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Red Wings Battle But Lose Lead Again; Fall to Capitals 3-2

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NHL: Washington Capitals at Detroit Red Wings Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Wings came into the game looking to build off their 4-3 OT victory on Friday while the Capitals looked to end their three game road trip with a win. This game was pretty sloppy to watch at times as both teams seemed to struggle with building pressure. In the end, a knuckling puck from 50 feet out that found its way past Jimmy Howard would prove to be the game winner as the Red Wings failed to hold onto a 2-1 third period lead and fell to the Capitals 3-2.

First Period

The Red Wings looked decent early on forcing turnovers, getting the puck deep and keeping the Capitals out of the offensive zone. They could not quite find anything dangerous on net unfortunately. As expected, the top line for each team battled against each other with Dylan Larkin’s line dominating the puck possession but the Capitals getting the better chances as Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov continue to thrive. The Wings picked up the offensive pressure a bit courtesy of an active defense, highlighted by a good play by Dennis Cholowski to walk down the boards and center a pass to Andreas Athanasiou in the high slot for a one timer. Unfortunately, Braden Holtby read it all the way and made the easy glove save. There continued to be a lot of flow up and down the ice with very little in terms of shots on goal. The Capitals, lead by the Nicklas Backstorm line, began to up the pressure as Backstrom found Oshie in the slot but he could not put it home and you could just feel that something was going to give. Shortly after it would when a Kuznetsov found a loose puck on a scramble in front of Jimmy Howard and slide it over to Tom Wilson on the side of the net who fired it past a diving Howard for a 1-0 lead. The Red Wings tried to find some pressure of their own from the fourth line and it almost ended in disaster. A turnover high in the offensive zone found Kuznetsov’s stick with only Luke Witkowski and Niklas Kronwall to fend off a streaking Ovechkin. Somehow the two less than fleet of foot defensemen were able to slow the NHL leading goal scorer down just enough to keep him from getting a shot on goal.

For the Wings though, the story of the first period was easily the Frans Nielsen line…specifically Anthony Mantha. They were able to consistently get the puck into the zone and had several quality chances on net. At one-point Mantha took a loose puck, deked around a back pedaling Brooks Orpik to create a 2-1 with Tomas Vanek and would have set up Vanek for an easy tap in had it not been for a saving play by Lars Eller. Mantha decided to do it by himself the next time as he read a bad pass by Jakob Vrana just outside the offensive zone, took it from the Capitals defender and broke in alone on Holtby. He went forehand to backhand and slipped the puck under the Capitals goalie’s legs to tie the game up at 1.

For the rest of the period it looked like the Mantha goal would be the last of the moments in the first before Dylan Larkin took a swipe at the puck, missed and caught just enough of Ovechkin’s skates to dump the big Russian and get called for the trip. The Wings would kill off the last 1:23 of the first period and they entered the first intermission tied 1-1.

Second Period

The period opened with the Capitals on the powerplay from the Larkin trip. The Wings did an excellent job killing off the penalty with almost no possession or pressure from the Capitals. A lot more of the same as the first in terms of back and forth between the two teams with the Red Wings spending more time in the offensive zone. The Red Wings continued to put the pressure on through their forecheck and transition game, led by Gustav Nyquist who made several good rushes up the bench side producing a few good looks at the net, but the Wings could not find a way to put it home. After a quality shift by the forth line again the Red Wings were finally rewarded for their good play by a beautiful 3-2 started by Nyquist on the cross-ice feed to Larkin who found Filip Hronek streaking in for the easy tap in and the 2-1 lead. Just over half way through the Red Wings got their first look on the Power Play as Alex Ovechkin was called for slashing on a play that was a bit of a weak call but is a slash in today’s NHL. After a fairly vanilla power play that really was never dangerous, the teams resumed their back and forth, low event hockey. Jacob de la Rose made a very nice play down low in the offensive zone to take the puck away from Jonas Siegenthaler and step out in front of Holtby for a point plank backhander that the Capitals netminder stopped easily. After a line change, Dylan Larkin put the Red Wings back onto the power play with some good play down low and taking a high stick from Siegenthaler. Once again, the Red Wings struggled on the man advantage and both teams settled back into the flow almost as if there never was a penalty. With a handful of seconds left, Jakub Vrana made a nice play to get into the Wings zone with only Jonathan Ericsson back. Ericsson looked to make a very good defensive play to keep Vrana from driving the net and getting a shot off but the refs felt he grabbed too much and sent him off for holding with five seconds left in the period. They ran off without incident and once again the Capitals entered into the intermission with a carry over power play but down a goal.

