By 50 minutes into an NHL game, you’ve begun to draw conclusions about the teams you’ve just witnessed. And it’s (hopefully, if you’re a reporter) left you with questions: one team overall exhibited fairly solid play, fairly good energy throughout the evening, punctuated by some stellar shifts and shots on goal that just couldn’t finish. What went wrong? Why did the superstars not step up? Why did consistently hard work by the second, third, and fourth lines go unrewarded with a goal? Why, after 29 shots on goal (with some decent looks), does the team not have one? Why, when the team so desperately needs wins to be in playoff contention, is it about to lose 2-0 to one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference?
It’s rather shocking when the answers to your questions come prematurely–on the ice instead of in the locker room.
That’s what happened Tuesday, when the Capitals’ Troy Brouwer scored two goals in the final 4 minutes of the game to take the visiting Islanders into overtime, where Alex Ovechkin finished them off with a goal (that answers the superstars question).
Suddenly, you’re left thinking, what on earth just happened?
“I think we found ways to beat the goalie,” Matt Hendricks said afterwards. “You knew it was going to break sooner or later. We knew if we got one, we could get two, and eventually got the game winner–cut her close timing-wise, though.”
And how did the Caps solve Evgeni Nabokov? Simple: going to the net.
“A lot of traffic on this guy. We talked about it. He’s a good goaltender, but we were able to get some by him tonight,” said Hendricks. “First two, Brouw’s going to the net both times, like he does always. Matty P throwing one on net, scored a nice goal that way [Brouwer's first of the night]. And then [on the second goal], with the empty netter, Jeff Halpern winning a real big draw, Brooksie throwing it at the net and Brouws gets a tip.”
In other words, it takes a village to score a goal sometimes. And going to the crease.
Hendricks did say he thought the Capitals were getting that net traffic early on, but they were missing the net and weren’t shooting when they had opportunities to shoot.
“When we got down to crunch time there, I think everybody that touched the puck was trying to throw it on net, and that’s how you score goals,” Hendricks said (the Capitals finished with 13 shots in the 3rd, the same amount they had in the 1st after dropping to only 7 shots on goal in the second).
In some ways, it’s just basic hockey principles. The Capitals didn’t have a bad game Tuesday. They didn’t have a highlight reel game, either, or a solid 60 minutes (too many wayward passes for that). The power play–at least the first one–took “awful” to a new level. But Alex Semin, Jason Chimera, and Mathieu Perreault came to play; Michal Neuvirth looked comfortable in net (the second goal against him falls into the ‘fluke’ category, finding a window so small between his shoulder and the net that even Tinkerbell couldn’t fit through it); Brooks Laich was either battling for the puck or making it extremely difficult to play with it, if you were a New York Islander; and fourth-liner Jay Beagle threw 5 shots on net, more than anyone else on the team.
“I’ve been trying to take it upon myself to create more offense and to get some shots and to score some goals,” Beagle said, calling it a “stepping stone.”
When asked if the Islanders appeared more worn-down by the end of the game, Beagle responded, “I would think that they would be worn down, just because the way we played. We really made it hard on them and made it hard on their D and played in their zone, so I would think that if they’re not tired, they’re in great shape.”
Capitals head coach Dale Hunter paid Beagle the ultimate compliment: “He’s annoying to play against cause he works too hard out there. … You wouldn’t want to play against him.”