Edinburgh Capitals secured their first win since January, snapping a 22-game winless streak in the process, with a hard-fought 3-2 overtime win at home against Braehead Clan in the Challenge Cup.
Fresh from last night’s trip to Belfast, a game that ended in a 3-1 defeat despite an improved performance, the Capitals handed home debuts to netminder Travis Fullerton against his former club, as well as defenceman Jaroslav Hertl. But they had to do without player/coach Michal Dobron on the ice as he aggravated an ankle injury against Belfast and sat out this one as a result.
Despite registering the first effort of note on goal, with Jared Staal forcing Michal Zajkowski into a smart stop, it was Braehead who were quicker out of the traps as they raced into an early lead. Good build up play on the right was rewarded when captain Matt Keith stroked home a one-timer from a fairly central position, assisted by Craig Peacock and Alex Leavitt with under two minutes played.
Edinburgh responded well, however, with Tyler Plews and Garrett Milan combining beautifully to force Zajkowski into action. But the Capitals were dealt another reminder about the threat going the other way when first Scott Aarssen forced Fullerton into a glove save, and then Kyle Wharton found the side netting after the Capitals had conceded the puck in their own zone.
The Capitals had the first power play opportunity of the game following a slashing call against Cody Carlson but Braehead would begin a familiar theme for both sides as they successfully killed it off. At this point it was the hosts who were piling on the pressure in search of a leveller with Milan bringing out the best of Zajkowski in the Clan net.
Braehead went close to extending their lead when Lee Baldwin picked out ex-NHLer Jeff Ulmer who saw his wrist-shot tipped just wide by former Philadephia Flyers winger Jay Rosehill. Edinburgh very nearly drew level, however, on their next attack but Matt Tipoff just wasn’t able to steer home after neat play by dangerman Milan.
Yet Braehead were not about to be let off this time as Edinburgh grabbed a deserved leveller with 6.47 left in the first period. Milan completely bamboozled the Braehead defence and then teed up Tipoff from the left who stabbed home his first goal of the season.
Edinburgh continued to ramp up the pressure with Jay King’s shot tipped by Staal narrowly wide of Zajkowski’s cage before Pavel Vorobyov and Karel Hromas combined, although the Czech winger couldn’t round off the move with a goal to show for it.
Taylor MacDougall’s tenacity won the puck back for the Capitals deep in the Clan’s D zone but Staal saw his effort parried away by the alert Zajkowski, as Edinburgh ended a dominant period in the ascendancy. Aarssen would have the final effort of the opening period that skipped wide but the Capitals outshot the Clan 16-6 in the opening 20 minutes.
Braehead gave Edinburgh an almighty scare early in the second when Leavitt and Peacock capitalised on slack play in possession but the puck would flash wide left of Fullerton’s upright. And the frenetic opening did little to abate with Tipoff attempting an audacious wrap-around effort which Zajkowski was alert to.
Edinburgh were left cursing their luck, not once but twice, after smashing the iron on separate occasions within the opening five minutes of the period. First Ian Schultz slammed his effort against the post when he looked destined to score and then Vorobyov was next to go close after neat play by Yevgeni Fyodorov.
The Capitals’ indifferent play with the puck was in evidence again when Jacob Johnston surrendered possession cheaply in his own zone but Baldwin’s effort was gratefully grasped by Fullerton before a huge power play opportunity presented itself for the hosts.
Both Keith and defenceman Trevor Hendrikx were called for minor penalties and it didn’t take long for the Capitals to take advantage of the 5-on-3 situation. 38 seconds into the power play Vorobyov tucked home his first goal of the season, assisted by Fyodorov and Johnston, as the Capitals raced into a 2-1 lead.
Braehead had the perfect response however and were presented with a power play of their own following a double-minor call against Plews for roughing and elbowing. Fyodorov had gone close to a short-handed Capitals goal, but within moments, the Clan had levelled the game. Braehead’s man-of-the-match, Scott Pitt, was quickest to react after Fullerton could only parry the initial effort and he tucked into the empty net to tie the game on the power play.
