On December 20, 2013 the Carolina Hurricanes were defeated by the Washington Capitals in game which they dominated for the most part and last night, they returned the favor. Washington, a poor possession team, had control for most of last night's game. They spent a ton of time in the Hurricanes zone in the first period and forced Carolina to play defense. The Hurricanes did a pretty decent job of defending the slot area, tying up sticks and giving Anton Khudobin a chance to save anything the Caps threw at the net, but they had a very hard time when it came to establishing a forecheck.
All three of Carolina's even strength goals, including Skinner's overtime winner, were scored in transition after mistakes by the Caps and that's pretty much how they created most of their offense. The Caps did a good job of shutting down most of Carolina's breakout attempts in the neutral zone and forced them to play a much more conservative game when they had control. This resulted in them not creating much offense and the cycle game that we're used to seeing from them was basically non-existent. Instead, they were forced to play defense for 60% of the time and take advantage of any openings the Capitals gave them.
It was essentially a reversal of how Carolina lost a lot of games last year, where they were the team in control for 40-45 minutes but ended up losing thanks to some brutal mistakes resulting in goals. It's not exactly a great strategy for long-term success, but let's just savor the fact that Carolina was able to steal a win against a division rival. There's a chance that this won't happen often this year, as it's been a rare occurrence for the Hurricanes to win in games they are heavily outshot in, but Khudobin, along with the power play, gave them a chance to win and they took advantage of it.
Fenwick Timeline from Extra Skater
Washington came out strong and had an 8-1 shot advantage over the Canes at one point in the first period. The Canes were able to even up the shot count and get an early goal thanks to a couple of Washington penalties. Then both teams decided to play some firewagon hockey in the second period, trading chances and scoring five total goals within five minutes of each other. This is where the Canes took advantage of some mistakes from Washington. The Caps got a bit of a break with Ovechkin scoring on a shot that deflected off Ron Hainsey's stick and past Khudobin, but the Canes responded with their "third line" catching Washington making a bad pinch. This resulted in Manny Malhotra & Drayson Bowman creating an odd-man rush and the former sniping one past Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer. The Canes third goal also came on an odd-man rush with defenseman Ryan Murphy jumping into the play and getting a shot on goal. The rebound conveniently went right to Jeff Skinner, who scored maybe his easiest goal of the season.
After that flurry, both teams settled down and chances were hard to come by for the rest of the game. It looked like both clubs were playing for overtime and the Caps didn't have much offense going until the finally two minutes. Both clubs seemed too afraid to make a mistake, so they didn't take many risks in the third period and were content with walking out of this game with at least a point. Overtime was a different story. Washington took a few chances in overtime to try to put the game away and one ended up burning them. Defenseman Dmitry Orlov jumped into the play but unfortunately for him, the puck was knocked off his stick and this allowed the Canes to start a three-on-one rush the other way with Murphy leading the charge. He was able to connect on a centering pass to Jeff Skinner, who beat Grubauer for the third time to win this one for Carolina.
For once, the Canes were the "opportunistic" team and won a game that they perhaps didn't deserve. Khudobin's play in the first two periods is what kept them alive and they were able to make the Caps pay for their mistakes. The latter is something that has been missing all season and hopefully they can continue to do this while playing a better game at even strength next time.
Khudobin and the five-on-three power play were the reasons why Carolina escaped the first period with a 1-0 lead. The Carolina goaltender wasn't exactly under siege, but he saw a lot of pucks and had to come up big a couple of times to prevent the Caps from getting an early lead. I mentioned earlier that the Canes spent a lot of time in their own zone early on and was forced to play defense for most of the time. I actually thought they did a decent job of beating out Washington's forwards to rebounds and protecting the slot, but they were still hemmed in and gave up a lot of chances as a result. Things were a little more even as the game went along, but I don't recall many instances where the Hurricanes had much sustained pressure. They had their chances and finished this time around, but were outplayed by Washington for most of the game.
