By Alan Zlotorzynski: You can use whatever play on words you want with Eric Fehr’s last name, the Caps hero from last night’s 4-3 thrilling come from behind overtime win vs. the Boston Bruins. But this writer is Fehrly certain this was the biggest victory of the season for the Washington Capitals
Teams do not usually scoreboard watch in the NHL just five days into March. That is unless you are the Washington Capitals.
Heading into to their Tuesday night showdown at Verizon Center vs. the Boston Bruins, Washington trailed the Southeast leading Carolina Hurricanes by six points, the second place Winnipeg Jets by four, the third place Tampa Bay Lightning by just two and with 17-points of their own, were tied with the Florida Panthers, last year’s division champs, for last place of the Southeast.
With the Jets playing in south Florida vs. the Panthers, every divisional foe was in action last night. Things did not start well in D.C. last night. Following a first period in which they failed to show up allowing the Bruins to jump out to a 3-0 lead, the Capitals were heading for a possible worst-case scenario ending to their Tuesday night.
Caps fans were not holding out much hope that the home team was going to storm back and win the hockey game last night. And why would they. Washington was 2-5-1 when allowing the game’s first goal, and 2-6-1 when trailing after two periods, which they did, 3-2.
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Add into the mix that the Caps were facing a team in the Boston Bruins that owned one of the top four records in the NHL and was 8-1-1 on the road this season, even hoping for a win or a point trailing by one goal seemed like a Everest like task to climb –much less three.
The Bruins own the Southeast division this year with a perfect 6-0 record entering the game. They had outscored opponents by a combined 21-11 in those games while going 6-for-13 (46.2%) on the power play and 25-for-27 (92.6%) on the penalty kill.
The Capitals sure didn’t help their cause by the way they played to start the contest during the first 20 minutes. Before the period would end, Washington would allow the Bruins to score three goals, each of them uniquely different from the previous.
On top of that, team captain Alex Ovechkin committed two lazy penalties, one that led to the Bruins scoring a shorthanded penalty shot goal after Ovie took down the Bruins Brad Marchand on a breakaway during a Caps power play.
In addition, as they have been all season and despite allowing just nine first period Boston shots on goal, Washington was still outshot with just six official shots of their own. The Bruins would score the first, second and third goals of the game and scored the second and third inside the final three minutes of the period and less than 90 seconds apart.
Boston’s All-Star defenseman Zdeno Chara put the Bruins up 2-0 when was allowed to collect his own rebound from his shot inside the blue line beating Braden Holtby five-hole with his own rebound for the two goal lead.
Things worsened when The Great 8 took an interference penalty just 75 seconds after Chara’s tally. Ovie did not have to sit in the penalty box long because 15 seconds later after he was whistled, Dougie Hamilton put the B’s up 3-0 with the power play tally.
That was two goals in the final 2-minutes and 53-seconds of the period, reducing Caps starting goalie Braden Holtby to a .333 first period save percentage. After 20-minutes, the Caps allowed Boston to score shorthanded (and on a penalty shot), at even strength and on a power play—-on home ice.
Even more cause for concern and fearing the worst was that the Bruins simply never blow three goal leads. Blowing a three-goal lead has been a rare thing for the Bruins over the last five seasons. Boston was 89-1-0 since the start of the 2008-2009 season in games in which it led by at least three goals and not one of those games even reached overtime.
Down 3-0, if the Capitals and their fans were indeed scoreboard watching, there had to be anxiety inside the phone booth. The Lightning and Hurricanes both led their games by a combined 5-0 after the first two periods and the Panthers were throttling the Jets 3-1 heading into the final frame. Even if the Capitals could somehow manage to come back and win, the best they would likely do is simply save face and stay right where they were to start the day in the division and conference.
However, a win would be nothing but a best case scenario at this point because by doing so against a great Boston team, a comeback of that magnitude could be the final straw needed to completely turn around the season, one in which the Caps were already heading in the right direction having won three of their last four contests.
Thankfully and through hard work and staying dedicated to new head coach Adam Otaes system, the Capitals did the improbable by coming back to beat the Bruins 4-3 in overtime.
The result was easily the biggest win of the year for Washington.
THE COMEBACK FILLED WITH FIRSTS:
The comeback began as the Capitals 2012-13 MVP to date, got the scoring started. Center Mike Ribeiro scored the Caps first goal of the game. With Caps right-winger Troy Brouwer missing his first game as a member of the team on Tuesday night with an illness, Ribeiro wore the alternate captain’s “A” along with Nicklas Backstrom. His eighth goal of the year made the score 3-1 and was set up beautifully by the man wearing the “C” on his jersey.
With the puck on his stick five feet from Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask, Ovechkin forced the B’s net minder to commit to him and then he slid a nice touch pass to Ribeiro, who had nothing but an empty net shoot at. With his goal, Ribeiro recorded his team-leading 25th point of the season, tied for 10th in the league.
The puck was retrieved and saved but not for Ribeiro. Instead, 27-year-old Caps defenseman Steve Oleksy got it. Oleksy, who was signed to a three-year two-way contract earlier in the day, was on the ice making his NHL debut and earned the second assist on the play.
The point was the first of his NHL career. Paired with Tom Poti, Oleksy skated 15 shifts for a total of 10:05 on the night, all of it at even-strength. He finished with two shots on goal, two hits and three blocked shots.
Known for his physical play with the Caps top minor league club, the Hershey Bears, Oleksy leads the Bears with 151 penalty minutes and is the second gritty player Washington has added to its lineup in the last week. The Capitals picked up Aaron Volpatti off waivers from Vancouver on Feb. 28.
To make room on the roster the Capitals placed oft-injured defenseman Mike Green on injured reserve and they waived defenseman Roman Hamrlik. After playing in each of the Caps’ first three games this season, Hamrlik has dressed for just one of the last 17 and has been a healthy scratch for each of the other 16.
Oleksy wasn’t the only Caps player to record an NHL first on a night when many needed to step up. The Capitals were able to close the deficit to 3-2 when Tomas Kundratek scored the first goal of his NHL career. Kundratek spent five games on the Caps roister last season from January 11 through the 20 but was unable to record a point.
The 23-year old native of Prerov, Czechoslovakia not only registered his first NHL goal but also the first multiple point game of his young career, as he earned the second assist on Eric Fehr’s OT winner.
Originally drafted the NY Rangers in the third round (90 overall) of the 2008 NHL Draft, Kundratek is averaging 15 shifts, 15-minutes, and 45-seconds of ice time this season. He now has one goal to go along with his now six assists this season.
The Capitals felt good about their chances heading into the third period. “I think sometimes when you get behind early,” says Caps coach Adam Oates, “it’s ‘how.’ Boston didn’t really do much tonight early. They get a [short-handed goal] from a penalty shot, but before that, we were playing a very good hockey game. They get a power-play goal. We had a good [first] period.
“I think the guys felt that, ‘We’re still in the game.’ It’s Boston, nothing is going to come easy. You’re going to have to get one at a time. We got one pretty quick in the second which helped us a little.”
While I am not sure what first period Adam Oates was watching, the Capitals managed to outshoot the Bruins 11-9 in the second period and played within the system. They didn’t get sloppy in their own end as they did in the first period (ala Chara goal) and after two costly penalties in the first period did not commit another penalty until Ovechkin was called for his third penalty of the game, a hooking infraction, late in the third.
The Capitals did get their chances with the extra man, four of them to be exact– and for the third game in a row, failed to convert. Boston’s league-leading penalty-killing unit held Washington without a shot on goal during their first six minutes of power-play time in Tuesday’s game and managed a score of their own.
The three games without a power-play goal is the first time this season the Caps have gone this long without an extra man tally. The Capitals are now 0-for-their-last-12 with the man advantage, dating back to a Nicklas Backstrom power-play goal in the first period of the team’s Feb. 26 game against the Hurricanes at Verizon Center. However, Washington is still fourth in the NHL converting 24.7 percent of their extra man chances this season.
