In a way, the Capitals and Canucks are teams on about the same arc. Both have had much expected from them by regular season past successes, both have underperformed and underproduced in the second season, and both have revamped front offices and coaching staffs to go with retweaked line ups featuring established stars.
The line up at Canucks.com did show one notable line up change, even though no new players were in game. Instead of JuicyHammer, Wille and Co decided to make two better pairings to back up what the 1st pair of Edler and Tanev.
With Sbisa and Bieksa together, and Hamhuis bringing his brand if quality defensive play to a pairing with the other Swiss national, Yannick Weber.( Sbisa had a goal,2 shots and 3 hits in 15:08 TOI, and Weber had 2 shots and 1 block in 15 : 12 TOI. Both avoided a dash on the night, finishing even.) Turned out they were playing with the faithful over at the mothership though, as the pairings were the same as before.
The Home team certainly came out with the jump. They outshot and outchanced their visitors, and carried the play. Peters made some great saves in the first half of the opening period, in particular on Linden Vey. While most of their 14 shots came in the first 10-15 minutes, and the Caps showed a little better in the late stages of the first, the Canucks were clearly the team pushing the play.
The 4th line was very good in the opening twenty, spending large portions of their ice time in the offensive zone. They were at about 4 minutes, only a minute and a half less than the Sedins, and may have been almost as good. Perhaps they should have had a goal after twenty minutes in this one, with all the zone time and pressure, but credit Justin Peters. He was in the right place most the time, and able to scramble to make the save the few times he was not, to keep things scoreless.
The Canucks started with the same kind of push in the second, but it would be the Capitals that opened the scoring, and against the 4th line that was doing so well earlier. To be fair, Willie was OK with them AND Yannick Weber / Lucas Sbisa against what I assume is a third line, and Burakovsky made a nice play to draw Weber away from the net, and Sbisa could not contain the stick of Johansson, who beat Miller to open the scoring.
The goal opened the game up, and more specifically energized the Caps. Even taking a penalty soon after the goal could not cost them, as suddenly it looked like a wide open game...against a Barry Trotz team. A team that had not given up 30 shots yet this season. ( they were outshot 33-22 on the night, )
There was a pause after the goal and ineffectual power play,( just 1 shot in the first 10 minutes ) but the Canucks kept coming, with great saves all over the place by Peters, and the one thing that you expect to have in a Trotz team, structure, sure was found wanting in a return to firewagon hockey. At times, both coaches must have been wondering, though you could see that the Canucks, by and large, were playing with more defensive structure and energy.
After Alzner interfered with Higgins off a face off, and Daniel Sedin was robbed on s clinical set up on the power play, Henrik Sedin showed quick hands to find the puck off to the side of the net, drag it forward, and beat the goaltender out of position because he had robbed his brother. ( and was covering a Vrbata swipe at the puck on the other side that sent it Hank's way) With the home team rewarded for their dominant play in the second half of the stanza.
That opened up the floodgates, and after Higgins made a nice chip pass, Nick Bonino used Zack Kassian as a decoy on a 2 on 1, and ripped it past Peters. The very same shift, with the Smash, Dash and Flash once again pushing the play, Bonino got the puck back ( off a body ) to Lucas Sbisa, who bombed one past a partially screened goaltender for 3 goals in just about 2 minutes, and a 3 -1 lead. That titanic shift was the difference. All because the Caps could not handle that line tonight.
The Capitals simply outworked, and outplayed the 4th line, to get one back. , A nice pass off a Vey clear up the boards by Mike Green gave yet another player ( Liam O'Brien ) his first NHL goal against the Canucks, and the lead was down to one.
Kuznetsov then had a brain fart and put the clamps on Higgins, and a power play that looked less dominant than the last one set up Edler coming down main street, but he missed,and then was involved in a too many men screw up at the bench right after. The third would start out 4 on 4, and then give the Caps a short power play of their own in the early going of the third.
How Did That 4th Line Do In THAT Period ?
The Canucks want to be a four line team, and after focusing on them in the first, and their good play, the line a the centre of that strategy, was found wanting in this period. After the late Caps tally, the were all suddenly -2, and only up to about 6:21 after two periods. ( Dorsett had 10 shifts and that number, Hansen 11 shifts and 7:06, and Vey had 13 shifts and 9:07 TOI. Oh yeah, he was 2 for 8 at the dot after two as well ! ) Not their best period.
