Brooks Laich scored in the 3rd period for the Capitals in a 3-1 victory over the Senators at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC on Sunday, January 16, 2011. Alan P. Santos/DC Sports Box file photo
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Prior to Sunday afternoon’s game against the Ottawa Senators, Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said that the key for his team against the struggling Sens was to take the initiative and dictate the flow of play.
In a 3-1 Washington victory it was clear that Boudreau’s squad took his exhortations to heart, particularly the defensive corps. Washington’s blueliners were noticeably active with the puck and eager to jump into, and even at times lead, the attack. Not just usual offensive threats Mike Green and John Carlson, either. Within the first ten minutes of the game Karl Alzner, Scott Hannan, and even John Erskine had been spotted with the puck below the faceoff dots in the Senators’ zone.
“We’re trying to get a mixture of good offense and good defense,” said Alzner, who finished the game with three missed shots to match his more traditional three blocked shots. In total Capitals defensemen recorded nine of the team’s 26 shots on net – including Carlson’s second period powerplay tally, the eventual game-winner – and attempted another 16 that were either blocked or missed the net.
Boudreau described the game’s attacking strategy primarily in terms of the forecheck, saying Washington wanted to wear down Ottawa’s defenders by forcing them to battle continually fresh bodies in the Senators defensive end. “Our defense were going right down the boards and we were trying to create as much offensive territorial zone” as possible.
The effort did pay off for the Capitals on their first goal of the game, even though no Caps defensemen were involved. Alexander Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson took the body on both Senators defenders below the goal line as Ottawa was trying to clear the zone and forced Chris Phillips to rush a pass that ended up on Brooks Laich’s stick to knot the game at one midway through the third.
It was the forecheck that also led directly to the Caps third goal, when Alzner and David Steckel won a puck battle along the left boards in Ottawa’s zone that freed Jason Chimera to walk in along the goal line and bounce a sneaky shot off Senators netminder Brian Elliott’s back into the net. “When you work you get breaks,” said Laich of the goals by him and Chimera.
According to Alzner, it was that type of offensive effort that was the key to Washington’s third period comeback. When asked what he thought was the key to the Caps’ effort in the final twenty minutes, he said, “I think just our forecheck was good, we were getting guys on pucks, we were taking them to the net,”
Carlson characterized his team’s success in more general terms, citing Washington’s stellar faceoff percentage (43-69, a 69% success rate) as well as offensive pressure for keeping the Senators on their heels. “It just adds so much more puck possession to the team and puts the pressure on them to take it away from us,” Carlson said of the Caps’ faceoff dominance.
Whether the presence of Washington defenders deep in the offensive zone had a tangible benefit for the team’s forecheck, or simply provided a psychological advantage, there’s no question the team will gladly repeat the effort time and time again if they keep getting the same results as Sunday afternoon.