DETROIT – Give Michal Neuvirth credit. In his first start in a week, he provided the Washington Capitals a strong performance in net Friday night — something they haven’t received consistently during their recent struggles.
But not even Neuvirth’s best game of the season (42 saves on 45 shots) and a dramatic late-tying goal by Alex Ovechkin to force overtime at Joe Louis Arena would be enough to secure a victory. Washington lost, 4-3, in a seven-round shootout to the Detroit Red Wings, who received the decisive goal in the tiebreak from Patrick Eaves.
The loss cost the Capitals an important extra point to a team also in the thick of the hunt for a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals have lost nine of their past 11 and sit two points behind Detroit, who will visit Verizon Center for a rematch on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s tough when our goalie play so well, keep us in the game,” Ovechkin said. “He gave us a chance to win the game, and we didn’t. But he was unstoppable today. He was unbelievable.”
The Capitals had much better jump from the start in Detroit than they did a night earlier in Columbus, but they continued to hamper their own efforts.
A pair of first-period penalties just more than two minutes apart to Nicklas Backstrom and Dmitry Orlov for tripping and delay of game, respectively, gave the Red Wings a chance to set up a shooting gallery, overtaxing key Capitals on constant penalty kills. Washington would take five minors total in the game.
“We played better obviously, but again we shot ourselves in the foot with penalties,” Jason Chimera said. “We came out in the first period, first five minutes we were kind of all over them, played one of the best starts we had in a long time. Getting the penalties kind of ruins the momentum.”
Neuvirth was superb, though, as he fended off shots through heavy traffic in front and contended with a bouncing puck in the crease. His best stop in those early stages came between the infractions when he reached across the crease to snare a point-blank one-timer off a rebound by Red Wings center Gustav Nyquist in his glove.
His efforts to help Washington withstand the first-period onslaught would be rewarded when the visitors went on their first power play and opted to use Chimera on the top unit rather than Marcus Johansson.
Backstrom demonstrated his patience on the half wall, drawing the attention of Detroit’s penalty killers and allowing Chimera to skate around the net to the far, left side post unimpeded. When Chimera reached his destination, Backstrom threaded a perfect pass that the veteran winger was able to simply tap into an open net as Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard (26 saves) didn’t have time to cut back across the crease. The goal gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead at 15 minutes 24 seconds of the first period.
Despite the Capitals’ advantage, Detroit had dictated much of the first period and had a 22-5 advantage in shots, a staggering total that was split evenly between the power play and even strength.
“When you don’t play, you like to see lot of shots early in the game,” Neuvirth said of the early workload. “Felt good, and obviously it’s very frustrating being so close to a win, but at least we got one point.”
The Red Wings were able to pull even 2:09 into the second on a wacky play that started when an offensive-zone turnover by Orlov resulted in a breakaway for fourth-liner Drew Miller. Neuvirth came out to the hash marks and was successful in his poke-check attempt, but a helter-skelter scramble ensued.
Jay Beagle and Ovechkin flung themselves in front of the open net twice, Neuvirth raced back toward the crease, but Luke Glendening managed to squeak a shot through the bodies, and Miller was standing in the blue paint and was able to send the puck into the open net to make it 1-1.
Then, with 1:39 to go in the second, Detroit defenseman Danny DeKeyser ripped a slap shot that ticked off Chimera, redirecting the puck just enough to beat Neuvirth to his blocker side for a 2-1 Red Wings lead. But the Capitals showed resilience, drawing even when Casey Wellman, playing in just his fifth NHL game of the season, scored in the third.
The Caps then paid for a costly misstep by John Erskine, who lost the puck high in the offensive zone, sending Nyquist racing the other way to make it 3-2 Detroit. Once again, Washington rallied.
The Capitals’ top offensive stars pressed on a late power play, firing five shots and buzzing around Howard. When they didn’t score, they kept coming, and when Coach Adam Oates pulled Neuvirth for an extra attacker, Ovechkin went back on the ice. His shot found its way through heavy traffic with just seven seconds remaining in regulation, but that would only secure one point. Howard thwarted all seven of the visitors’ attempts in the shootout to ensure they wouldn’t get a second.
“The guys worked really hard,” Oates said. “I really liked the last 10 minutes. We scored to tie it then we gave them one [on] a bad bounce and we didn’t give up. Guys kept pushing, we pushed right to the end and we got rewarded. There’s lots of positives in that.”
Capitals note: Mike Green sat out Friday’s game because he is going through concussion protocol testing after having his head slammed off the glass in the first period of Washington’s 5-2 loss at Columbus on Thursday. With Green unavailable, the Capitals recalled Tyson Strachan from the AHL’s Hershey Bears.