When it was over, the Caps had a hard-fought 2-1 win to get 2017 off to a good start.
After a scoreless first period, the visitors got the game’s first goal, courtesy of some opportunistic play down low by the Senators. Marc Methot threw the puck in deep from the Caps’ blue line to put some pressure on the Caps. Defenseman Matt Niskanen tried to stop it from winding around the corner boards, but the puck jumped over his stick to Ryan Dzingel at the edge of the trapezoid below the goal line. Skating behind the net, Dzingel eased the puck out the back side to Kyle Turris, who slid a low shot along the ice past goalie Braden Holtby on the far side to make it 1-0, 12:41 into the second period.
That was all the scoring through what was a sleep-inducing first 40 minutes. Well, almost 40 minutes. With under a minute to play in the second period, Justin Williams took a long lead pass from John Carlson behind the Ottawa defense, breaking in alone on goalie Mike Condon. Williams got a shot off, but it was turned aside by Condon. T.J. Oshie followed up the play and won control of the puck behind the Senators’ net. He sent the puck out to Karl Alzner in the left wing faceoff circle, and Alzner leaned into one, sending what play-by-play announcer Joe Beninati described as a “buzz bomb” past Condon’s left elbow to tie the game with just 19.5 seconds left in the period.
Early in the third period, the Caps took their first, last, and only lead they would need. The Caps worked the puck around the perimeter, Tom Wilson to Taylor Chorney to Brooks Orpik and back to Chorney, who unleashed a one-timer from the right point that sailed through a maze of players and past Condon’s blocker to make it 2-1, 2:43 into the period.
The Caps would shut down the Senators after that, at one point holding the Senators without a shot for 7:32 late in the third period. It was enough for the Caps to ring in the new year with a 2-1 win.
-- There can be little doubt what the turning point of the game was. It came at the 8:10 mark of the third period when Brooks Orpik and Evgeny Kuznetsov were sent to the penalty box to put Ottawa on a full two-minute 5-on-3 power play with the Caps nursing their 2-1 lead. If Ottawa scores on one or both ends of the two-man advantage, it’s a whole different game. The Caps killed off the two-man disadvantage, holding the Senators to a single shot on goal. From there, Ottawa would record only four shots on goal in the last 10:17 of the game.
-- It was, as the score suggests, a very evenly played game. The Caps enjoyed a 28-24 shot advantage, but the Senators had a 51-49 advantage in shot attempts at 5-on-5 (numbers from Corsica.hockey).
-- Almost as amazing as the one shot on goal allowed on the 5-on-3 Ottawa power play in the third period, they had only four shot attempts in the two minutes. Two attempts were misses, and another was blocked.
-- This was the first time this season in which two defensemen scored goals in a single game for the Caps. It was just the seventh game in which any defenseman scored. The last time the Caps had two defensemen score in a game was last March 5th in, coincidentally enough, a 2-1 decision over the Boston Bruins in Boston. Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen did the honors in that game.
-- The Caps had 19 shots on goal from forwards, almost two thirds of them coming from four players: Lars Eller (4), Andre Burakovsky (3), Evgeny Kuznetsov (3), and T.J. Oshie (3). Through two periods, Oshie and Kuznetsov had just one shot on goal between them (Kuznetsov).
-- Speaking of Kuznetsov, he skated just 4:10 in the first period and just 4:11 in the second frame. He had a total of 13:40 in ice time, matching his lowest of the season, that coming just this past December 23rd against Tampa Bay.
-- The Caps were torched in the faceoff circle to the tune of 21 wins and 33 losses (38.9 percent). It was worse at one point with the Caps having won just nine of the first 33 faceoffs of the game (27.3 percent). No Capitals finished over 50 percent; Jay Beagle hit that mark by going 5-for-10.
-- Erik Karlsson must have thought he was on some weird Twilight Zone version of the old game show “Hollywood Squares.” He had nine shot attempts blocked. As a team, the Senators had 23 shot attempts blocked. Seven different Capitals blocked Karlsson shot attempts. For the record: Brett Connolly, Dmitry Orlov, T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Matt Niskanen, Jay Beagle, and Daniel Winnik (3).
-- This was the third time this season that the Caps played three games in four nights. It seems to agree with them. They went 3-0-0 in their first set to end October and begin November (Vancouver, Calgary, and Winnipeg), then they went 2-0-1 in their second set in mid-November (overtime loss to Columbus; wins over Pittsburgh and Detroit). They finished up this third set with a 2-0-1 record (Gimmick loss to New Jersey; wins over New Jersey and Ottawa).
-- You need SPF-500 suntan lotion to stand in goalie Braden Holtby’s presence these days, his brilliance causing burns to unprotected skin. With 23 saves on 24 shots in this game, Holtby is 6-2-3, 1.60, .943, with two shutouts in his last 11 appearances.
In the end…
We said in the prognosto that the Senators were not one of those divisional rivals that commanded attention, nor were they a marquee Western Conference team that would do likewise. But they were a team with 20 wins and should not be taken lightly. For the better part of two periods, the Caps seemed to be doing just that. But good teams fight through those sluggish stretches, and they get production from unexpected sources when needed. Getting goals from Karl Alzner and Taylor Chorney (the latter’s first game-winning goal since February 2011 with the Edmonton Oilers) would qualify as unexpected. But new year, new ways to win.