Caps rally but can’t overcome rusty start
Zetterberg beats Holtby to decide shootout
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.”
Daniel Winnik scored late to help the Capitals earn a point.