There is something different about these Capitals. Something special, perhaps.
Head coach Barry Trotz senses it, and so do the players’ fathers who watched their sons pull out a hard-earned 3-2 shootout win over the Detroit Red Wings Tuesday night at Verizon Center, improving their record to 7-0 this season following losses.
“When I first got here, I always thought there was a lot of panic,” Trotz said of his arrival in Washington 15 months ago. “(Now) in close games we’re OK with that. Guys have grown into that.
“… You talk about trying to learn killer instinct. I think we’ve learned that. It shows in our record down after two periods.”
The Caps are now 3-2-1 when trailing after two periods. They’re also 12-0-0 when leading after two periods and have outscored their opponents 79-55 in the third period this season.
“Our will to win is high,” said Capitals right wing Justin Williams, who scored his eighth goal of the season and 600th NHL point just 43 seconds into the game.
“You keep coming back in these games, even though it’s early December, they mean something. You can reflect on these. Later in the season you can say, ‘We’ve done this many times’ and actually mean it. These are big comeback points.”
And they came because of a beastly third period from their 30-year-old captain.
Trailing 2-1 after 40 minutes despite outshooting the Red Wings 28-15, the Capitals kept on bringing it in the third period, led by Ovechkin, who entered the third period with no goals on 25 shots against the Red Wings this season.
Ovechkin drew a pair of penalties on back-to-back shifts, then crashed the net for a game-tying power-play goal with 9:09 remaining in regulation to send the crowd into a frenzy and the game into overtime.
But before the Caps could get to the extra period, defenseman John Carlson laid out to block a cannon shot by Tomas Tatar.
“It meant a lot to our group,” Trotz said. “The players recognize that and he got our little reward for that. They recognized that was a crucial block at a crucial time.”
Both teams had a chance to win the game with a power play in overtime, but the Caps’ sextet of penalty killers – Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen, Jay Beagle, John Carlson, Nate Schmidt and Brooks Laich – shut down the Red Wings on their 4-on-3 advantage despite a pair of near misses from Mike Green, and Jimmy Howard held his ground on a power-play blast by Alex Ovechkin.
That sent the game into a skills competition. T.J. Oshie beat Howard with a wicked snap shot and Evgeny Kuznetsov followed with a strong backhand-to-forehand move that left Howard out of position.
At the other end of the rink Braden Holtby was perfect on attempts by Gustav Nyqvist and Pavel Datsyuk to improve to 2-0 in shootouts this season.
“It’s great having Kuzy follow me,” Oshie said. “I don’t know who’s next, but we have a couple more guys that can get in there and make some nice moves.
“There’s definitely a sense of confidence that if I’m not able to get the job done we’re going to get at least one on the board with Kuzy going after me. That takes a little pressure off.”