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Wings Drop Close One in DC, 3-1

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It really could have gone either way, but the way it went wasn’t the way we wanted.

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

First Period

Shortly before the game we learned that Ehn was drawing into the lineup for Frk, which is exciting to me. It is hard for me to pick a favorite player with a three-letter last name, but maybe I lean so slightly towards Ehn, who had a great start to the game. Early in the going Ehn was forechecking hard in the Capitals’ zone, causing the Caps to cough up the puck to a Dylan Larkin streaking from the bench, creating a decent shot.

That was just a microcosm of the early-going, which saw the Wings put up 14 shots to the Caps’ one. Washington got frustrated with the pressure that gave the Caps limited offensive zone time and forced them to the outside for bad looks at Bernier whenever they actually did cross into the Wings’ end. Madison Bowey ended up tripping Jacob De La Rose, leading to a pretty meh power play. But shortly after, Vanek got the puck behind the net, skated backwards in a nice little play to get Holtby moving to the right post. Vanek passed the puck back towards the left post where Athanasiou was waiting, no coverage, for an easy tap-in to make it 1-0 Red Wings! 10th goal of the season for AA!

The Caps just looked kind of flat-footed throughout the period, probably from all the turkey, which doesn’t actually make you any more tired than any other food, but for narrative purposes we will pretend that is indeed the case. They just seemed slow, and Nyquist got the best opportunity because of this: he got to go 1-on-1 against Holtby. Unfortunately, Holtby sealed up all the daylight and turned aside the shot. But more telling of the Caps’ woes came with just under five minutes remaining in the period when they registered just their second shot on goal.

Washington did manage to roll that into some pressure in the Wings’ zone, and Bernier made a great save on Ovechkin as he ripped a shot in the slot. Indeed, the Caps showed signs of life there-on after, drilling the post on Bernier’s left, winning draws, and bombarding shots and shot attempts from the blue line.

In general, the Caps did a good job pulling the Wings from side-to-side late in the period with a lot of lateral passes, and it wouldn’t have been unthinkable if the Caps scored off the pressure. The tension ramped up as the period wound down, even leading to a kerfuffle between Glendening and Tom Wilson near the benches. But the Wings maintained their 1-0 lead heading into the locker room.

Score: 1-0 Red Wings
Shots: 14-5
Standouts: The Forecheck

Second Period

The second opened with Kempny taking Mantha to the ice, opening up another power play opportunity. It wasn’t a very pretty power play, with nearly a quarter of it eaten up by one Washington forecheck, a big hit on Nielsen by Wilson, and some stingy possession by the Caps’ defenders. The Wings only walked away with one shot from the whole thing, which was a real let down. Even more disappointing, Jensen hooked, of course, Tom Wilson, but the Caps’ fearsome powerplay was just as subpar as the Wings’. Abdelkader, in particular, had a pretty strong PK.

The Wings immediately got called for Too-Many Men, though, so Vanek served time for the team. The penalty kill wasn’t quite as flashy this time around, but still got the job done, especially Bernier who had a nice couple saves against Backstrom.

Detroit got some swagger back from the successive penalty kills and began controlling play once again, but a commercial break promptly threw off their groove and turned things into a much more even affair.

Then some bad play in the neutral zone and a bad board battle allowed the Caps to spring Tom Wilson (yeah, who else, right?) to waltz in all alone on Bernier and launch the puck high on the blocker side into the back of the net to make it 1-1 tie game.

This apparently made Nielsen mad, as he went all alone through the neutral zone and found some space to make a cross-ice move on Holtby, but Boltby blocked Nielsen’s shot, who, by the way, is still looking for his first goal of the season. Get out the torches and pitchforks, yeah? Gotta be mad about something.

Athanasiou was real slippery the whole night and broke through two Capital defenders to get all alone on Holtby, but the bugger just stood tall again and sealed up Athanasiou’s backhander. Despite the Caps making up some ground on shots this period, the Wings had the sexier scoring opportunities. Still, I think the biggest difference in the period resulted from the Caps finding their legs and also crushing the Wings on most every board battle.

Score: 1-1 Tie
Shots: 18-13 Red Wings
Standouts: Bernier, Athanasiou

Third Period

The Wings opened the final frame with a power play that made no bones, but it was easily the best power play of the period, witn Mike Green dropping (inaccurate) hammers from the blue line and the forwards generally making chaos in front of Holtby. The Caps did get a 2-on-1 at one point in the power play, but Athanasiou hustled back to even the odds, which was really impressive to me, since I’ll admit I have aired on the side of skepticism with Athanasiou until this season, and I couldn’t be happier with his improved play this year.

And just as I was coming back from the bathroom Kempny scored somehow. On the play the Wings got a little mesmerized and Ozzie came down pretty hard on Jensen for a half second of hesitation to come out and challenge Kempny at the top of the right circle. Jensen went down to block the puck, which took a weird bounce off his shin and past Bernier’s blocker to make the game 2-1 Capitals.

Less than two minutes later the Wings get caught in a 3-2 situation as the Caps crossed the blue line into the Wings’ zone. Kronwall wasn’t very aggressive in picking up coverage in the 3-on-2 situation, probably out of fear of getting burned, but at the end of the day the Caps got way too much real estate. Ovechkin got the puck on the right circle and sent a sick wrister past Bernier to make it 3-1 Capitals.

The holiday and family interceded in my life in the final six minutes of the period, which meant I could only keep one eye on the game, but Mantha got into a scrum with Ovechkin and the Wings pushed back really hard against the Caps, but to no avail. The negative is that they couldn’t score with the extra attacker as the Caps continued to play heavy down low, but the Wings also maintained nearly four minutes with the extra attacker without conceding a goal.

Score: 3-2 Capitals
Shots: 32-20 Red Wings
Standouts: Athanasiou

Conclusion

The Red Wings really owned about half the game (first period, late third period) but conceded the other half to the Caps. The Capitals just made better use of their half. The Wings tried pressing a little harder than the Caps, who were able to counter-attack more effectively since they had fewer defenders to worry about. The Caps are a heavy team and showed it in the board and puck battles tonight. The Red Wings probably should have won this one with their 12-shot advantage, but they also made enough mistakes to allow the Capitals to make a game of it, and make a game of it they did. And besides, this loss was probably karma for stealing that game against the Canes a couple weeks ago.