Third Period

Right off the face off the Capitals established in the zone and setup the power play. This power play did not end as nicely for the Wings as the first, even if they did not give up a goal. Nick Jensen appeared to escape injury after he took an Ovechkin blast off his hand. Jakub de la Rose was not as lucky as he took the next blast from Ovechkin off his foot and immediately hit the ice. He quickly got off the ice and was helped down the tunnel to the training room. The Capitals continued to put pressure on and almost got the tying goal as Chandler Stephenson took a pass from Travis Boyd and came in alone on Jimmy Howard but had the puck just roll off his stick and wide of the net. Justin Abdelkader had a good look but was stoned by Holtby, and as the NHL is wanting to do the Capitals took advantage. On the rush back all of the Red Wings were caught watching Ovechkin and the Capitals captain faked the shot before finding Travis Boyd on the back door for a wide-open net and he did not miss, tying the game at two. A little pressure and a hooking call on Niklas Kronwall later and the Capitals found themselves back on the power play with the momentum and a chance to take the lead. The Capitals had a lot more pressure but beyond a couple blocked/missed Ovechkin blasts from the point could not create anything. The Red Wings built a little momentum from killing off the penalty and flowed into the Capitals zone wave after wave. Another really nice setup by Mantha (who had been quite this period with the penalties) as he took the drop pass from Athanasiou and fired perfect pass to Tomas Vanek all alone on the doorstep who elected to try and pass across the crease to Athanasiou instead of ripping the shot. Devante Smith-Pelly almost gave the Capitals the lead as bouncing puck jumped over Nick Jensen’s stick for an open shot then an scrum in the corner popped the puck to Smith-Pely right in front of Howard all alone, but he was unable to finish. It was a lot more of the same as Tom Wilson charged up the ice and Filip Hronek did a nice job keeping him to the outside. However they could not get the puck out of the zone and a wrister from Michael Kempny (which may have been deflected by Ovechkin in front) fooled Howard and put the road team up 3-2. The Red Wings challenged for goalie interference but it really want not even close to interference from Tom Wilson. TJ Oshie gave the Red Wings a chance late with a slash on Larkin’s right hand that sent the Wings to a power play. While they were able to develop some pressure on the power play their woes with the man advantaged continued and a tripping call on Andreas Athanasiou with 30 seconds left salted away the loss in a fairly meh game in terms of entertainment.

Final Thoughts

-There was a lot of chatter on the Capitals feed about the quality of the ice, namely how poor it was. It certainly looked like there were some issues for both teams as players were falling and pucks were taking odd hops/bounces all evening. This is something I hope the team will figure out eventually as the Red Wings are trying to build a team around speed and skill and poor ice will not benefit them at all.

-The Wings clearly came into this game looking to get pucks deep and use their forecheck to dig pucks out, force turnovers and build possession…and for the most part it worked. While I hope it is not the only one, it is nice to see the team start to develop an identity and produce some goals from it.

-He should never be more than the 14th forward/7th defenseman but the more I watch Luke Witkowski play and the more they have asked to do more than just punch faces the more I am liking him in that role. He will never be much in the offensive zone but if he can provide any kind of defense in his own zone while also being a physical presence on the ice I would be ok with the Red Wings bringing him back at the end of the season (as long as the salary is right).

-Whatever Anthony Mantha did before the game tonight he needs to do more often. Before the penalties neutralized him he was an absolute force on the ice for the Red Wings. Forcing turnovers, building scoring chances and opening the scoring for the Red Wings tonight. This is the kind of game they need from him more consistently and if they can get it look out.