The Capitals lost Alex Ovechkin and lost the game 4-3 in a shootout to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday in what may be a disastrous night for Washington. Ovechkin left the game in the third period with an upper-body injury after slamming hard into the boards.
Here are some observations from the game.
Oshie on the board
Oshie got the Caps on the board with a first-period tally. The puck squirted out of a scrum along the boards which Oshie pounced on then fired a quick wrister to beat goalie Erik Kallgren.
The goal is Oshie's 11th of the season and his first since April 16. He has struggled to stay healthy this season and Sunday was just his 41st game of the season.
After trading goals, the Caps and Leafs proceeded to trade challenges in the second period.
Jason Spezza appeared to put Toronto up 2-1 with a wrister to beat Vanecek, but Peter Laviolette challenge the goal as offside. Replay showed that Nicholas Abruzzese swung himself around to receive a pass, but by doing so, both skates went past the blue line before the puck. Later in the period, Washington took a 2-1 lead on a power play off a goal that was either off of Alex Ovechkin or Oshie. Before they could decide who had it, Toronto challenged for a hand pass. Upon review, John Carlson appeared to pay at the puck with his glove on a board battle. While he clearly swiped at it, it did not appear clear that he had actually touched it. The referees, however, saw enough and waved off the goal for a hand-pass leaving the score tied at 1 heading into the third period.
A scary moment
Ovechkin had a breakaway opportunity early in the third period, but mishandled the puck and could not get a shot off. Kallgren kicked his pad out and swung his stick to the right, then appeared to stick it out to slow down Ovechkin as he skated by. The stick tripped up Ovechkin who fell over and slammed his shoulder hard into the backboards. He was very slow to get up and only managed to get back onto his skates once the play was blown dead. He slammed his helmet down and voiced his frustration to the referees about the non-call, then made his way down the tunnel.
A few minutes later, the team announced Ovechkin would not return to the game due to an upper-body injury.
Ovechkin's absence overshadowed everything that happened afterward. His status is now the biggest question for the team with the playoffs just a week away.
Responding for Ovechkin
While the result of this game is very much secondary to Ovechkin's status, the Caps did manage an impressive response.
Soon after Ovechkin went down the tunnel, Lars Eller tipped in a shot to put Washington up 2-1. Just 68 seconds later, Marcus Johansson extended the lead to 3-1.
Vanecek's shaky audition
Sunday was Vanecek's turn to audition for the No. 1 job and it was more hot and cold play from a Caps netminder. Vanecek made 24 saves on 27 shots. The first goal allowed to Ilya Lyubushkin was deflected in, leaving Vanecek little chance to make the save. While it did not count, Spezza's goal was wrister that seemed to beat Vanecek cleanly. In the third period, Vanecek showed way too much 5-hole to Ilya Mikheyev and was late to get down for the save. In the final minute with Kallgren pulled for the extra attacker, Vanecek was late to get to the post with the puck behind the net, giving Spezza enough room to bat the puck into the net to tie the game at 3. Vanecek, however, came up with a huge save on Mitch Marner in overtime.
Head coach Peter Laviolette said after Sunday's morning skate that he would continue to evaluate the goalies to determine the playoff starter through the rest of the regular season.
The shootout loss gives Washington a record of 44-23-12 on the season, good for 100 points. That puts them one behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for third place in the Metropolitan Division with one game in hand. Pittsburgh lost 4-1 to the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday, opening the door for Washington to potentially pass them and avoid a wild card spot, a cross-over to the Atlantic Division and a first-round matchup with the Florida Panthers.