With the Caps getting themselves about 90 seconds of early power play time, you knew Ovechkin would be their focus, and he was, but apart from one rolling down the slot, and one from the side boards that both missed the net by a lot, and another that forced a save, he continued his less than noticeable game at the biggest moment. ( He was running people though. He had 3 hits to this point, and ended with 4 of them )
The Canucks once again were pushing the play, but the Caps had their moments as well. One play that bears mentioning was a Sbisa jump up from the blue line for a loose puck in the offensive zone. That it was almost a 4 on 1 the other way, and Yannick Weber played it like a champ to prevent a goal is what bears mentioning. Lucas my man. The goal was a "fifty / fifty chance" , as you mentioned. That was a good choice. This one was not. Choices...
More offensive pressure ( and a great chance by Burrows that he just could not find the angle on, and that Peters got with his stick ) forced a holding the stick call, and the power play was out for the fourth time. They put a great chance on net immediately, but once again the refs took them off of it. OK, it was Burrows with an interference call. Details...
The offensive stars for the Caps on that shortened PP was Carlson and Ovechkin, and Miller ( with Tanev on one of Ovechkin's two ) was splendid on their four hard shots that Miller found and stopped. His contribution earlier in the game was lessened by the dominance of the home team, but this was his best stretch of the night. Quite simply, he was there when he needed to be for his team.
The Canucks simply ground the tired ( by now, they had their moments, but the pendulum did swing for the home team on this nights, as per the scheduling ) visitors, and skated them into the ice. After Higgins handled a lob pass in the offensive zone, an unlucky John Carlson knocked it over the glass. That set up what will go down in the books as a power play goal, but was into the empty net, as the Caps pulled their goaltender to even it up. Radim Vrbata closed out the scoring, and the Canucks started a homestand with a win that was well deserved, against a team that faded, but still had several chances to change the outcome. Closer than the game in Denver, but the Caps had a chance in this one. Ryan Miller made the right saves at the right times to make sure they did not make good on that chance.
4th Line Final Tally
The boys did OK in the end, although being on for both goals, and the way they occurred was a bit troubling. It was not all on the forwards on either play, but after getting the -2 all in one period, they ended up at around 10 minutes, like the team wants. ( Vey had 2:29 PP time to boost his TOI to 11:37 ) Dorsett had a shot and 3 hits, and Hansen 1 and 2. While Richardson was out in the last five minutes ( he went 7 for 10 in the circle, and was 3 for 4 in the defensive zone tonight, as the Canucks won the faceoff battle 31 to 30. ), the fourth line was out for their usual amount of time, and impacted the game positively.
OVIE Vs Sedins Production.
Ovie had those 4 hits, and 2 shots, and the puck made an impressive bang against the glass on another, but it was the Twins that kept it going, in those predicability busting ways they have going this year. Hank had his 4th goal of the early season, and Daniel had his 9th assist on it, while Vrbata got an assist on that tally, and added an empty netter of his own ( his 5th ).
My Goalie is ...Than Your Goalie.
Ryan Miller only needed a couple more wins to get to 300, and was 4 and 1 coming into this one for his new team so far. He was the difference on this night when it counted. While Justin Peters was great, one three minute stretch sunk his performance, with a short stretch for the home team goaltender sealed the win. Ryan Miller seems a goaltending "artisan", and certainly showed how he is calm in the net, and how well he tracks pucks in this game. I am enjoying watching this craftsman more and more every game.
What Did Willie Think ?
Didn't even let Joey off with that "2 in 4 on the power play" nonsense... #lol
That Second Line
A couple quick words. We have a good second line, and they had a goal and assist ( Bonino ) and 2 assists ( Higgins ), on this night. Burrows was looking like his usual pain in the ass to play against self. They push the play at every opportunity, and are more power to the Sedins Wizardry. Good to see...
Next up is the woeful Canes, and then the Habs to finish off a 3 game home stretch. Maybe a beatdown of a team looking for all the world like the worst in the NHL ( beset by injuries ) and then a freaking win to shut up the Blu, Rouge e Blanc wearing invaders to Rogers Arena in the next one, and that will make them get on a real roll !
I will be back for a weird back to back. Away to the Oilers on Saturday, and then home to the Preds. Until then !