The Washington Capitals had a busy 24 hours, heading to Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena after a tough overtime loss to the playoff hopeful Ottawa Senators on Saturday night. The Detroit Red Wings, another playoff contender, are beset by injuries, and fielded a team without physical players such as Justin Abdelkader, Erik Cole, and Johan Franzen.
The Red Wings came into the game 5-9-2 in their past 16 games, but had the return of forward Drew Miller from injury and were able to beat the Minnesota Wild last night in a shootout. The last time the two faced off in January, the Capitals came away with a 3-1 victory.
The Caps were able to exploit Detroit’s injury woes, coming away with a critical two points. With the New York Islanders idle and the Pittsburgh Penguins losing to the Philadelphia Flyers, the Caps’ win helped to launch them back into second in the Metropolitan division standings, one point ahead of the Islanders and four ahead of the Penguins. Pending the result of the other games tonight (Ottawa vs. Toronto), the Capitals’ victory helped to solidify their standings and another chance to lock up a playoff slot.
After a few possession changes early, the Capitals earned a power play at when Daniel Cleary got called for high-sticking on Brooks Laich 1:51 into the game. The Caps had trouble finding lanes to the net for the first minute of their power play, but took advantage of their opportunity. A lucky bounce for Evgeny Kuznetsov found the stick of Detroit’s Drew Miller, a deflection that launched past goalie Petr Mrazek and gave the Caps an early lead. Matt Niskanen and Mike Green were credited with the assists.
Alex Ovechkin drew a holding call at 10:18 on Henrik Zetterberg. Detroit pushed hard, but faced good defensive play from the Caps and were unable to convert to tie the game.
The second period started with heavy pressure from the Red Wings, keeping the Caps on their heels as they tried to fend off plays from the point and slot. Braden Holtby did a great job of turning away pucks, limiting rebounds that would have led to opportunities.
The sustained pressure led to a penalty call as Brooks Orpik drew a tripping penalty on Luke Glendening at 1:56 while trying to clear the front of the net. Fortunately, the Caps defense forced most of the chances for Detroit to the outside and prevented scoring opportunities.
Mike Green proved his slapshot is back at 4:42 of the second. Blasting a rocket from the top of the faceoff circle, Green’s shot glanced off defenseman Drew Miller and found a way past Mrazek’s glove, careening into the top of the net to give the Caps a 2-0 lead. Both Tim Gleason and Alex Ovechkin had assists on the goal.
At 5:38 of the period, the Capitals had an opportunity to put the game out of reach and take a big lead when the Red Wings were called for too many men on the ice. Despite the free chance, the Caps could hardly put any oomph into their power play and had issues with turnovers.
Another opportunity presented itself when Marek Zidlicky was called for clipping at 10:28, upending Tom Wilson on the blue line. This time, the Caps kept the puck in the Red Wings zone but were unable to find a lane to the net. With the penalty winding down, the Caps put pressure in front of the net, but it led to a goalie interference call against Joel Ward when he lunged for the puck behind Mrazek at 12:14 of the period. The Red Wings quickly capitalized on their power play and forward Darren Helm scored his 14th goal of the season, a chip-in shot at 12:59 of the period. Pavel Datsyuk was responsible for setting up Helm, with another assist credited to Teemu Pulkkinen.
The Red Wings had a great chance to tie it up with the second period winding down when Mike Green was called for a delay of game penalty. After a couple of close calls and rebounds, the Caps were able to move the puck out of the zone — but Troy Brouwer used his glove to clear it, drawing another penalty and giving the Red Wings a two-man advantage for a minute and a half.
Fortunately for the Caps, the Wings were unable to synchronize their power play and set up a goal-scoring play. A couple of timely clears helped out, preventing Detroit from finding the tying goal. Braden Holtby had an incredible split that left Caps fans mesmerized, but also concerned about the immediate impact of a groin injury. Thankfully, bad news was averted as the Caps trainer quickly cleared Holtby of any serious injury and he played on.
The third period started slowly, with the Caps playing conservatively to maintain the lead. They were active when needed to turn away the Wings rushes, but also relied heavily on Holtby who turned away several shots from the points and the ensuing rebounds. Given the close game, the Caps wisely shied away from drawing penalties to ensure that Datsyuk and the Wings wouldn’t have another power play opportunity.
Holtby had another impact game, with key saves to keep the Caps in the game. The second and third periods shots on goal were dominated by Detroit, but Holtby stayed strong and kept the Caps in the lead.
Mike Green has had some big goals of late. His blue hockey stick has been magic, making significant and timely contributions to the Caps goal-scoring efforts.
Unnecessary and unfortunate penalties. The dazzling goaltending of Holtby has bailed the Caps out for much of the regular season, but this trend has to stop as we look towards the playoffs.
Red Wings’ left wing Drew Miller had a tough night, with both of the Caps goals coming via deflections off him. He might want to watch his stick and glove for the next few games.