Brooks Laich scored the game winning goal just 12 seconds in to overtime, Michal Neuvirth made 32 saves, and the Washington Capitals finally won a hockey game on Saturday night, knocking off the Ottawa Senators 3-2. Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer had the other goals for the Caps, who led twice and allowed the Senators to tie twice before finally putting the game away. Erik Karlsson and Milan Michalek scored for Ottawa, who lost their second in a row.
The game opened very fluidly, with chances being garnered at both ends. The Caps were able to break on top for only the second time under Dale Hunter less than two minutes in when Nicklas Backstrom beat Craig Anderson cleanly from the slot with a wristshot at 1:58. Washington continued to apply pressure as the period continued, and earned a power play after eight and a half minutes, but as per the usual, the man advantage was exceptionally poor and DC failed to extend their lead.
The Senators then earned their first power play of the game with 6:40 remaining in the frame, and despite some good pressure on Michal Neuvirth’s net, DC was able to kill it off to keep the score at 1-0. Ottawa kept up their pressure as the period wound down, but the Caps were able to head into the first intermission up by one.
Ottawa only needed 58 seconds to tie the game as the second period opened, equalizing off a long point drive following a failed clearing attempt by Nicklas Backstrom. But the Caps had a chance to re-take the lead immediately with a power play. Though Washington got some good chances with their man advantage, including a breakaway by Alex Ovechkin, the score remained tied because of some nice work by Anderson. The Caps kept buzzing Anderson’s net as the period continued, but they simply could not convert on any of their chances as they tried to go back on top.
Midway through the period, it was Ottawa’s chance to build momentum, as they began to establish a dominant forecheck of their own and get good chances at the net. Neuvirth, being tested heavily, stood to the test admirably. With three and a half minutes left in the period, the Caps got another power play after a holding the stick call, and again got good chances, but were thwarted by Anderson once more. The period closed still deadlocked at one.
The third period did not start with much action, as both teams were a bit conservative in trying to avoid an early tally against. Slowly, however, the Caps gained some momentum with a solid forecheck, and were able to take the lead just past the five minute mark of the period when Troy Brouwer finished off an excellent pass by Ovechkin in tight. DC’s momentum was given a boost three minutes later when they were awarded a fourth power play, but were held off the score sheet win an extra man again.
Using momentum from their penalty kill, Ottawa began to come at the Caps in waves as they tried to tie it up. Washington was forced onto their heels a bit inside the five minute mark, and the Senators made them pay with a tying goal with just over three minutes left in the game. Ottawa continued to make a big push as regulation wound down, but Neuvirth was able to hold them off and the game headed to OT.
In the extra frame, the Caps were finally able to get the demon off their back, as Brooks Laich popped in the overtime winner less than a minute in to send Verizon Center home happy.
After taking two steps back in his previous two games, Alex Ovechkin picked up his play and was, in general, a force to be reckoned with for most of the night. His pass was an absolute beauty, a perfect cross seam dart that was unselfish and reminded me of what he used to do every night. Baby steps.
Michal Neuvirth looked better than he has so far this season, but he is still not up to his usual standards. Several of his saves were pure luck, and he did not look comfortable all night. A win is a win, but this team needs to see more from Mikey. No question about that.
This win is obviously an improvement over losing, but it is no way a vindication of Dale Hunter’s selection as the new head coach of the Capitals. An overtime win and only three goals over one of the worst defensive teams and worst goalies in the league is nothing to be proud of. This team still has plenty of work to do. The foot cannot come off the gas pedal, not even one bit.
The Caps will likely practice in some limited sense Sunday before playing again, Monday night against the Panthers.