Caps rally but can’t over­come rusty start

Zet­ter­berg beats Holtby to de­cide shootout

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY IS­ABELLE KHURSHUDYAN

detroit — It’s a good thing for the Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals that there are no shootouts in the play­offs. Their poor record in the ex­tra ses­sion this sea­son has been con­found­ing, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the team’s skilled for­ward corps and reign­ing Vez­ina Trophy-win­ning goal­tender.

But as Red Wings cap­tain Hen­rik Zet­ter­berg sent a back­hand shot to­ward Braden Holtby, Holtby “cramped up a bit,” and the puck got past him. Alex Ovechkin’s sub­se­quent strike was saved, and with that, the Cap­i­tals lost in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, 3-2. Their shootout record is 1-5, and Holtby is win­less in them.

“We haven’t been very good at them for what­ever rea­son,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “. . . We’re lucky it’s not like the Olympics.”

In the first game af­ter their six-day bye-week break, the rust showed for the Cap­i­tals (39-11-7), who quickly found them­selves in a two-goal hole against the Red Wings (23-25-10). They climbed

out of it with goals from Zach San­ford and Daniel Win­nik to get a point, but the loss made Wash­ing­ton the lat­est team to fall vic­tim to bye-week blues. Teams play­ing in the first game af­ter their break fell to 3-9-3.

The game also ended Holtby’s streak of win­ning 14 con­sec­u­tive de­ci­sions, which is tied for the sec­ond long­est in NHL his­tory. Gilles Gil­bert won 17 in a row in 1975-76.

“You can tell we kept get­ting more com­fort­able as the game went on,” Holtby said. “. . . We bat­tled it out. It’s one of those games that you come back, it’s a hot build­ing, the ice isn’t great and you’ve just got to fight through it. I thought we were re­silient. There’s ob­vi­ously ar­eas we want to im­prove on, but com­ing out of a break, it’s not all neg­a­tive.”

The missed chances for the Cap­i­tals came in reg­u­la­tion. Wash­ing­ton failed to score on five power-play op­por­tu­ni­ties de­spite pep­per­ing goal­tender Petr Mrazek with 11 shots on goal on the man-ad­van­tage. On Wash­ing­ton’s sec­ond power play of the third pe­riod, Mrazek saved a shot by Ovechkin and then did a split to make an im­pres­sive pad save on Lars Eller on the goal line with 6:31 re­main­ing. Mrazek fin­ished with 34 saves.

Less than two min­utes later, T.J. Oshie’s shot bounced up off Mrazek’s pad, and Win­nik knocked the puck in with the shaft of his stick for the equal­izer.

“I know our record isn’t good in the shootout this year, but at least we got one point out of it,” Win­nik said.

Af­ter San­ford scored his first NHL goal in Wash­ing­ton’s last game, Feb. 11 against the Ana­heim Ducks, Trotz re­warded him with an­other game in the lineup. Be­fore Wash­ing­ton’s last game against the Red Wings ear­lier this month, the Cap­i­tals re­called San­ford as in­sur­ance for their for­ward corps. An­dre Bu­rakovsky suf­fered a hand in­jury in that game and is ex­pected to be out of the lineup for the next month.

San­ford took his spot on the third line and scored the gamewin­ner against Ana­heim, and the Cap­i­tals sent him down to the Amer­i­can Hockey League af­ter the game. The next day, he scored two goals for the Her­shey Bears, im­press­ing Trotz.

“I guess when you’re hot, you’re hot,” San­ford said Fri­day.

He stayed hot Satur­day af­ter­noon, his snap shot break­ing Wash­ing­ton’s score­less spell through the first 38 min­utes of the game. That he scored in a sec­ond straight game likely means San­ford will again be in the lineup on Sun­day af­ter­noon against the New York Rangers, po­ten­tially seiz­ing an op­por­tu­nity for con­sis­tent play­ing time with Bu­rakovsky out.

That San­ford scored was fitting be­cause he was the only Cap­i­tals player who hadn’t been idle for the past week, play­ing and prac­tic­ing in the AHL while most Wash­ing­ton play­ers were on a beach for the bye week.

“It was kind of good for me to be on the ice this week in­stead of va­ca­tion,” San­ford said. “I think I felt a lit­tle bet­ter than some of the guys out there.”

The Cap­i­tals had a one-hour prac­tice on Fri­day, but af­ter a five­day break, that was all the ice time they got be­fore play­ing the Red Wings on Satur­day af­ter­noon. Be­cause the game was a mati­nee, Wash­ing­ton didn’t have a morn­ing skate be­fore puck drop at Joe Louis Arena. That just added to the chal­lenge of bat­tling rust af­ter a week off. A goal by Frans Nielsen in the first pe­riod and then one from To­mas Tatar in the sec­ond pe­riod had the Cap­i­tals fac­ing a 2-0 deficit be­fore San­ford’s goal.

“In your head, you haven’t played for a week, and you’re get­ting used to think­ing the game fast again,” Eller said. “Every­body was think­ing a lit­tle too slow, es­pe­cially in the first pe­riod. We were play­ing slow be­cause we were kind of mov­ing the puck slow. It wasn’t a lack of will­ing­ness. It was just too slow think­ing, and then we looked slow. But it got bet­ter.”

GRE­GORY SHAMUS/GETTY IM­AGES

Daniel Win­nik scored late to help the Cap­i­tals earn a point.

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