Chart courtesy www.war-on-ice.com
Anaheim came strong out of the gate, spending the first 45 seconds of the game in the Capital zone with the line of Matt Beleskey-Ryan Kesler-Kyle Palmieri setting the tone with a physical, cycling possession. After an icing the Ducks won the ensuing face off, Hampus Lindholm sending the puck point-to-point for Francois Beauchemin to hammer a slap shot that Washington goalie Justin Peters spit the rebound into the slot that Andrew Cogliano snapped through his legs for a 1-0 Ducks lead just 66 seconds into action. The elation would be short lived as after John Gibson held for a face off Nicklas Backstrom won the ensuing drop back to Alex Ovechkin, who used his skate to tee up a snap shot through traffic that found the back of the net just 16 seconds later to tie the game 1-1. The opening moments set the table for a wild, high-event first 20 minutes of action.
With the teams trading quality chances in the first five minutes, Ryan Getzlaf laid a thunderous hit on Brooks Orpik along the near side boards. After the Ducks re-entered the offensive zone Devante Smith-Pelly found Corey Perry alone in the high slot for a stick-side snapper that beat Peters to put the Ducks back in front 2-1 5:33 into the game. The teams traded power play opportunities with Matt Niskanen going off for a cross check, but Palmieri cut the Ducks advantage time short with 15 seconds left getting called for a high sticking minor. Through the first 10 minutes the teams combined for 17 shots, and with 9:34 remaining Ovechkin set up in his favorite spot on the ensuing Caps power play at the near circle by the boards to take a Mike Green feed and slam it between the arm and body of Gibson to tie the game again 2-2.
From there the physical game plan the Ducks came out with began to backfire as Beleskey went hard into the corner chasing after a dump in, initiating contact with and getting tangled up with John Carlson before crashing into the boards headfirst and leaving the game, not to return due to an upper body injury. Nearly two minutes later Getzlaf and Ovechkin got into it with the Capitals captain taking a run at the Ducks captain in the corner, and Getzlaf responding and being whistled for a slashing penalty for a chop to the calf. On the penalty kill the Ducks would hold the visitors scoreless, but in doing so lose Sami Vatanen when he tried to throw a check along the far boards missing his man and having his trailing right leg whip around into the boards awkwardly. He left the game after getting to the bench having trouble putting weight on said leg, and spent the rest of the evening in the back with a lower body injury. Anaheim had a power play chance with around four minutes remaining thanks to a Brooks Laich hook, but came up empty despite spending the first 90 seconds of the advantage in the offensive zone. When the horn sounded the game was tied 2-2 with the Ducks holding a 14-12 shots on goal advantage and the teams combining for 59 shot attempts and 24 hits; it was a high paced, high intensity period that had a slight playoff flavor.
Perry said to Kent French on the Prime Ticket broadcast "I think they're fresh in our mind, we still know what happened. It's a playoff type game out there, there's a lot of hits, a lot of battles, and a lot of scoring."
With news coming out at the beginning of the session that both Beleskey and Vatanen wouldn't return the proceedings took a more somber feel. Line combinations and defensive pairings got scrambled with one less forward and one less defender in the lineup, and 4:27 in the Capitals took advantage of a bad change when Niskanen spotted Marcus Johansson breaking in free off the bench with a stretch pass, and he promptly wristed the puck in low to the stick side for the Caps first lead of the game 3-2. Three minutes later action came to a halt again as Patrick Maroon was down behind the play after taking a pair of hip checks from Michael Latta and then one near his head from Green, forcing him to the bench in discomfort. Though Maroon would later return, the toll of the injuries served to slow the pace of the game considerably with far fewer shots being attempted and less body checks thrown.
Washington doubled their edge 56 seconds before the midpoint when Ovechkin turned on the afterburners to get past Clayton Stoner at the Ducks blue line to create and two-on-one with Ben Lovejoy between him and Andre Burakovsky. A saucer pass across the middle put the puck on the rookie's tape for him to beat Gibson for the 4-2 advantage for the visitors. Anaheim responded just over three minutes later when a Lovejoy shot from straight away at the blue line created a rebound, and Jakob Silfverberg deftly knocked it to a wide open Cogliano on the opposite side of the crease for the bang-bang score to halve the deficit 4-3 with 7:47 remaining.
