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Recap: Red Wings fall to Capitals and Ovechkin 3-1

To the surprise of no one, Alex Ovechkin scored a couple of goals and made history too.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Detroit Red Wings Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

After a long break and some Covid-19 issues, the Detroit Red Wings finally took the ice against the Washington Capitals in a New Year’s Eve matchup. Thomas Greiss got the start in the net, and the team looked like they hadn’t missed a beat early in the game. Unfortunately, they fell just short of Alex Ovechkin and company.

First Period

It was a surprisingly strong start for a Red Wings team that hasn’t played since before the extended holiday break. One might think that many postponements would hinder the chemistry between a young team. However, that wasn’t the case in the first period. The extra rest seemed to give the team a boost. As soon as the puck dropped, they were pouncing on the puck and working hard through the neutral zone to get chances.

One of the most significant observations was the passing and possession zone entries. Almost every movement of the puck was tape-to-tape, and smart entries of the puck created multiple chances. Danny DeKeyser could have had a goal if he chose to shoot the puck coming down the slot on a 3-on-2 rush. Instead, he decided to pass the puck back to Dylan Larkin, thinking the defense would commit to him. Michael Rasmussen got some chances as well, but he wasn’t able to cash them in.

It was a great start, and the Red Wings gave Capitals goaltender Ilya Samsonov fits. The period ended with Dmitry Orlov taking a penalty, and with the shots at an 11-5 deficit in favor of Detroit, the Capitals have to be extremely dissatisfied so far. Head coach Jeff Blashill should be incredibly proud of how the Red Wings started the game on the opposite end. It’s just a matter of keeping it going for 40 more minutes.

Second Period

Well, the Red Wings managed to capitalize early in the period, just as the power play expired. Pius Suter was the beneficiary of a great play by Sam Gagner behind the net. A nice shot from the slot gave the Red Wings a 1-0 lead. The teams went back and forth until Conor Sheary drew a blatant holding penalty on the young rookie defenseman Moritz Seider. There were some solid chances on the Capitals’ power play, but the 31st ranked power play in the league couldn’t cash in. Greiss made some great saves to keep the Red Wings up one.

Tom Wilson did the thing again where he shoves a guy needlessly and receives a penalty because of it. Unfortunately, the Red Wings couldn’t convert, but there were some great chances, which I guess has been the story of this game so far. Robby Fabbri and Vladislav Namestnikov connected for probably the best opportunity on Samsonov, but the puck trickled wide of the goal post.

After a sluggish start, the Capitals seemed to have held control of the period, and everything came full circle when Evgeny Kuznetsov tied the game at one. The puck took a weird bounce on the blue line off of Kuznetsov’s skate, Marc Staal’s stick, and went straight to Kuznetsov’s stick, resulting in Staal being flatfooted. It was way too easy for an incredibly skilled player with the puck. Lucas Johansen earned his first point in the NHL with a secondary helper from Matt Irwin. The play was the culmination of the second half of a period primarily being played in the Red Wings’ defensive zone.

As expected, the Capitals bounced back after an uncharacteristic and sluggish first period. They controlled play throughout the first period, and although the Red Wings did manage to get some solid chances, not converting on them could be their downfall. It’s win the period, win the game at this point.

Third Period

The Capitals got a power play early into the period, but not many eventful things happened outside Ovechkin’s flubbed chance. The Red Wings defense at both even strength and on the penalty kill is a notable positive to take away from the game. Lucas Raymond made an appearance on a rebound chance after being relatively quiet through the first two periods, but he couldn’t convert.

The chances didn’t come very often early in the period, but Seider running people over in one shift did! Knocking over Garnet Hathaway (twice) and Nic Dowd is not an easy task, but he did, and they were not happy. He was an absolute wrecking ball, and it’s precisely what Red Wings fans in attendance were paying to see.

As the crowd serenaded the players to the tune of “Sweet Caroline,” 4-on-4 action was occurring. Seider and Dowd got penalties for the scuffle after the whistle, but nothing came of it.

Speaking of penalties, Fabbri got thrown in the box for sticking up to Hathaway after a highly questionable hit he threw from behind on Namestinkov. Naturally, the refs missed the actual penalty, and they only got the retaliation. Greiss made two extremely impressive saves—one on Ovechkin and the other on Nicklas Backstrom—but after an offside call, the Capitals get set up, Ovechkin gets another chance, and it squeaks through. The Capitals take a 2-1 lead with 2:50 left in the third, and Ovechkin now has the most power play goals in NHL history.

Bertuzzi almost made the Capitals pay, but in the end, it was Ovechkin again putting the puck in the Detroit empty net to make the score 3-1. That’s how it would end, and the Red Wings finish the year 2021 with a disappointing loss.

Biggest Observation

People tend to underestimate how much possession of the puck can change the outcome of certain plays. It was evident tonight that the Red Wings, when they’re keeping control entering the zone and along the boards, were the better team. Their passing in the first period was extremely crisp and calculated. They made the Capitals pay for overcommitting, and their patience with the puck made getting chances much easier. However, as the game wore on, they began to get away from it. The passes just weren’t connecting enough to get strong rushes through the neutral zone, and when they were, not much was created once they got into the zone.

It wasn’t an awful showing from the Red Wings. They started well, but they didn’t keep it up for the full 60 minutes. The referees didn’t help, but the shot total was abysmal after the first period. In 40 minutes of play, they managed only nine shots. They have no one but themselves to blame for that particular issue. It’s almost exactly the kind of game one would expect for a team coming off of a long break.

The Red Wings play the Boston Bruins in their first game of the 2022 calendar year. It’s going to be a fun Original Six matchup with some playoff implications as well. I bet not many people expected to hear that when talking about this team [insert eye emoji here].

That’s all from me, everyone! Happy New Year, and go Red Wings!