Sunday night's game at Verizon Center against the Ottawa Senators was the 36th of the season for the Capitals. And for the seventh time in those 36 games, Caps coach Barry Trotz elected to insert seventh defenseman Taylor Chorney into the Washington lineup.
Video: Chorney, Holtby lead Caps to 2-1 win over Senators
For the seventh time in those seven games, the Caps earned at least a point, taking a 2-1 win over the Senators. And Chorney, not known for his goal-scoring prowess, delivered the game-winner with a one-time blast from the right point early in the third period.
The goal was Chorney's first of the season, the third of his 130-game NHL career, and the second of his three career goals to stand up as the game-winner. The Caps are now 6-0-1 in the seven games he has played this season.
"When I was playing in the American League, I probably put a little bit more pressure on myself to score," says Chorney, "just because I think that's probably your expectation. But up here, you just try to go out there and be reliable. If you get a chance to score a few goals here or there, you take them."
A day after scoring six even-strength goals in a 6-2 road win over the Devils in New Jersey, the Caps found the offensive sledding much tougher against a structured Ottawa team. Washington's game plan involved soft chips and dump-ins, getting pucks behind the Ottawa defense and trying to establish a forecheck and some offensive zone presence. The Caps were able to do so occasionally, but they weren't able to get to the middle of the ice as frequently as they were able to do so on Saturday against the Devils.
Video: Coach Trotz talks after 2-1 #CapsSens victory
"You have to play the game that's presented to you," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "[The Senators] are a team that goes into a 1-3-1 set - especially in the neutral zone - and they step up and they do all those things to force you to move the puck or put it behind them. And if you don't accept that type of game, then it's just going to come back down your throat because there will be turnover after turnover. So you have to commit to that type of game."
After a fairly even and scoreless first, the Sens took the lead on a Kyle Turris goal just past the midpoint of the middle period. The Caps struggled on the dot early in the game, losing 22 of the first 29 draws on Sunday. Washington iced the puck, and Turris beat Jay Beagle on the ensuing face-off, winning it back to Marc Methot at the left point. Methot put it in the corner for Ryan Dzingel, who made a neat pass to Turris in front. Turris slipped the puck past Caps goalie Braden Holtby on the far side for a 1-0 Ottawa lead.
A day after killing nine New Jersey power plays without a blemish, the Caps were tasked with only four kills on Sunday. But the last three of those were critical to the game's outcome.
Just after the Caps were able to kill off a Nicklas Backstrom holding penalty, John Carlson threaded a tape-to-tape pass from his own goal line to Justin Williams at the Ottawa blueline, springing Williams on a breakaway. Sens goalie Mike Condon made a great save on Williams, but T.J. Oshie gathered the puck behind the Ottawa cage and put it on a tee for the late-arriving Karl Alzner. Alzner wound up and drilled a shot to the top far corner, tying the tilt with just 19.5 seconds left in the middle period.
Video: Caps players talk after a 2-1 win vs. Ottawa
"I just started creeping in and I gave it everything I had," recounts Alzner. "I was pretty lucky to put it in that top corner, because I don't have the best aim, but I'm happy with it."
Early in the third, the Caps took a slim lead they would not relinquish. Tom Wilson got in on the forecheck and forced Ottawa to give up possession behind its own goal. He then tracked the puck and dished it to Chorney at the right point. After a quick exchange with defense partner Brooks Orpik, Chorney fired a one-timer through a maze of players in front - including Wilson and Beagle - and behind Condon, putting the Caps on top 2-1 at the 2:43 mark.
"On that play, we ended up getting it deep," says Chorney. "We've been working on that look where we get it up to the top, go D-to-D and get into a little bit of a flank look. Brooksie put it in a good spot, and I just shot it. I think there was a bunch of traffic, and it went in."
Washington had to navigate an Ottawa two-man advantage of two full minutes in duration with 11:50 left in the third, but did so without incident. Somewhat incredibly, the Caps permitted just one shot on net during those two minutes, but it was a terrific chance. Mike Hoffman wound up and fired from the right circle, but Holtby was able to slide laterally and make the save, preventing the tying tally. Hoffman then swung his stick at the glass in frustration.
With the win, the Caps - the only team in the NHL to play on both New Year's Eve and New Year's Day - swept a weekend set of back-to-back games and handed Ottawa a third straight loss at it heads into its five-day "bye week."
"I think five-on-five, we beat ourselves," rues Senators coach Guy Boucher. "We played a good game five-on-five, and at the end of the second period, we're supposed to be aware that there is a few seconds left on the power play, and it's not all about getting that goal on the power play. It's about not getting scored on with a few seconds left in the second period. We made a mistake there.
"That second goal, we're right there and we did a great job defending. We're right beside our blueline, and we go all the way back in our zone and put ourselves in trouble, and that's why they scored that goal. If we just keep it simple like we had been doing it before, those two goals are goals that we gave away. One, you might get away with it. But you give up two like that, and it comes to haunt you."