The sides traded power play opportunities again in the final minutes as Getzlaf again was sent to the box, this time for getting his stick in the feet of Eric Fehr and a tripping minor. With the Capital power play shooting blanks Cogliano was able to draw a hooking call against Burakovsky after taking advantage of a giveaway in the Washington end by Peters. The Ducks again held the zone well with the extra man and moved the puck deftly, but the best chance with 15 seconds remaining with Kesler bulling to the front of the net was denied and the rebound chipped wide. Through 40 minutes the Capitals lead 4-3 despite the Ducks outshooting them 10-9 in the period, but the shot attempts told a different story as the Caps out-attempted the hosts 28-19. It was clear that the injury-diminished Ducks side was struggling to keep to the high physicality and intensity game plan, and Washington had turned the game around the midway mark.
Getzlaf gave the Ducks life 46 seconds into the final period with a nice individual effort splitting Orpik and a back checking forward at the top of the near circle in the Washington zone, forcing Orpik to take a holding minor on the rush at the net. The man-power advantage proved fruitless, and Cogliano would give the Caps one of their own 3:37 into the period making like a lumberjack on the hands of Ovechkin powering through the neutral zone for a dump in. The Capitals failed to get a shot on net during the two minute stretch.
Once again a key moment came near the 10 minute mark when Rickard Rakell lead a rush into the offensive zone and dropped the puck back to Stoner, who lost the puck in his skates and then had his pocket picked by Ovechkin. He bolted ahead two-on-one again with Burakovsky, feeding the rookie the puck with room for a nice forehand-backhand deke that Gibson bit hard on to score and up the Capital edge to 5-3 with 10:18 remaining. From there offense fell off for both sides, with the Ducks failing to really threaten until they pulled Gibson with 2:35 to play. The few chances they created went wide, and the result was all but confirmed when Jay Beagle broke up a pass and raced into the Ducks zone forcing Cam Fowler to take a holding penalty with 31 second left.
After 106 shots attempts combined between the two sides in the first two periods, there were only 28 in the third period with the Ducks taking 20 and holding a 9-7 shot advantage. The second Burakovsky goal was the proverbial backbreaker though, as one could feel the air go out of the collective Ducks fans balloon on the broadcast and see it in how few serious scoring opportunities the hosts created thereafter. Physicality was in low supply as well, as the teams combined for only 11 of the game's 55 hits in the final stanza.
Good: Seeing snakebitten Cogliano score not once but twice was encouraging, after having spent much of the season on the vampire diet of heavy iron. While it'd be folly to expect him to replicate the career numbers he posted last year, he's also shooting at a lower percentage (7.9%) than all but one of his six other seasons. To look at it hopefully, it could be a sign that he can turn the corner and chip in a few more goals down the stretch considering his career shooting percentage is 12.0%. The Ducks certainly will need more production from secondary sources.
Bad: While the Ducks have dealt with injuries and sickness to the likes of Perry, Lovejoy, and Beauchemin, losing both Beleskey and Vatanen had a profound impact on the game. In Beleskey the biggest secondary scoring threat of the season was removed from the equation, and perhaps even more importantly the loss of Vatanen threw the defense into disarray in terms of generation as well as taking a vital power play piece away. If Anaheim is without their young Finnish defender for any stretch of time the hole with be profoundly felt.
Ugly: Boudreau summed it up perfectly in the postgame, the Ducks knew they needed to take care of both Ovechkin and Backstrom and did neither. The former equalled his season best performance of four points in a game (achieved once prior against Arizona in early November), and the latter quietly added to his team-leading point total.
3rd Icehole: While Nicklas Backstrom's pair of assists were hardly flashy, winning the face off to set up Ovechkin's first and getting the secondary assist on the power play marker, he was the center for the most dangerous line for the Capitals all evening. Only Ovechkin (8) was better in terms of shot attempt differential (7) at even strength.
2nd Icehole: It helps when you're being teed up by one of the greatest players of this generation, but Andre Burakovsky never looked out of place. His sense in getting up ice to be the option for Ovechkin on both of his goals was superb, and he as well was one of the top forwards for on-ice shot attempt differential (5).
1st Icehole: Whether or not Alex Ovechkin is guilty of the diving that Getzlaf voiced his displeasure about post game, he was without a doubt the most dangerous player on the ice and the tip of the spear for the Capital attack. From tying the game 16 seconds after the Ducks had snatched an early opener, to a pair of beautiful two-on-one passes on the game winning and salting goals, he was a threat all evening long. Make it now 14 points (8 goals 6 assists) in five career games at Honda Center for Ovechkin. While it's always impressive seeing such sublime displays of skill, it's also probably a good thing he and the Capitals come out this way but once a year.
Next Game: Wednesday, February 18, 2015 vs Tampa Bay, 7:00 PM PT