Alex Ovechkin stared into the rafters at Bell Centre but he was not looking at all the championship banners.
Ripping a shot from his office in the left faceoff circle with under one second remaining in Monday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens, Ovechkin assumed he had just won a wild one for the Capitals.
Instead, goalie Carey Price’s desperate dive allowed him to get the knob of his stick in the way. Ovechkin looked upward and then all he could do was clap and tap Price as he skated away with a wry smile.
The smile was broader a few minutes later after teammate Lars Eller slipped a shot through Price’s pads at 3:34 of overtime to earn Washington a comeback 5-4 win and end a difficult road trip with a 3-1-0 record with two overtime victories.
Ovechkin scored twice and was robbed of a hat trick multiple times by Price, who allowed four goals but made some astounding saves. The fact that Washington won anyway epitomized a road trip where they played shorthanded from the start.
Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie haven’t played since getting hurt in the second game of the trip at the Winnipeg Jets. Braden Holtby was a surprise scratch before the first game against the Minnesota Wild last Tuesday. He didn’t make an appearance until the second period against the Canadiens, who chased Pheonix Copley from the net with three goals in the first 95 seconds of the second period.
Just like that a 2-1 lead was a 4-2 deficit and Holtby, out three games with an upper body injury, was needed. He stopped all 22 shots Montreal sent his way and gave Washington a chance to rally. Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin and, finally, Eller scored on Price to win it.
“Those are huge for the season as it moves on,” Holtby said. “When you are in those situations, you get more and more comfortable. It’s been one of our big strengths the last couple years and to see it happening again, I think that’s a good sign for us.”
It IS a good sign going forward – provided Oshie and Kuznetsov are able to return to the ice soon. With a day off Tuesday and games Wednesday (Chicago Blackhawks), Friday (Detroit Red Wings), and Saturday (at New York Rangers) in a busy Thanksgiving Week there isn’t much practice time.
But for a short time at least missing two of their top five scorers wasn’t a problem. The depth the Capitals showed during last year’s Stanley Cup playoff run is still there. They needed it. And with another four games in six days upcoming, they might need it longer still.
Copley wasn’t as good as he’d been in starts against the Wild, Jets and Colorado Avalanche. But Eller was able to handle a top-six role, Tom Wilson was again a factor in his fourth game back from a 16-game suspension and Washington got a goal from Connolly, who began the game on the fourth line after a rough night in Denver and by the second period against the Canadiens he was on the second line with Eller and Jakub Vrana.
So after losing back-to-back games to end a five-game homestand, the Capitals have stabilized even without a full lineup. At 10-7-3 and with 23 standings points, Washington is in third place in the Metropolitan Division through 20 games.
The Caps have made it through a dangerous first quarter of the season in a reasonable spot. They could be like the Pittsburgh Penguins (7-8-4), who are already making trades and sit in last place after four losses in a row, or the Philadelphia Flyers (9-9-2), who have lost three straight.
Instead, they knocked off one tough road trip (Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal) in late October and then this one in mid November with a 5-3-0 record. Things could have gone off the rails. That they did not is a victory in itself.
MORE CAPITALS NEWS: