I can't say as I thought it was nearly the Caps' best game of the season, and their possession numbers certainly went down (playing the number one-possession team in the league, though, I don't see that as a large set-back), but the Caps managed to come away with the victory Friday night.
It actually started out looking like the Caps were going to dominate the game. In the first five minutes, Chicago was getting nothing without a lot of work, and the Caps were getting chances (especially the top two lines).
But Chicago kept pushing Washington, and it seemed like the Caps couldn't keep up with that push. It took a while for the chickens to come home to roost; a failed keep-in attempt by Niskanen led to a two-on-one with Hossa and Saad. Alzner couldn't keep position to block the pass (some canny skating by Saad, not skating his hardest, there), and Saad buried it, five-hole, in the eighteenth minute.
A bit over a minute later, OV got called for an elbow (not sure I agree with the call, honestly; it looked to me like it was only on the follow-through that his elbow came up). The Caps kept it out for the rest of the period, but Duncan Keith stuck home a rebound a minute into the second. At that point, things were looking very bleak, as the Hawks were carrying a sub-one GAA (terrible stat to judge a goalie on, but not so bad for judging the team) at home.
But the second line, after being torn up by that Hossa/Saad line (and not just on the goal), started to push back, hard. Fourteen minutes later, they got a two-on-one with Bura and MarJo, and Bura took it all the way himself, pounding a quick wrister into the far, top corner to bring the Caps back into contention.
Four minutes later, the same line scored on some sustained pressure. MarJo got the score, with Bura and Niskanen getting the assists, but the whole side touched the puck in the last five seconds before it went in. Very nice play, all the way around (literally, since the puck circled the zone before finding the net).
It looked like the Caps would count their blessings to go into the break all tied up, but Ward deflected in a Niskanen shot, forty seconds later, to give the Caps their first lead of the game.
In the third, there was no shortage of pressure from Chicago, and Washington wasn't doing a lot more than defending, but they managed not to break, breaking the five-game losing skid.
It certainly wasn't a pretty game, and those last two goals were some fairly lucky bounces, but no complaints about the results. I'd like to see the Caps get to the point where they can hang with Chicago possessionally, but they're definitely not there yet.
I'd like to say something about the power play, but they only got 53 seconds and did get a shot off in that time. Not bad, but too short a time to say much definitively.
The short-handed unit had much more time (4:38), and only allowed two shots (taking two of their own). That's very good, but they did allow a goal, which isn't. Still, they did well with what they could control.
If it wasn't Chicago (or one of a couple other teams), I'd be very down on them getting taken to town on shot attempts. I don't have missed shots, still, but Chicago had forty on net and another eighteen blocked, compared to Washington's twenty-four and four. That's one hell of an imbalance, especially with almost all of that at even strength. Plus, I believe that's the most shots they've allowed, all season (by quite a bit, I'm pretty sure).
So I'm a bit ambivalent, overall. The teams will play again on New Year's Day, at Nationals Stadium, and this game is certainly not portending a victory for Washington there. On the other hand, getting off the losing streak is worth quite a bit, even if only to keep the players from trying to ignore the system and freelance. Because if that happens, the possessional numbers will go down, and their odds of winning more games will, too.
Washington also played Carolina on Saturday, but I'll talk about that one separately, even though I don't have a lot to say.