Given how close the standings are among four teams at the top of the Metropolitan Division, the game was a possible playoff preview and had a playoff-like calculated feel. The Isles generally held frequent nemesis Alex Ovechkin in check, but the course of the game revealed more caution than we typically see from the Isles, as well as the kind of clogging and slogging for which Barry Trotz teams have long been known.
Though the Isles conceded a go-ahead goal with just over five minutes left in the third period, they can't really be accused of playing for a regulation point and the OT bonus round that comes with it: Eric Fehr's goal came on a 3-on-2 counterattack that resulted from an Isles scoring push. Johnny Boychuk got caught deep in the Capitals zone on the follow-through of his one-timer blast, which was stopped by Braden Holtby and landed perfectly for the Caps to quickly rush up ice.
But the Isles responded with their best pressure of the afternoon, and were rewarded with a consolation point to bump them to 80 points overall. With the extra point, the Caps pull to within four points of the Isles and a tie with the Rangers for second in the Metro.
First Period: Everyone Slept In
The teams traded goals by defensemen in an otherwise very low-event first period, with only 10 total shots reaching goal (6-4 Isles). Chad Johnson did have to stop Brooks Laich on a Nash-ian power move that left him alone on Johnson.
Travis Hamonic opened scoring -- the sixth game in a row the Isles have scored first -- when he jumped up the left wing channel to take a nice backhand feed through the neutral zone from John Tavares. His shot from his off wing scored far side on Braden Holtby, whose attention may have been slightly divided with that Tavares guy bursting toward the back door..
After the teams traded futile power plays late in the first, Matt Niskanen tied it at 19:19 with a top-corner one-timer after a great orbit-and-pass from behind the net by NHL leading scorer Nicklas Backstrom. (It's common to associate recent last-minute or late-in-the-period goals against as some kind of sickness, but the evidence from how the Isles have played on most of these recent goals reveals: Nope, just hockey being hockey.)
Second Period: Uncomfortable
The second period was more eventful but without the goals to show for it. The Capitals had the better of chances and pressure while outshooting the Isles 10-7 (30-17 on total attempts) and forcing some fire drills from the Isles defense. Chad Johnson had to make several sharp saves and heads-up freezes.
Holtby's work was far less taxing, with the Isles rarely penetrating for any sustained pressure, and their best chance coming when they almost exploited Holtby's puckhandling gaffe behind the net.
Third Period: Drama, a Wee Fracas and Such
The third continued the teams' generally cautious, defense-first approach, though the Isles returned to generating real scoring chances, including the period's first really dangerous one when Holtby robbed Josh Bailey after a setup from Tavares. With the "house" areas of both zones pretty well clogged, most of the danger came from point shots through traffic, work behind the net, and the odd breakdown-fueled rush.
Of note, Tom Wilson drove Tavares sliding hard into the boards after the puck went out of play, the likely cause for a fight soon afterward between him and Matt Martin -- still wearing a visor to protect his recently broken nose. Their tussle satisfied timeless hockey traditions of justice while also consisting mostly of punches to pads and helmets and things. Generally prefer not to see real damage in those, although after seeing Wilson's cheap trick on Tavares...what do I care about Wilson's health?
After Fehr's goal at 14:26, the Isles understandably had the rest of the pressure in regulation. With Johnson pulled for a sixth attacker, Tavares came inches from tying it from his office when a puck sprang to the far post with Holtby prone and the net gaping. But Tavares' stab only jammed against the post and then harmlessly up into the air. There was much scrumming behind the net afterward.
The Isles continued to play the 6-on-5 like a proper power play, however, and after Tavares won a key faceoff, Ryan Strome did not miss with a low-angle shot from the opposite side with 48 seconds remaining. That one came after Tavares sent a shot toward the net, through Anders Lee providing traffic, and landed perfectly for Strome.
Overtime had more action with the open ice afforded by four-on-four, but nothing too noteworthy. The Isles initially had some trouble breaking out of their own zone -- not under much forechecking pressure, but more due to bouncing passes and likely rough ice. Johnson did stop Ovechkin on one rush up ice that tested nerves.
Evgeny Kuznetsov opened the shootout with the only conversion. His slow approach and dizzying series of moves beat Johnson, then Frans Nielsen flubbed his backhand attempt. Holtby made saves on Tavares and Strome following Johnson's saves on Backstrom and Ovechkin, respectively.
The Isles go home for tomorrow night's match with the Canucks, who are off today and busing through the snow.
Quote(s) of the
The Isles fanbase had good representation, audibly so.
Quite the chorus of "Yes! Yes! Yes!" chants to the right of the press box.— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) February 21, 2015
Finally, way to go, MSG: