the second period. Driving to the net, the veteran winger worked his way around Dalton Prout and, while falling, sent a centering pass over to Carlson just as Bobrovsky jumped out to challenge on the play. Carlson, falling as well, had an empty cage to fire into. Erat has more points against the Blue Jackets (57) in his career than any other opponent.
5. The start. Since facing Minnesota last week, Oates has focused on the patience and approach required for Washington to perform well in low-scoring games. In the early stages of Tuesday’s contest it sure looked like the Capitals would have to heed his advice, as the two teams played a scoreless 27 minutes, including a full first period of 5-on-5 play.
While the Capitals certainly weren’t perfect in those early stages, Oates attributed it to fatigue after the back-to-back weekend, they handled the tight play rather well, especially when considering what some of their starts have looked like this season.
“I thought we started better than I anticipated because I thought we were going to start slow. We had slow moments in there, I think we got maybe a little fatigued. It’s tough sledding out there. the hockey’s really tough hockey 5-on-5. To go 60 minutes is very difficult,” Oates said. “We’ve got to know what to do when we’re in those situations. Little frustrating at times because we had easier plays than we were making, which is maybe mental fatigue.”