Hurricanes Individual Scoring Chances
Hurricanes On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Eric Staal +2
Worst EV Forward: Jordan Staal -5
Best EV Defenseman: Ryan Murphy +3
Worst EV Defenseman: Ron Hainsey -5
Jeff Skinner is going to cool off eventually in terms of goal-scoring but right now, he is powering the Hurricanes offense and came up big once again last night. He's had the magic touch recently and while a lot of that can be attributed to good shooting luck, Skinner really helped his own cause against Washington. All three of his goals came from him being in a scoring area and taking advantage of a good bounce or a great pass, which isn't a bad thing because the Hurricanes need more players who can do that. His line was also the only forward unit to have a positive chance differential and were one of the Canes better lines in terms of shot differential.
Having one line going isn't going to win you a lot of games, which is why Malhotra's goal was so important. Him, Ruutu and Bowman had an okay night overall, but they showed great awareness on their goal by catching the Caps in a vulnerable spot and starting an odd-man rush. These three were essentially the "third line" last night with Nash out and slightly made up for Jordan's line having an off-night.
Also having an off night was defenseman Ron Hainsey, who took a lot of damage alongside Brett Bellemore. These two spent a lot of time against Ovechkin's line and struggled to contain him. Hainsy had a couple of ugly moments that resulted in him being on the ice for three Washington goals, too. The biggest one coming on Troy Brouwer's goal where they didn't tie up the Washington forward's stick in front of the net. He has been so solid in that area all season, so it was a little disappointing to see him struggle there.
On the ice for two of those goals was "new guy" John-Michael Liles. The newly acquired defenseman had a decent showing overall, despite the Hurricanes getting heavily outshot when he was on the ice. He did his job in terms of helping the power play, as he made a few very good passes through the box and made a couple of nice plays to keep the puck in at the line in addition to that. He was also able to make a couple of quick outlet passes in his own zone to start some of the Canes breakouts, which is something that has been missing from this team. That said, he also had a couple of scary moments, the biggest of which coming in the first period where he misplayed the puck at the blue line and allowed the Caps to have a three-on-one. Lucky for him, Ovechkin & Fehr had their wires crossed and it didn't result in anything. All in all, a decent debut for the former Toronto Maple Leaf.
Capitals Individual Scoring Chances
Capitals On-Ice Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Alex Ovechkin +7
Worst EV Forward: Brooks Laich -2
Best EV Defenseman: Mike Green +5
Worst EV Defensemen: John Erskine, Karl Alzner, John Carlson & Steve Oleksy EVEN
If anyone wants to write an article about how Kirk Muller has "solved Alexander Ovechkin" because the Canes have won 3 of 4 against Washington then they might want to re-watch this game. Not only did Ovechkin score his 31st goal of the season, but he was all over the ice and could have easily had a couple more goals. He nearly ended the game in overtime with a one-timer from inside the faceoff circle but just missed the net by a couple of inches. His line with Grabovski & Fehr ran over the Canes at even strength and could have easily had a bigger night on the scoresheet if it wasn't for Khudobin.
As for the rest of Washington's lineup, Backstrom's line produced a goal and Oleksy also scored on a bad angle shot, but it's pretty clear which five players were driving the bus for the Caps. Not that the rest were bad (save for the Chimera-Erat-Ward line) but Grabovski, Fehr, Ovechkin, Green & Orlov were at another level last night. Unfortunately for the Caps, four of them were also on the ice for Carolina's overtime goal, which clouds an otherwise impressive game from them.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
With forward depth being an issue, it was critical for Malhotra's line to at least break even during five-on-five play and they did just that. They took some damage from the Ovechkin line, but did solid work against the rest of Washington's forwards to make up for it. It also helped that Eric Staal's line didn't see much of Ovechkin which allowed them to take advantage of some weaker matchups, most notably against the Caps third and fourth lines. Unfortunately, Jordan's line could not handle Ovechkin at all and the Canes top four defense also struggled against the Caps top line.
Also, I know it's a road game but I'm not sure why Muller thought it was a good idea to leave Brett Sutter's line out against Washington's top six multiple times. He's lucky that they only gave up one goal in the brief amount of minutes they played.