In the first ten minutes, the Caps had scored on their first shot on goal, out-shot the Blue Jackets, 7-5, and out-attempted them 16-10. The Caps were tilting the ice toward the Columbus end on a pace to record nearly 100 shot attempts. But the Caps could not extend their advantage, and as often happens in such games when early pressure does not turn into early goals, the Blue Jackets righted themselves and eventually scored goals in the first and last minutes of the third period to escape Washington with a 3-2 win to piggy-back on last Tuesday’s 2-1 win over the Caps in overtime.
Nicklas Backstrom scored on Washington’s first shot of the game when he flagged down Jack Johnson’s attempt to clear the puck up the left wing wall out of the Columbus zone. Controlling the puck inside the Blue Jacket blue line, Backstrom glided down the wall and sent a harmless looking shot at the Columbus net. The puck his Johnson’s stick and took enough pace off the puck to handcuff goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, the puck going between his pads to give the Caps a 1-0 lead just 3:11 into the game.
The Caps could not increase that lead, despite applying considerable pressure on the Blue Jackets following the Backstrom goal, and the teams went to the first intermission with the Caps holding the one-goal lead. Columbus tied it six minutes into the second period when, on a power play, NickFoligno’s attempted pas through the blue paint hit John Carlson’s skate and ricocheted into the net past goalie Braden Holtby to tie the game.
Washington regained the lead four minutes later on their own power play. Backstrom was orchestrating things from the right wing wall and tried to find a passing lane to Alex Ovechkin on the opposite side. After inching up and down the right wing wall, he sent a pass across that was muffled by Matt Calvert’s stick, but not enough to keep the puck from reaching Ovechkin. He still managed to one-time the puck past Bobrovsky to put the Caps back in front, 2-1, at the 10:31 mark.
The third period was owned by the Blue Jackets, early and late. Brandon Dubinsky scored just 14 seconds into the period, taking advantage of another puck off a skate. A centering pass from Brandon Saad from the Olympia corner wound up in the skated of Cam Atkinson and bounced to Brandon Dubinsky, who curled around Holtby and tucked the puck past his left pad to tie the game.
It remained that way until the last minute of regulation. With Backstrom in the penalty box for (allegedly) high-sticking Foligno, Columbus broke down the Caps defense smartly, after Tom Wilson could not get the puck up and out of the zone along the wall. Zach Werenski kept the puck in at the left point and fed Sam Gagner in the middle. Gagner dished the puck to Foligno who spooned it across the low slot to Alexander Wennberg all alone on the right side. Wennberg had nothing but net to shoot out, and he did not fail, scoring the game-winner with 53.6 seconds left to give the Blue Jackets the win.
-- Nicklas Backstrom insisted he did not touch Nick Foligno to draw the penalty that led to the game-winning goal. “I didn’t touch him. It was really weird I got a penalty there.” Barry Trotz remarked that Foligno’s Academy Award-worthy effort to draw the penalty was “a little bit disrespectful to the game.” Even Dale Hunter might be shaking his head at that one.
-- This game broke a five-game streak in which Braden Holtby allowed fewer than three goals. As it is, he has allowed more than three goals only once in 14 appearances.
-- The two power play goals scored by Columbus was the first time this season the Caps allowed more than one power play goal in a game. There are now just three teams in the league that have not yet allowed two or more power play goals in a game (Carolina, San Jose, and the New York Rangers).
-- The power play goal by Washington was just the fifth 5-on-4 goal scored by the Caps this season, pulling them into a tie for 29th (last) in the league with Ottawa.
-- The Caps had 21 shots on goal, tying a season low. The concern about that is that the Caps set that season low just eight days previously, in a 5-1 loss to Carolina.
-- Of those 21 shots on goal, Alex Ovechkin had five of them. As a group, the remade Capitals forward group had 19 shots on goal (Lars Eller and T.J. Oshie out with injuries). The defense had only two shots on goal (Matt Niskanen and John Carlson).
-- Backstrom had his fourth multi-point game of the season, tying him for 13th in the league in that number. Three of the four games have come on home ice.
-- Andre Burakovsky had a strange line in the score sheet. And by “strange,” we don’t mean “good.” In just less than 15 minutes of ice time, he had one shot attempt (blocked) and lost his only faceoff taken. That was it.
-- Brett Connolly’s line was even stranger. In just less than 11 minutes, he had two minor penalties and…well, that’s it.
-- Despite the early pressure by the Caps, Columbus finished with 51 shot attempts overall to 43 for the Caps.
In the end…
Not nearly enough guys stepped up to fill the void left by injuries. Backstrom, Ovechkin, and even Paul Carey (in a fill-in role) played pretty well. Justin Williams did have three shots on goal. After that, the forwards seemed to struggle. Burakovsky, Marcus Johansson, and Evgeny Kuznetsov were conspicuous by their absence on the score sheet. That is not going to do going forward, although the Caps were a phantom penalty call away from getting at least a point out of this game. If one game matters, we know that Lars Eller and T.J. Oshie matter to the success of this team. Now, we need to know about the depth the Caps have to weather injuries to those players. This game doesn’t get a good grade on that aspect.