The Oilers' deadly duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl had been quiet for a few games, a rarity for two of the league's most prolific offensive players. Edmonton suffered consecutive shutout losses and entered Thursday's game with Washington mired in a goalless drought of more than 150 minutes in length. But the two dynamic forwards awakened at the Caps' expense on Thursday, taking part in all four Oilers goals in a 4-3 come-from-behind victory in overtime.
Alex Ovechkin put on a show in the second period of Thursday's Caps-Oilers game in Edmonton, scoring twice to give his team a 3-1 lead heading into the third. But McDavid set up a Draisaitl goal early in the third, and McDavid himself scored with less than two minutes remaining and the Oilers' net empty.
That set the stage for overtime, when Draisaitl finished a 3-on-1 rush - and the Caps - at 1:18 of the extra session.
Caps goalie Braden Holtby deserved a better fate; he made a series of stellar stops to protect the lead, but there was nothing he could do on Draisaitl's two goals, both of which came off odd-man rushes.
"He kept us in the game with saves on a number of odd-man rushes," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "To me, those were read-based, and that's something that we've got to continue to work on.
"Improving our decisions and knowing who you're on the ice against is something we talked about before the game, and I don't have the luxury of having the last change, so you're going to have certain players out there in match-ups you don't necessarily like. And players have to understand those reads and the choices that they make on the ice."
Thursday's loss is Washington's fifth (7-2-3) of the season, and the Caps carried a lead into the third period in four of the five.
The Oilers drew first blood, scoring on a fortuitous bounce a mere 11 seconds after winning a draw in their own end. Edmonton broke the puck out, and Draisaitl fed defenseman Darnell Nurse, who carried down the left side into Washington ice. Nurse carried to the bottom of the left circle before trying a centering feed, and the puck caromed off the stick of a Caps' defender and into the net for a 1-0 Oilers lead at 13:20 of the first.
After a sleepy first frame, the Caps put a crooked number on the board in the second, the fifth time in a dozen games they've done so in the middle period, and the second time in as many games.
Jakub Vrana got the Caps started at 5:40 of the second period. Nurse turned it over deep in Edmonton ice, and Vrana threw a turnaround wrister on net, and it squeaked through Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen to knot the game at 1-1.
On the very next shift, Ovechkin gave the Caps a lead they would hold until the penultimate minute of regulation. After John Carlson sent a pass to partner Jonas Siegenthaler at the left point, the latter put a waist high floater toward the cage. Ovechkin redirected it past Koskinen for a 2-1 Caps lead at 6:27.
Washington was on the second of its two power play chances on the night when Ovechkin padded the lead. In the final half minute of the advantage, and with the Caps' second power play unit on the ice, the two sides battled for control of the puck in the right wing corner. Vrana got hold of it and sent a short pass to Tom Wilson near the right dot. Wilson quickly funneled it to Ovechkin on the weak side, and the Caps captain had all the time and space he needed to pick a corner and put it there, making it a 3-1 game at 13:40.
But in the third, the Oilers wore the Caps down, slowly seizing momentum and climbing back into the contest.
Edmonton went 200 feet for its second goal, but the Caps aided the Oilers' cause by enabling McDavid and Draisatl to have a 2-on-1 look at Holtby and the Washington net. The former fed the latter for the finish, making it a 3-2 game at 4:25.
Holtby kept the Oilers off the board until seconds after Koskinen went to the bench for a sixth attacker. Edmonton won a board battle to keep possession in the Caps' end, and it worked the puck to McDavid in the slot. He quickly released it, and it squeaked through the five-hole to tie the game at 3-3 with 1:38 remaining.
"I liked our second period a lot," says Reirden, "and we weren't able to carry some of the things we did well in the second into the third. If you're going to play that style of game against that team, we made some really poor reads - and ones without the puck, not necessarily puck management ones - and they were reads of when the opposition had the puck. They had so many odd-man rushes in that game and then were able to convert when they got the opportunity."
In overtime, the Oilers went with McDavid and Draisaitl for the duration, while the Caps made a quick change from Wilson, Carlson and Evgeny Kuznetsov to Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Dmitry Orlov. Ovechkin took a shot that missed wide, and Backstrom collected the rebound and tried to wrap it, but put it off the side of the post.
That was all the Oilers needed. It had been a long shift, but McDavid and Draisaitl were off to the races on a 3-on-1 rush, and Ovechkin and Backstrom weren't going to catch them. They worked the give-and-go with Draisaitl sending the home folks home happy with a layup at the right post.
"The game slipped a little bit out of our hands at the end," says Vrana. "Their top line pushed really hard there, and got rewarded for it. We've just got to be more prepared, and we are already focused on the next game."