Welcome back to the Morning After, your source for Washington Capitals game analysis in this shortened season.
GAME 41: CAPS 3, HURRICANES 1 (22-17-2, 1st in Southeast, 3rd in East, 2 points up on Jets)
Whatever “it” is, Mike Green is feeling it right now.
“Yeah, there’s a sense of confidence, I think, that you have that maybe that’s the feeling you’re talking about,” Green said after scoring his ninth goal of the season Thursday night against the Carolina Hurricanes.” You prepare the same way, you go into the games, you’re confident and good things happen. That’s just been the case. When you’re healthy, that helps out a lot, too.”
Green’s nine goals in just 28 games has him second in the NHL among defensemen, trailing only P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens.
“Obviously his health is a big part,” coach Adam Oates said. “Obviously he’s involved in the power play and he’s a huge part of our game. He gets a lot of touches. We want him to have those touches because he’s got the skill set to make good decisions. He’s got a good shot from the point, and then you get a couple on the power point and you get some confidence and you make plays like he did tonight. We do expect that of him.”
Green’s goal Thursday was a product of some strong work by the fourth line of Wojtek Wolski, Matt Hendricks and Jay Beagle. And don’t forget that captain Alex Ovechkin parked himself at the crease and drew some of goaltender Justin Peters‘ attention.
But it takes a laser shot like Green’s to turn all that into a goal.
“We do have the green light to shoot the puck and they encourage us to shoot the puck and jump into the play when the time’s right,” the 27-year-old defenseman said. “But yeah our forwards have been doing a great job of cycling the puck and getting us when we’re open, moving us the puck and we have lots of time to shoot. It was just a matter of getting lucky a little.”
Lucky, or a wicked shot over Peters’ right shoulder. One or the other.
But Oates also said his system is designed for the defensemen.
“Our goal is to allow the D the freedom and the energy to help us out, especially late in the game if we need it,” Oates said. “It’s not that drastic a difference, but one of the things we need is maybe if we’re losing late in the game, Mike will have the energy or John [Carlson] will have the energy to make that play.”
Troy Brouwer’s power-play goal in the second period was his first in six games.
“I had a little bit of a slump there, guys were winning, guys were scoring goals,” the right wing said. “So to me it doesn’t really matter as long as the wins are coming.”
This particular goal had a lot to do with Ovechkin’s recent streak of production. Everyone expects his backdoor one-timer from the faceoff circle, so the Hurricanes tried to stop it.
Brouwer was open for a similar play all night long.
“We knew right now they’re gonna put one guy to me, so Brouwsy’s gonna be wide-open and nobody give him that kind of attention out there, Ovechkin said. “You can see the result.”
Oates did not think the Hurricanes cheated over to Ovechkin’s side too much. Instead, he credited centers Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Ribeiro for making plays.
“It went out to Greenie, and he gave it to Brow, so we kind of pieced them apart right there,” Oates said. “Ribs made a nice decision and he’s got options and he picked Brow, and obviously he was in a good position.”
The Caps had two power plays in the first period negated by high-sticking penalties, one on Brouwer and one on Ribeiro, who got caught up exchanging words with agitator Tim Wallace.
It was all part of a start that players would love to forget.
“They kind of took it to us,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “We had power-play opportunities, but we had a couple of high sticking calls alleviated those.”
Said Oates: “A little fluky, and it obviously kills a little bit of momentum because the power play’s a big part of our game.”
But ex-Caps winger Alexander Semin’s offensive-zone tripping penalty midway through the first period changed everything. Up to that point, the Hurricanes outshot the Caps 14-0.
Soon after, it was all Caps.
“That one sparked us, and we kind of got the momentum after that and were able to kind of take over the flow of the game,” Green said.
Even though the Caps didn’t score on that power play, they ratcheted up the attack.
“We had a lot of good chances, a lot of good looks, more good zone time,” Brouwer said. “We should have had a few more opportunities on the PP to get ourselves back in the game or get ourselves ahead. All in all it worked out alright.”
Peters made some big saves but eventually it was too much. Carolina, now 1-13-1 in its past 15, collapsed.
That record is since the Hurricanes shut out the Caps 4-0 at Verizon Center on March 12. There has been a 22-point swing in the past month.
“It’s funny how things kind of work themselves around onto the other foot,” Brouwer said. “They’ve had some struggles in the second half of the season and we’ve been playing extremely good hockey and playing a lot better. More confidence in ourselves, more trust in our teammates and our coach and as a result we’re winning hockey games and we’re in the playoffs. That’s what we wanted.”