The last time Caps left-winger Wojtek Wolski scored back on Feb 1 vs. the Flyers, his second of the season ended up being the game winner in the Caps 3-2 victory at Verizon Center. On Tuesday, Wolski scored another big goal, this one to tie the game at three with 6:05 left in the third. Wolski, who is now with his fifth team in eight seasons, is one goal away from matching his total from all of last season. His career high of 23 goals came back during the 09-10 season when he lit the lamp 17 times for the Avalanche and then six times after he was traded to Phoenix.
The Capitals had four different goal scorers last night and seven different players register a point. For those of you crying for GM George McPhee’s head, consider this. Three of the four goal scorers last night were elsewhere last season and five of the seven point scorers were also not in a Washington jersey last season. The one goal scorer that was in Washington last season really wasn’t. As I told you earlier, Tomas Kundratek played five games last season for the Caps.
FEHR AND BALANCED:
Eric Fehr is one of those players that came to D.C. this season hoping to jump-start his career. So far, it has been pretty good for the Caps former first round draft pick (18th overall) of the 2003.
With a beautiful overtime goal and two assists last night, Fehr matched his entire 2011-12 point production in a little less than 20 minutes of ice time on Tuesday night.
The OT winner was setup by center Nicklas Backstrom, who also had a three-point night with three helpers. But once Fehr got the pass, he scored what is arguably the toughest and prettiest Caps goal of the season. Certainly, the most important.
Fehr split the Boston defense and lifted the puck over the right shoulder of Tuukka Rask. Fehr looked to have no chance to make the improbable shot as two Bruins defenders, Dougie Hamilton and Dennis Seidenberg, were clawing at him as they were draped on each side of him. Instead, F-16 fought through it and went top shelf just inside the right post just as he was losing his balance to win the game.
The Capitals have preached all season that they believe in what Adam Oates is teaching them and how his system works. Fehr mentioned the “system” when speaking to reporters following the game last night. “I think it says a lot about our character,” Fehr said. “This team believes in ourselves … we’re a pretty confident bunch right now and we believe in the system. … We’re playing together as a team, and that’s why we were able to win today.”
While it was not Bobby Orr like, Fehr’s goal is the type that can propel a team into a run that can lead to what Orr’s historic goal accomplished for the Bruins back in May of 1970. A Stanley Cup.
The OT goal was Fehr’s seventh game-winner as a member of the Capitals, and his first in overtime during his career. The tally also marked the first time Fehr notched a GWG since he did so against the Penguins in Pittsburgh in The 2011 Winter Classic. His three-point game was the second of his career and it came nearly five years to the day after his first, which also came against the Bruins at Verizon Center. Fehr had three assists in a 10-3 Washington romp over the Bruins on March 3, 2008.
Fehr now has a point in seven of his last 10 games, with five goals and 11 points during that span. In addition, for the second game in a row, “F-16” as Caps fans know him, is getting more and more time in the cockpit.
With 19:57 of ice time vs. the Bruins, Fehr established a single-game career high in ice time. Fehr skated 19:26 on Saturday in Winnipeg, which shattered his previous mark by more than two full minutes when he skated 17:20 on Dec. 5, 2009, an 8-2 win over the Flyers. Fehr had two assists in that game.
According to the Washington Capitals media site, with 11 points on the season, Fehr is one of 176 NHL skaters with at least that many points this season. Fehr’s average ice time total of 11:57 per night is the lowest among all 176 of those players.
Braden Holtby started his 10th consecutive game on Tuesday against Boston. That matches Tomas Vokoun’s run of 10 straight starts last season as the longest by any Washington goalie in the last nine years. During this stretch, Holtby has gone 7-3 with two shutouts, a 2.20 GAA and a .932 save pct. Olaf Kolzig started 16 straight games from Oct. 17 to Nov. 22, 2003.
According to Mike Vogel, Marchand’s penalty shot goal against the Caps was the third penalty shot Holtby has faced in his career, and the second one on which he was beaten. New Jersey’s Mattias Tedenby scored a penalty shot goal on Holtby in Newark on Nov. 22, 2010 and Holtby shut down the Devils’ Steve Bernier in a penalty shot bid at Verizon Center on Feb. 23, 2013.
