|The Caps had no answer for Hank Zetterbeg's Wings tonight.|
The Red Wings got off to a good start, controlling the puck and getting solid zone possession that led to some solid chances, but Michal Neuvirth made a good save in close. As the early stages of the game continued, the Wings continued to control play and limited the Capitals to very little possession. The period began to move at a rapid pace, with very few stoppages in play, and the Red Wings began to really press the Washington defense and Michal Neuvirth into some great plays to keep the game scoreless. The Capitals got a break, however, at 9:34 when Henrik Zetterberg was boxed for delay of game. The power play got off to a bad start, but eventually got some good chances that were snuffed out by Jimmy Howard. After the expiration of the power play, Detroit set up a dominant shift in the offensive zone, and Henrik Zetterberg finished the play with a one-timer over Neuvirth's shoulder for a 1-0 Red Wings lead at 12:23. But the Capitals countered right back, as the fourth line set up a solid forecheck of their own, and John Carlson leaned into a slapshot from the top of the circles to equalize a mere 33 seconds later. The Red Wings had an answer of their own, as Valtteri Filppula deflected a Brian Rafalski shot past Neuvirth for another Detroit advantage at 14:45. As the period continued, it was Detroit who continued to get the good possession and better chances, but the Capitals got another break when Pavel Datsyuk was called for tripping at 19:05. With the power play shortened so much by the lateness of the call, however, Washington wasn't able to get anything going, and the period ended with Detroit ahead 2-1.
On the man advantage to start the second period, the Capitals got nothing going again and the penalty expired without incident. Then it was the Red Wings' turn for a power play, as Boyd Gordon was sent off for holding the stick at 3:32. During their man advantage, Detroit got the puck through to Neuvirth several times, but the goaltender was able to fight them off and the Caps kept the Wings from scoring. Soon after Gordon was released from the box, Alexander Semin collected a pass from Scott Hannan in the neutral zone and dropped it off to Alex Ovechkin, who ripped the puck past a screened Howard to equalize again at 5:53. The Red Wings began another attack soon after the tying goal, and Michal Neuvirth again had to be on top of his game to keep Detroit from taking another lead. The constant puck possession of the Red Wings had the Caps on their heels, and the Washington defense had trouble with the fast Detroit forwards down low as well. Michal Neuvirth had to make several great saves from in close to keep the game tied inside of three minutes remaining, and Detroit continued to carry play as the period began to wind down, forcing the Washington goalie to make even more saves. With 41 seconds left, Jonathan Ericsson was sent off for interference for another Washington power play; however, once again the Capitals got nothing going with the extra man and the period ended with the teams deadlocked at 2.
Again on the power play to start the third period, the Capitals were able to generate little zone time for the third consecutive man advantage and wasted an opportunity to pull ahead. The Red Wings again came back at the Capitals strong following the expiration of the penalty, but Michal Neuvirth continued to find a way to keep Detroit off the board. At 5:08 of the period, Tomas Holmstrom was given the gate for slashing, sending DC to a critical fourth power play. Once again, however, the Capitals' man advantage was horrendous, getting only one shot off, and the Wings came back full-tilt again. The Detroit pressure earned them a power play at 9:20 when Mike Knuble was jailed for tripping, setting up a huge Washington kill. This time, however, the Capitals were not up to the task as Henrik Zetterberg walked in along the half wall and roofed a backhander past Neuvirth that squeakeed through on the short side for a 3-2 lead at 9:53. The Capitals, now desperate for their third equalizer of the game, began throwing pucks at Howard to try and get something through. The young American goalie was up to the task, however, and time began to run down on the Capitals. As Washington continued to try and break forward and gain zone presence, the suffocating Detroit defense would barely let the Capitals out of their own zone, and DC looked terribly out of gas. Alexander Semin hit a pipe with 15 seconds left after beating Howard clean, but Washington could not draw even again, and saw their nine-game winning streak end.
I want to get this out of the way first - the outcome of this game would have been no different with Braden Holtby in goal. Michal Neuvirth had no chance on the first two he allowed, and while the third goal certainly could have been stopped, it was also a sick shot. Holtby has been great for the Capitals, but Neuvirth is going to be the man in the playoffs, not him. It was good for Mikey to get back in the net, regardless of the outcome, and he should start on Friday night.
I thought Alex Ovechkin had a good game. He scored a very pretty goal as he slowly but surely awakens from his slumber, as well as a healthy seven shots on goal and four hits. He is back to his old self as he learns how to operate better in the new defensive system, and that gets rid of one of my biggest fears: that he had changed as a player. That's clearly not the case, and that's a very good thing.
There is no shame or panic whatsoever in losing this game. The Red Wings are an elite team with elite players out the wazoo and they play in one of the toughest barns in the league to win in. The Capitals were coming off an emotional win in Montreal just a mere 24 hours beforehand, and this time, the absence of their top two centers was simply too much to overcome. The division lead is still two game proof because the Caps are ahead by five points, and the Bolts only have two games in hand. That said, root for the Canadiens tomorrow. Hard.
The Capitals will fly to New Jersey tonight and may practice lightly tomorrow before taking on the absurdly hot Devils Friday night. That very important game is scheduled for 7 P.M.