Of all the random things in hockey – a puck off the post that goes in or out, a pass off a skate that careens into the net — the shootout would seem to be among the most haphazard. Tie score after 65 minutes, one team with three shooters, the next with three shooters – let’s see who wins.
But the Capitals seem to have eliminated the randomness, somehow, under Coach Adam Oates. Thursday’s night’s 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild in – wait for it – a shootout was the Capitals’ fourth in four tries this season, and they are now a perfect 7-0 in shootouts in Oates’s two seasons as coach.
Asked if there is a confidence on the bench when overtime ends and a shootout arrives, Oates said Thursday, “Possibly,” and he hesitated. He also knocked on the wood of the lectern. That’s how frail such a streak could be.
“It’s one of those things, the tide will turn at some point,” Oates said. “We’re riding it. Great. We feel good. Goalies are playing good. It’s one of those things where it usually always evens out in some capacity. But I’m glad that we’re on a roll. That’s a big point for us.”
The point the Capitals gained by beating the Western Conference’s Wild in the shootout wasn’t as significant as it would be against a Metropolitan Division foe, but it brought Washington’s longest winning streak of the season to four games. And it was gained not only because Nicklas Backstrom scored the shootout’s only goal, but because Minnesota’s Mikko Koivu hit the crossbar with his attempt.
Backstrom, who beat Wild goalie Josh Harding with a screaming wrist shot, now has three goals in three shootout attempts this season. Brooks Laich, who didn’t take a turn Thursday night, is 2 for 2, while Troy Brouwer and Martin Erat – neither of whom shot against the Wild – have both scored on their only shootout chances. Alex Ovechkin, who had an open net against Harding but shot wide, has one goal in his three shootout tries.
Braden Holtby got the win against the Wild because he “stopped” all three Minnesota shots – including Koivu’s off the crossbar. It was his second shootout victory of the year, and he has stopped six of the nine shots he’s faced. Michal Neuvirth also has two shootout wins, with three saves on four shots.
The Capitals are now 9-7-0 on the season and in second place in the Metropolitan, in large part because of their four shootout victories. Only Los Angeles (10-6-0) can match Washington’s 4-0 mark in shootouts (mostly because goalie Jonathan Quick has saved an amazing 10 of 11 shootout chances). Such fortune can turn a season. The Wild, for instance, is 9-4-4 for 22 points, but is now 0-3 in shootouts. Turn those fluky losses into wins, and Minnesota would have 25 points, a total that would sit atop the Central Division.
Here’s the gamer from Thursday night, when the calm and dead of the midway point gave way to an unexpected victory. Next up: Phoenix and Colorado on the road over the weekend. We’ll have more from Friday’s 11 a.m. practice that precedes the road trip.