Braden Holtby’s three shutouts this season are more than Washington’s team leader had in that department in 23 of the team’s previous 37 seasons of existence. With six career shutouts, Holtby has tied Pat Riggin and Rick Tabaracci for seventh on the franchise’s all-time list. Riggin needed 143 games to get his six shutouts; Tabaracci needed 69 games. Holtby recorded his sixth shutout in his 35th career NHL game.
Marchand becomes the first Bruin to score a penalty shot goal in four Boston tries against the Capitals. He succeeded where Todd Elik, Marco Sturm and David Krejci had previously failed.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS:
The Capitals held their own against the NHL’s top faceoff team. The Bruins dominate the league in faceoff winning percentage and heading into last night game, held an almost five percent advantage over the second place Phoenix Coyotes.
However, The Capitals managed to win 32 of the games 68 draws. That may only be 47 percent but the Bruins were held to 52.9 percent red dot wins, which is well below their season average of 57.8.
The Capitals outhit the Bruins 23-22 but the Bruins ended up winning the shots total 33-26. The Bruins also edged the Capitals in blocked shots 21-20. John Erskine led the Capitals with five hits, as Oleksy and Matt Hendricks led the way with three blocked shots each for Washington.
FIGHT NIGHT OR NOT:
Speaking of John Erskine, he was involved in a first period fight with Bruins tough guy Shawn Thornton. According to hockeyfights.com, Thornton won the decision, decided on by a public vote. Eighty votes were tallied and Thornton was handed 59 percent of them with Erskine getting 29 percent and the difference of 12 percent voted a draw.
It was Erskine’s second fight of the season and the Capitals seventh. The Caps rank 26th in the NHL in the category but that may change now that Oleksy and Volpatti are on the roster with Matt Hendricks who leads the team with four scraps this season.
John Erskine, who signed a new contract extension last week, is playing well this season. He added an assist on the game-winning goal on March 2 at Winnipeg, his second assist of the season and fourth point in 2012-13. Erskine has already surpassed his goal and point totals from last season and his two goals, two assists and four points are the most points he has recorded in a single season since a four goal, seven-assist season in 2010-11. Erskine has averaged 19:35 of ice time per game this season, his highest ice time per game in his 11-season career
IF IT’S CAPS-BRUINS THEN IT’S A ONE-GOAL AFFAIR:
It was the eighth time in the last five seasons that Washington won a game in which it trailed by three or more goals. The only other team with more than four such wins over that span is the Thrashers/Jets with six.
Including the playoffs, the Capitals and Bruins have now met 12 times since last the start of last season. Ten of those contests have been decided by one goal with six of them ending up in overtime. The Capitals are 8-4-0 vs. the big bad Bruins during that span, including a playoff series win last spring. However, Washington trails, 46-65-21-8 after 141 contests (25-29-12-4 at home).
Washington has lost 61 man games due to injury this season. Here is the latest breakdown below.
F –Brooks Laich, missed 21 games (1/19-3/2)
D –Jack Hillen, missed 20 games (1/22-3/2)
F –Marcus Johansson, missed 10 games (2/9-3/2)
D –Mike Green, missed 2 game (3/2)
The Capitals will host the team their current surge began against when the Florida Panthers come to town on Thursday. Though Washington (9-11-1) and Florida (7-11-5) are tied for last in the Eastern Conference with 19 points, the Panthers have lost 10 of 13 while the Capitals have won seven of 10 since a 2-8-1 start.
The Capitals have an excellent opportunity before them. At 9-11-1, Washington has a chance to be above .500. with three of their next four at home. That must be the first goal, to get to .500 mark. They will not be able to get to the playoffs if they do not hit it.
Falling behind 3-0 and winning 4-3 in overtime is a great story for a single game but it is unlikely to occur again for this team. With only 26 games left in the short 48 game season, the Capitals must start better than they did Tuesday night. There is no margin for error as it is likely they will need to win at least 18 of those 26 games to make the playoffs as an eighth seed.