Following a successful penalty kill, the Capitals were back on the power play themselves with former Capital Callum Boyd incurring the wrath of Murrayfield for a tripping call against Fullerton. Braehead went close through both Daniel Ahsberg and Bari McKenzie on breakaways, before man-of-the-match Fullerton was alert to divert Zach Sullivan’s effort away.
Another 5-on-3 situation came the way of the Capitals following a holding call against Aarssen and a slashing penalty against Leavitt, but the Clan showed their credentials on the penalty kill to get back to full strength level. Sensing a change in momentum, Braehead were thwarted by a familiar face in Fullerton who stopped a certain goal when he somehow kept out Rosehill’s effort from the slot.
Both sides traded blows, quite literally, before the Capitals were handed another power play opportunity with 21 seconds remaining in the third following a high-sticking call against Baldwin. Edinburgh thought they’d won it with time expiring but Vorobyov saw his goal-bound effort scrambled away in the nick of time.
But Edinburgh would make amends in overtime. Guaranteed at least one point, but not content to settle for it, the Capitals were on the front foot as a 4-on-3 overtime period commenced with Baldwin still in the box.
Johnston and Michael D’Orazio both went close with efforts from the blue-line, but the Capitals suffered another scare when Pitt raced through but hit his shot wide.
They weren’t to be denied moments later though as Vorobyov skipped through on the breakaway, showed nifty skills to open up a shooting lane, and then squeezed the puck through Zajkowski for his second goal of the game and the game winner with just over three minutes remaining.
It secured a first win at the helm for Dobron as coach and saw the Capitals make amends for back-to-back defeats to begin the season against the Dundee Stars and Belfast Giants. Perhaps even more significantly, it ended a 22-game losing streak dating back to January’s win against the Sheffield Steelers as the Capitals secured the two-points.
Next up for the Capitals is a rematch with Braehead on Wednesday evening, this time on the road, before the team begin their Elite League campaign at home to Manchester Storm on Sunday.
“This game was very important for us to win. We needed it for our confidence and to lift some of the guys’ heads up. Today was a very good game and the guys played very well,” said player/coach Michal Dobron immediately after the overtime win.
“I think in the first three games the penalty kill has been very important. We spoke with the guys about the penalty kill and the guys played like we talked about in practice,” Dobron said. “We started with this line-up from the first game but this is hockey, we can shake the line-up during the game. These guys played well in every situation and every line-up.”
“Travis is a very important player for this team,” Dobron added when referencing the man-of-the-match display by his netminder. “When guys feel Travis in the net they have more confidence, they want to play and they are not scared to play. It’s a first win for myself, but I think this is not for myself, this is a first win for our team.”
Defenceman Plews admitted he felt like crying after the win, their first in eight months, and you can forgive him given it’s a feeling that the Capitals players are unaccustomed to.
“I’m over the moon, it means so much. The new guys that came this season, it’s just a win to them, but for the guys who were here last season it’s huge,” said Plews when describing the emotions after the game. “I almost started crying, I’m happy and I couldn’t believe it that we’ve actually won a game. It’s good and hopefully we can carry this on and keep it going.”
“I think every game we play we’re coming together as a team,” said Plews when asked about how the new guys are fitting in. “Fully [Travis Fullerton] is just in here, he’s only had one practice, he’s played two games and he played outstanding. We’ve heard stories about the guy being unreal but that’s just proved it. The man has really good ability. We’re playing Braehead on Wednesday and I reckon the guys will get better and better.”
“Over the week we did do quite a bit on power play and penalty kill,” added Plews when asked about the Capitals’ special teams play. “I think we can be a bit better but tonight we did well, we executed and that’s all you can ask for. The more and more we play together, the more we’ll progress. I think big things will come to this team this year. We’ve got a great group of guys, huge characters and huge hearts, so I think we’ve got a good season ahead of us.”
“A couple of times we were 5 on 3 there and the boys bigged up and were blocking shots, taking huge shots and it just shows the level of character we have in the team here,” Plews said when referencing the penalty kill. “Guys want to play for the jersey, they want to prove a point and they’re all here to play hockey.”