The NHL's season may be on hold, but the Hiatus Hockey League (HHL) is in full swing! The idea is a simple one, with the NHL season suspended due to fears over the coronavirus, let's play out each Capitals game on the scheduled days with the EA Sports game NHL 20 and see what happens. The first game Washington officially missed came on Thursday against the Detroit Red Wings.
Here we go...
For this first game, I stuck with the lines head coach Todd Reirden looked like he was going to use based on Wednesday's practice:
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Ilya Kovalchuk
Richard Panik - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway
Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Brenden Dillon - Dmitry Orlov
Jonas Siegenthaler - Nick Jensen
Braden Holtby started.
The computer Orlov seemed about as comfortable playing on the right side as the real Orlov. Dillon ended up playing on the right side so much I had to double-check to make sure I had put him at left defenseman and not the right. I doubt we are going to see much of Orlov playing on the right side for the rest of the HHL.
Result: Caps 4, Red Wings 2
1-0 Caps goal: Lars Eller from Tom Wilson and Carl Hagelin
2-0 Caps goal: Evgeny Kuznetsov from John Carlson
3-0 Caps goal (shorthanded): Lars Eller from Carl Hagelin and Jonas Siegenthaler
3-1 Red Wings goal: Dylan Larkin, unassisted
3-2 Red Wings goal (power play): Brendan Perlini from Filip Hronek and Gustav Lindstrom
4-2 Caps goal (empty net): Nic Dowd from Brenden Dillon
How the Caps won
1. The penalty kill
I wondered how realistic this would actually seem and then Kuznetsov was called for a trip in the first minute of the game. Given the team's recent penalty struggles, that felt about right.
The Caps had only one power play, but gave up six opportunities to the Red Wings. Things really got off the rails in the third period when Washington, trying to hold onto a 3-1 lead, took three penalties in short succession giving Detroit a lot of 5-on-3 time to work with. Wilson was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for trying to fight Larkin who had caught Ovechkin with a high hit to the head. Siegenthaler was called for tripping 27 seconds later and Eller was also called for tripping just 17 seconds after that. It was at that point that Reirden tore into the refs about the tripping calls (meaning I went into the settings and adjusted the sliders for fewer trips).
Perlini would score on the two-man advantage but that was Detroit's lone power play goal as the Caps killed off the other five opportunities.
2. Lars Eller
The Tiger would score twice including a shorthanded goal that proved to be the game-winner. Off a neutral zone draw, Siegenthaler aggressively carried the puck into the offensive zone rather than clearing it and passed to Hagelin. Three Red Wings got caught puck watching and converged on Hagelin as Eller went to the net. Hagelin found him all alone and he deked the puck past Jonathan Bernier.
3. Braden Holtby
Finding a way to play defense in a way that would not result in a tripping penalty proved difficult so Detroit found a lot of open opportunities in high-danger areas, but Holtby was able to save 23 out of 25 shots. His best came in the second period when a puck hit off Siegenthaler to the goal line and Holtby got a glove on it and pulled it back to safety.
Computer refs can be just as confusing as the real ones
This game is so realistic, it comes with its own controversial calls. Larkin delivered a hit to Ovechkin that replay shows hit him square in the head and there was no call on the play.
Come on, ref. He gets Ovechkin right in the head!
Larkin even knocked Ovechkin's helmet off with the hit.
There's no word yet on whether Larkin will face a hearing from the Department of Player Safety for the hit.
Don't blame me
Eller wasn't on the ice when Dowd scored the empty-netter so that's why I didn't get him the puck for the hat trick.
Washington was scheduled to play the Chicago Blackhawks at home on Sat. March 14.
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