RBC CENTER, Raleigh — Tim Gleason must have been on Santa's naughty list.
Undeservedly assessed a game misconduct after his clean check bloodied Mathieu Perreault, Gleason watched the rest of the Hurricanes' 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals from a similar vantage to that of the 10,477 fans who braved a seven-inch snowfall to attend the Southeast division tilt. Down to five defensemen, the Canes couldn't mark the Caps' talent, as Alex Ovechkin tallied a goal and an assist.
Although dominating the period, the Canes found themselves down 1-0 in the waning minutes of the first when Gleason shouldered Perreault as he backhanded the puck up the boards. Perreault, who had scored the earlier goal, spun from the force of the blow. His stick kicked up and broke in half across his nose. Perreault crumpled to the ice in a dark pool of blood.
The game had been chippy to that point — John Carlson did some gratis chiropractic work to Jeff Skinner's back after a rush, and Eric Staal taught Marcus Johansson a lesson about skating up ice with his head turned — but both teams turned more serious as the Caps focused on taking advantage of the power play time and the Canes on killing it off.
Back at even strength, Jussi Jokinen finished a 2-on-1 break with Tuomo Ruutu when he banged a shot off the post and in at the 12:28 mark on a play set up by a subtle choice by Jeff Skinner to not play a puck sent hard around the boards in his own zone. The speeding disk found Ruutu in stride on its own much better than a pass could have, and the game was even.
But three minutes later Ovechkin used a bit of flash to put the Capitals back ahead. Carrying the puck into traffic in the slot, he tried to pass the puck to himself behind his back. It caromed instead to David Steckel, who popped it behind Cam Ward.
Carolina responded with a surge but the Capitals blocked shots with aplomb, frequently diving and sliding to take shooting lanes away. The five remaining Canes defensemen started pinching — carrying the puck deeper into the Washington zone in order to allow forwards to go to the net — which perhaps led to Ovechkin's first goal in three weeks with just under two minutes left in the second period.
Joni Pitkanen — who logged 33:20 of ice time in Gleason's absence — pushed a lazy clear up the boards from behind his net. Ovechkin caught up with it and flung it across the zone to Mike Green. Pitkanen hauled himself across the net mouth to deflect Green's shot. But Pitkanen had left Ovechkin all alone on his side of the ice. The sniper collected the puck and tossed it past Ward for his thirteenth of the year.
Skinner's subtlety again paid off just a half minute into the third as the Canes pulled again to within a goal. Entering the Washington zone with Jokinen, they worked a give-and-go play. Jokinen's initial pass was well behind Skinner but he flicked the puck back to Jokinen with a twitch of his back skate blade. Jokinen worked the puck round to Jay Harrison who fired a sharp diagonal shot that got behind goaltender Semyon Varlamov. Initially ruled Harrison's first tally of the year, the score was later given to Ruutu, who had tipped the shot home.
The rest of the game was a reprise of the Montreal game: a strong home effort going unrewarded. Samsonov appeared to tie the score with a power-play shot that bounced straight out of the goal, but replays showed the slap shot soundlessly finding the crossbar and post in a non-Euclidean tumble.
More often, the Capitals were positioned well to defend their ice. As Carolina defensemen fatigued with the extra minutes, the attack lessened, and Jamie McBain finally had to take a tripping penalty with just under four minutes left to avoid giving up a clean 2-on-1 break to the Caps. Ward's brilliance on the subsequent penalty kill wasn't enough of a spark to allow the skaters to find a tying goal in their sticks.
Carolina has now lost all four games to Washington this season, each of the last three by the same score. Perhaps a road trip this week to play the Maple Leafs and Senators — two teams north of the border but south of the playoff cut in the conference standings — will help the Canes get wins from their good play.