Capitals’ top players look sharp, but Hurricanes win in overtime

September 29, 2018

For the first time since the Stanley Cup Final, Alex Ovechkin played a hockey game at Capital One Arena. The stakes were low by comparison, but “The Great Eight” still did his thing.

Ovechkin scored two goals in Friday’s preseason game against the Carolina Hurricanes, but the Hurricanes stayed a step ahead of Washington for most of the game and won in overtime, 5-4.

Sebastian Aho scored Carolina’s game-winner 19 seconds into overtime on a 2-on-1 breakaway, his second goal and third point of the game. The Capitals never had possession during overtime.

Jayson Megna and Andre Burakovsky each added a goal for Washington (1-3-2 this preseason). Braden Holtby made 31 saves in a complete game in net.

Most of the Capitals’ likely opening-night starters played in Friday’s bout, akin to the third week of the NFL’s preseason. The top six forwards and top two defensive pairings looked ready for the regular season, while AHL prospects like Jonas Siegenthaler, Aaron Ness and Jayson Megna took advantage of what might be their final opportunities to impress the NHL staff.

But once the Hurricanes got on the board, they found ways to benefit from Washington mistakes and keep putting pucks in the net. Capitals coach Todd Reirden said he liked his team’s start, but sounded disappointed with their puck control.

“We didn’t want to manage the puck properly through the neutral zone and it cost us a few goals,” Reirden said. “It’s been something that’s been a little bit of a recurring theme through training camp and exhibition season for us. We were firmly in control of that game in the first period and we let them back in by how we wanted to play with the puck.”

The Capitals struck first on their second power play of the game. Ovechkin received the puck in the left circle, his go-to spot, and as he wound up to shoot Carolina goalie Petr Mrazek shifted to the near post. But Ovechkin sent the puck around him, toward Nicklas Backstrom, and in. Though it appeared to be a Backstrom redirection, the captain was credited with the goal.

Washington didn’t enjoy the lead for long, as Teuvo Teravainen scored 90 seconds later. Aho, his centerman, got ahead of Dmitry Orlov for a breakaway, and although Holtby stopped the initial attack, the net was left open for Teravainen’s put-back.

Aho put Carolina ahead with a minute left in the first when a neutral-zone turnover became a Hurricanes 3-on-1 against Orlov. Rather than opting to pass, Aho took the shot, which skidded through Holtby’s five-hole.

The Hurricanes kept at it in the second by controlling possession for the first half of the period and drawing two penalties. On their second power play, they grew the lead to 3-1. Martin Necas hit Andrei Svechnikov, the second overall pick in last June’s draft, with a nice transition pass and Svechnikov snapped a shot past Holtby.

But on the ensuing faceoff, Ness took the puck away at the boards and was able to push it ahead to Megna, who beat his only man and dumped it past Mrazek to cut the lead back to one.

“The puck kind of spit out perfectly to me, and I kind of had some speed going through there,” Megna said. “I think I caught the defenseman flat-footed and I was able to go backhand-forehand and kind of squeeze it in there.”

Capitals fans were treated to another goal from No. 8 late in the frame. Tom Wilson took an open shot on Mrazek; the goalie saved it with his skate, and Ovechkin swooped in for the put-back.

Carolina took back the lead in the third, first by drawing a slashing penalty from Ovechkin. Nine seconds into the power play, a shot rebounded off the boards and Valentin Zykov tucked the puck behind Holtby, off the back of his skate.

Burakovsky tied the game for the Capitals with seven minutes left. He had an offensive zone pass disrupted, but Lars Eller blocked the puck with his body to keep it from going further. Burakovsky picked it up and snapped in the game-tying goal.

Backstrom nearly had the go-ahead goal in the final 70 seconds of regulation, when the Capitals were on their sixth power play of the night. Ovechkin fed him at the far post, but he hit the pipe, and overtime was necessary.

Ness played with Madison Bowey on the third defensive pairing, giving Brooks Orpik and Christian Djoos the night off. Siegenthaler filled in for Michal Kempny in John Carlson’s pairing after Kempny was listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury he suffered Tuesday.

And Megna also got another chance in the spotlight because Travis Boyd is week-to-week with a lower-body injury.

Reirden was happy with how Siegenthaler and Megna continued to look.

″(Menga is) a guy that brings a lot of energy to your team,” Reirden said. “His detail is good. He’s able to play the game at a pace that we want to have. We want to have more speed to our game, in particular with our fourth line. His ability to play on the wing or play center has made him a commodity for our team given the injury to Boyd.”

It was also the preseason debut for Devante Smith-Pelly, who had a quiet night and finished minus-2. Smith-Pelly returned to Washington this summer on a one-year contract extension, but has taken more time than some teammates to get into playing condition during camp.

“I thought he was solid,” Reirden said. “He hasn’t played a game for a while and I think he’s exerted a lot of energy to get himself to the level that we needed to have him at to play tonight.”

The Capitals play their preseason finale Sunday at 3 p.m., facing the St. Louis Blues at Capital One Arena. Three days after that, they will kick off the regular season against the Boston Bruins and raise their Stanley Cup banner.

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