Tonight's Caps/Canes tilt started with the Caps two points up on the Jets, with a game in hand, but with Winnipeg having a much easier remaining schedule. So the Caps need to keep winning to maintain their position on top.
I posited that this game, and the next one (against Tampa) should be relatively easy victories for the Caps, provided that they don't let their guard down.
Well, they seemed pretty good in that department for the first couple of minutes. But then they got a power play on a delay of game call. Then they evened it out again with a high sticking call eight seconds later. Things were still ok at that point, but then Hillen got called for tripping a minute and a half later, and things rapidly went downhill. Over the rest of the period, they were absolutely dominated, with Carolina jumping all over them and putting lots of shots on goal.
They were very lucky that the only goal allowed was when a rebound popped right to Skinner, who was on the doorstep and slid it into the net. That happened, it turns out, only ten seconds after the Hillen call, so Carolina went back on the power play very quickly.
So why did they get so lucky, about not allowing another goal? Well, given that Carolina had quite a few very close calls, we'll say that Holtby played out of his mind. While the defense was not, generally, great, they did have some big contributions a few times when Holtby was out of position. And Carlson managed to sweep the puck away from the line one time, when it was behind Holtby.
The defense was, several times, shown to be too slow, getting burned by Carolina forwards churning down the wing with speed (Erskine was the in at least two of those cases). They were also having trouble clearing the zone.
So it was pretty ugly all the way around.
The second period went much better, with the Caps having a bit better focus on keeping Carolina from entering the zone with speed. They did impressively compromise their own power play, though, with Ribeiro getting called for a high stick only four seconds after Tlusty got called for tripping Perreault as he was going through the neutral zone (without the puck; it was odd). So, at that point, they'd had three power plays covering a total of 2:12, without scoring a goal. Quite unusual, to put it mildly.
But otherwise, things continued to go pretty well, culminating in another power play almost eight minutes into the period. This one only lasted fourteen seconds, but at least it was due to scoring a goal, as Brouwer put one into the top corner, blocker side, from the slot.
Things started to get more even, although the Caps did manage another goal two and a half minutes later. Green took a pass from Beagle (programming note: forwards on the ice right then: Beagle, Wolski, OV. Huh?) at the point, crept in (around Skinner), and wristed a shot to the exact same spot where Brouwer had scored. But the rest of the period was pretty solidly Carolina's; shots for the period ended up even.
And the third period was really more of the same. Washington got a decent number of shots and chances, but were still heavily outshot by the Canes. Happily, though, the only goal was an empty netter that Brouwer put in with six seconds left.
I feel very similarly to how I did for much of the Hunter era (if not quite as much so): too much reliance on good luck and strong goaltending. It wasn't a defensive shell, like Hunter Hockey with the lead, but they were very heavily outplayed for most of the game. They just managed to get one more shot through. That's great when it happens, but not a strong predictor of future success.
Anyway, how much was that the case? The Caps had 31 shots (a decent total), along with twelve more blocked. But they allowed 44, plus another 18 blocked. Yeow. Thank goodness Holtby was on top of his game; this game easily could have (and probably should have) gone the other way.
But happily, it did go the way it went, and the Caps remain in the catbird seat (though Winnipeg pummeled Florida to maintain the gap). So now Tampa comes to visit, and then things really get ugly, if the possession numbers don't improve. We'll keep our fingers crossed.