The main early-season problems - discipline and blown third-period leads - were back Sunday for the Washington Capitals, but a more pressing issue was their hurting superstar.
R.J. Umberger finished off a wild 5-4 victory for the Columbus Blue Jackets at Verizon Center by scoring on a power play in overtime to end a game in which Alex Ovechkin left in the second period and did not return.
Ovechkin left with what appeared to be an arm/shoulder/chest injury in the second period. Officially, the team is calling it an upper-body injury, and he is day-to-day.
“You can say, ‘Woe is me, and our best player is out,’ or you can say, ‘Pull together and get the job done,’ ” Brooks Laich said. “I thought our guys did a good job. Some guys stepped up and played more minutes than they were accustomed to, and it was just unfortunate we didn’t get the result.”
Ovechkin leveled Jason Chimera with a hit in the first period, and then Chimera bumped Ovechkin as he skated past the Blue Jackets’ bench early in the second. Ovechkin stopped and gave Chimera a two-handed shove, and then chaos ensued with all 10 skaters on the ice involved in the scrum.
Chimera and Ovechkin earned roughing penalties at 1:11, while Jared Boll was tagged with a roughing minor and a 10-minute misconduct.
“It was just a moment of the game,” Ovechkin said. “Nothing happened. He just hit me. I hit him. There was a little battle there. Nothing happened.”
Added Caps center Brendan Morrison: “Initially, I think [Ovechkin] was going for a change. Then there was a hit and a push and a big scrum. I really didn’t see anything. I think [Chimera] just bumped him coming off the ice, just trying to stir the pot more than anything.”
The two-time MVP left the scrum favoring his left arm/shoulder and continued to try to rotate it in the penalty box. During Ovechkin’s next shift, he collided with Raffi Torres and put his left arm out to brace for the fall. Ovechkin immediately winced in pain and left the ice with 13:50 left in the period.
“He kind of throw a punch at me, and then [Boll] kind of got into it, and it was a mess,” Chimera said. “There was no intent to hurt somebody out there. He just hit me pretty hard that one shift, so I just let him know, ‘You’re not going to hit me like that all game,’ so I pushed him a bit. He punched me back in the face, and a couple shifts later he’s off the ice, so I hope he’s all right.”
After Ovechkin left, it appeared that first Laich and then Quintin Laing would be the hero of a valiant third-period comeback, but the Caps couldn’t hold multiple one-goal leads in the final 20 minutes.
Laing returned after missing three games with swine flu and scored his first goal of the season with 3:26 left in the third. Matt Bradley took the first shot from the right wing, and David Steckel deftly sent the rebound to Laing for what looked to be the game-winner.
Then Torres netted his second of the contest with 22.4 seconds left, redirecting a slap pass from Derick Brassard near the left post to force overtime.
“It is disappointing,” Laing said. “I would have liked to have got that one and then hold on to it. … I didn’t know how I was going to feel, but once the game started the adrenaline kind of helps out so you feel into it. It was nice to get one especially with [Ovechkin] out.”
Laich spawned the first Caps rally in the third with a pair of goals. Columbus goaltender Steve Mason was en route to another masterpiece against the Caps, but Laich struck twice 2:08 apart to erase a one-goal deficit.
The first was a rebound of a shot from Tom Poti, who was replacing Ovechkin on the left point of the top power-play unit, at 8:15. The second came with Mike Knuble providing a perfect screen in front on a shot from the top of the circles.
Torres leveled the score at 3-3 with 6:24 left. His backhanded wraparound attempt hit Caps goalie Jose Theodore on the inside of his left leg and squirted through.
“I thought we played a pretty good third [period],” Morrison said. “We rallied and did a lot of good things offensively, and then we just go and shoot ourselves in the foot. It is frustrating because it was a game we should have won.”
While the Caps still have lost only twice in regulation, they gave away a second point in part because of seven penalties - including one just before the tying goal by Knuble and one by Brian Pothier 12 seconds before the game-winner.
“That’s what happens when you take stupid penalties,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Selfish penalties, they cost you all the time. You take a team penalty and work your [butt] off like they did, then you usually kill them off all the time, but when you take a selfish penalty it doesn’t end real good.”