Photo: Patrick McDermott
We’re in the thick of it now. Tuesday’s slew of NHL hockey was bursting with importance, no game more than the Washington Capitals hosting the Los Angeles Kings for the first time since 2011. The dominant Kings, in an outburst of charity, gave the Caps a loser point last week, but weren’t so keen to be so kind this time. After spotting the Caps a pair of goals, the Kings carved up the Caps in the third period, but then Kuzya did a Big Thing to force OT and steal another point from the league’s best team.
Alex Ovechkin led the way with a pair of power play goals. The Kings struck back with a pretty special goal by Mike Richards, who reached around Jack Hillen to find the net. The Caps got swamped in the second period but managed to restore a two-goal lead on Dustin Penner’s first goal as a Cap.
The third period was all LA. DJ King’s brother Dwight drew LA within one early, then Marian Gaborik tied it up with around 11 minutes left. Dustin Brown eked out a lead for the visitors just four minutes later. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored his first NHL goal in the game’s final minute– tying the game with a fantastic backhand swat while shorthanded.
The Caps survived a power play in overtime and headed to the shootout.
- Kuznetsov fanned on his attempt.
- Kopitar made it look easy with a five-hole slide.
- Fehr got stopped by Quick.
- Carter banged it home the win.
Kings beat Caps 5-4 (Shootout).
- The Kings were tired from their game in Philadelphia last night, and the Caps exploited that in the first period. Coming out of the gates strong, the Caps drew two power plays, both of which Alex Ovechkin converted. That puts Ovi at 48 on the season. The first one was among his most unlikely– it traveled from the Ovi spot off two or seventeen LA penalty killers before hitting the net. But I’m still not gonna call Ovi lucky because I’ve seen what happens during even strength.
- On that topic: Jay Beagle and Ovi are still a thing and that thing is not good at hockey. They drew a penalty, which was nice, but the whole scoring dimension of the game seemed absent from the “top line.” Ovi and company were excellent at going offsides, turning the puck over above the circles, and cycling ineffectually, but there was precious little direction towards the Kings net.
- Center down! Nick Backstrom took a nasty hip check from Brad Doty and left the game. Chris Brown absorbed some blue-on-blue action but came back in time to set up Dustin Penner’s first goal as a Cap. Troy Brouwer got roughed up from front and back near the Kings net, but also persevered. The Caps were basically playing with one center, Jay Beagle, for much of the second period. Two if you count Eric Fehr, which, sure, why not.
- The injuries forced Oates to change up lines, which was a gift for Ovi, who escaped Beagle’s sub 20% shot-attempt night. Ovi finished the game nearly out of the red during evens.
- Don’t let those injuries, temporary as some may be, get the blame for the Kings taking over puck possession after the first period. Richards scored before Brown and Backstrom went out, and the Kings are a superlative possession who were playing comeback style. Oates had his Caps go into protect mode, which is exactly what LA wanted. That lead never stood a chance.
- Comeback style is anathema to two-goal leads, particularly for a weak possession team like the Caps. They’re not strong on the puck in general– even less so when the other team is desperate. There was an air of inevitability to how the Kings destroyed the Caps lead, though Jaroslav Halak shouldn’t be strung up for it; he had made a half dozen strong saves leading up to Gaborik’s laser. Halak has still basically been the 2014 version of Cristobal Huet, except Huet played behind a much better team.
- I knew Dustin Penner‘s first goal was coming– despite his being wasted on the fourth line. I didn’t expect his first goal to come off the stick of Chris Brown, who has been pretty impressive since being acquired at the deadline. One wonders if Penner has “earned his stripes” (in Oates’ awful parlance) and is now deserving a promotion up the lines. I doubt it.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov. Every one of you haters in the Facebook comments and saying “yawn” when we wrote about him and stuff: apology line forms to the left. The kid scored his first goal at the perfect time– saving the game and maybe the season and maybe the general manager’s job. All with one little stab with the back side of his stick blade.
- Alex Ovechkin collided with Jack Hillen in overtime. Hillen was knocked out cold at center ice; Ovechkin escaped with just the wind knocked out of him. Poor Hillen, that guy has no luck. Or maybe whatever luck he does have is awful.
ALL HAIL IAN:
Evgeny Kuznetsov will score his first NHL goal tonight #TheBank
— Ian Oland (@ianoland) March 25, 2014
Now that was real Caps hockey.
…Not how Washington played, obviously, but how the Kings did it. They played carefully through neutral and funneled all their o-zone action towards the Capitals’ net. When the Kings went down in the score, they kept pressing. Once they took the lead, they kept pressing. Scoar moar goals hockey. That was the style of hockey that built this franchise, now the Kings cowed them with it.
Without Evgeny’s excellence during that final minute, while shorthanded no less, this would have been a mortifying #rego defeat. Instead, the Caps gained more ground in the wild card race and making this night not a total bummer after all.
And yet, for all that drama, the lasting memory of this game might be Jack Hillen’s OT knockout and Backstrom’s scary spill. This team is banged up beyond the telling. The who and how of the Caps’ response to those injuries will be all-important in the final nine.
The Umbrella Corporation out-of-town scoreboard was kind. The Leafs fell stunningly to the Blues (check out the Fenwick chart for that one), and the Blue Jackets look poised to beat Detroit in #rego.
So, overall, that night was as big as advertised, complete with a crucial standings point, but at what cost?