WASHINGTON – In a game that saw the one team score four unanswered goals and the other respond with three of their own to give the fans bonus hockey, the Washington Capitals prevailed in shootout fashion for the eighth time this season as they defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4 at Verizon Center.
With the win Sunday evening, Washington has won just eight games in regulation this season with two coming in the overtime period and eight via shootouts. It appeared as if the Capitals were dead in the water after the Flyers strung together four unanswered goals after a first period power play goal from Marcus Johansson — initially, the goal was credited to Johansson, but changed post-game to Ovechkin and subsequently changed back to Johansson — but Washington stayed resilient in the third period and played with a heightened sense of urgency in their building.
“[We] showed some character tonight,” Mike Green told reporters after the hard-fought battle between bitter rivals. “It’s important that we never give up. We got two points. It was an unusual game, but we’ll take it.”
Green played much better tonight than he has over the past week where he played two of his worst games of the season against the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning. While he was out of position on Sean Couturier’s third period goal and had a few bad giveaways in the neutral zone, Green was able to find the net for the second time this season and played more fundamentally sound on most of his shifts. But Green wasn’t the defenseman who played the best for head coach Adam Oates.
Dmitry Orlov earned himself the third star of the game and for good reason. The 22-year-old skated with high energy on virtually every shift, found the net off of a face-off blast, going top shelf on Steve Mason and challenged every 50-50 puck in his direction. With a good bill of health has come a sudden resurgence from the Russian defenseman and Oates is noticing.
“I thought [during] the second half of the game he played very well,” Oates said about Orlov. “I see the offensive plays. I’ve seen the shot. The more he plays correct in our end, the more he’ll become a regular player. He’s a good hockey player. He’s got the ability to become a really good hockey player and we want consistency in our end.”
Consistency wasn’t a good descriptor of this game as both sides played up and down throughout. Marcus Johansson said that in order for the Capitals to avoid being as streaky as they’ve been, they must stick to the basics.
“[We're] making the right plays at the right time and getting the puck deep and keeping it simple,” Johansson said. “Not trying to do everything one-by-one when we’re down because we were down three goals. We play as a team and we play the right way and it’s a great feeling to come back like this.”
While the Capitals themselves had to overcome adversity in order to win the game, defenseman John Erskine was just happy to be back on the ice. After missing 25 games with a knee injury, Erskine saw his first action on the third defensive pair along with Steve Oleksy as he was short-shifted 16 times with a total ice time of 12:50. Despite looking sluggish every now and then — Erskine isn’t a tremendous athlete even when healthy — he we pleased to see his first game action since Oct. 26.
“[I] felt pretty good,” Erskine told reporters. “[Oates] tried to keep the shifts short and get my legs back into it. I felt pretty good out there. [I] got my lungs back into it and getting back into game shape.”
Marcus Johansson was awarded the first star of the game, but captain Alexander Ovechkin came through when his team needed him most. A late charge in the third period by the Capitals was finished off with Grubauer leaving his net empty for the extra skater to come on. Ovechkin hopped over the bench as Mason misplayed the puck behind his crease. Forward Joel Ward dug the puck out, found a crashing Ovechkin in the high slot as he buried it to electrify the building, but also bring his team to overtime. The 28-year-old didn’t expect that to happen.
“To be honest with you, I just wanted to shoot the puck up there” Ovechkin jokingly told reporters. “To be honest with you, I missed my shot It’s kind of funny, but it was [a] perfect miss. I’ll take it.”
Washington played a solid first period and a shaky final two periods, but found a way to get two points. While Oates would probably like his club to finish teams off in regulation more often, he’ll be the first to say two points are hard to come by in the NHL. Mikhail Grabovski was a late scratch in the lineup, but Jay Beagle played to a +1 rating on the second line. Michael Latta was added to the lineup as Nate Schmidt was re-assigned to AHL Hershey to make room for Erskine. Latta left the game with a lower-body injury, but Oates said at his presser that he doesn’t anticipate him missing any time.
Washington will travel to the Wells Fargo Center to face these same Flyers Tuesday night in what will likely be another intense battle between these common foes.
Notes: Washington won the face-off battle as they went 40-69 on draws. The Capitals outhit the Flyers 29-21 and blocked more shots with 16 as opposed to 10. The Capitals had seven giveaways and eight takeaways while the Flyers had 11 giveaways and gave the puck away just twice. Washington shut out Philadelphia on the power play (0-4) and scored once (1-5) with the man-advantage. The Capitals are now 12-3-0 when scoring first in the 2013-14 NHL season. Philipp Grubauer credited watching extra video on Friday’s game versus the Panthers as to why he performed better in the shootout Sunday.