Report: Strong defensive display helps Capitals edge past Storm

A strong defensive display and heroic penalty killing helped the Edinburgh Capitals to two huge Gardiner Conference points in a 2-1 win over Manchester Storm, a result that keeps them in touch with Dundee and Coventry above them in the hunt for the final play-off spot.

The hosts, without the suspended Michal Dobron and Rihards Grigors but welcoming back Taylor MacDougall, were on the front foot from the get-go. First to go close was Ian Schultz who forced Mike Clemente into work with the glove.

A half chance for the visitors came and went with Travis Fullerton forced into a kick save, before Pavel Vorobyev and Jacob Johnston combined to set up MacDougall but Clemente was more than a match on this occasion.

Former Capital Taylor Dickin looked lively in the opening exchanges and his deflected shot threatened to cause problems, but Fullerton was alive with the glove to make the stop. This was Manchester’s best spell with Mario Trabucco weaving his way into a bit of space before firing an effort that Fullerton snared with the leather.

But the end to end nature of the contest did not subside. Jared Staal and Garrett Milan combined beautifully on a neat one-two but the latter could only steer wide when well placed.

Up the other end a Dallas Ehrhardt drive that Fullerton diverted away with the pad proved to be the catalyst for a quick Capitals rush. Matt Tipoff’s beautifully weighted saucer pass nearly got the finish it deserved but Yevgeni Fyodorov could only flash wide.

They would be inches away from finding the net soon afterwards when Schultz, covering in defence, found Mason Wilgosh but he could only find the side netting. Edinburgh kept the puck alive though with Schultz forcing Clemente into work and Jay King’s follow up had a similar result.

Sensing an opportunity, the Capitals nearly pounced following a superb defence splitting pass by Jaroslav Hertl from his own zone that dissected the Storm rearguard and had Tipoff through, but Clemente would react well with the blocker.

A Connor Varley backhander was the Storm’s next chance of note but again back came the Capitals with Schultz forcing a blocker save, and then Karel Hromas’ effort appeared to strike the post with the period winding towards its close.

Edinburgh then fashioned a chance entirely of Staal’s own making as he slipped the puck through the legs of Ehrhardt before firing on net. Milan was not far away from connecting on the rebound but, despite shading the opening frame, the hosts had to settle for heading in all square.

They did not let up though in the early part of the second period, playing with the same intensity that had characterised the opening to the game. An effort virtually off a face-off win by Schultz kept Clemente on his toes as the Capitals sought to capitalise with an early marker.

A blue line drive by captain Johnston crashed into Clemente but the Storm threatened on an opportunistic rush up the other end of the ice. Had it not been for strong defensive work by Schultz to cut out Cody Cartier’s square pass for Patrik Valcak it might have fashioned a chance.

It was just as well really as, within moments, the Capitals at last grabbed a deserved lead. The architect was Tipoff who held off the advances of a Storm player at the boards to find Wilgosh and his effort flashed past Clemente with just under four minutes played in the period.

1-0 nearly became 2-0 virtually from the restart when Fyodorov and Hromas almost found the arriving Vorobyev with a sweet square pass to the back door, but on this occasion the Storm escaped unscathed.

That passage of play commenced a crazy succession of penalties that would bring out the very best of the Capitals defensive grit as they heroically withstood two long 5 on 3 chances to successfully return to full strength with their lead unblemished.

The display of penalty killing, among the best we’ve seen of the Capitals this season, came after the hosts failed to cash in on their own power play chance with Wilgosh and Vorobyev both going close to lighting the lamp.

Fullerton, so often the Capitals’ saviour this season, stood tall when required to save from Trevor Johnson and Paul Phillips respectively, before denying Trabucco out in front with an outstanding reaction save.

Manchester’s pressure did not end there. Cartier was denied twice, the second perhaps the save of the game, with Fullerton claiming an effort in front of the net spectacularly. It was disciplined defending from the Capitals to survive and it would prove to be the catalyst for their eventual win.

It was fair to say though that the Storm were undeterred by their succession of missed opportunities with Johnson and Darian Dziurzynski forcing saves, before Tyler Plews did well to block Paul Swindlehurst’s effort.

The Capitals nearly had goal number two and it would have been highlight reel stuff had it gone in, with Johnston taking off on a neat solo effort past a succession of Storm players before running into the considerable presence of Clemente.

But the period’s key turning point wouldn’t leave the Capitals waiting long before they struck again. Both Johnson and Dickin were handed virtually simultaneous penalties for tripping and slashing respectively, leaving Edinburgh with a long four-minute 5 on 3 chance.

As it happens it took them just 23 seconds to make their numerical advantage count with Michael D’Orazio collecting Tipoff’s feed before slamming home an effort for 2-0 with 1:37 to play in the period.

Heading into the final frame, Edinburgh showed no signs of slowing down as they searched for the killer third goal. They nearly got it when MacDougall’s effort was only partially dealt with by Clemente with the Canadian forward unable to collect the rebound.

You sensed Manchester needed the next goal to stay in the contest, and they duly got it just under three minutes into the period. Matt Bissonette fired home well after Ehrhardt’s feed but Fullerton was incensed by something in front of him, presumably what he felt was a goalie interference no-call, but the officials waved away his protestations and awarded the goal.

Crucially it had the Storm on the board at 2-1, ending the Capitals’ hopes of a first shut-out of the season in the process.

The Capitals did not seem to be too shaken by that early setback with Schultz picking out Wilgosh in front, though the latter could only mishit his shot when perfectly placed.

Fullerton had to be alive to a Dziurzynski effort from a tight angle as he got enough body behind it to turn it aside, before a strong solo run by Dickin nearly got the reward it deserved but Valcak couldn’t quite locate the puck to steer in the rebound.

On their latest power play chance, Cartier would come the closest for the visitors as he had his solo effort well blocked before the Capitals continued their perfect penalty killing performance.

Edinburgh had a glorious chance to ice the game when Vorobyev did superbly well to locate Tipoff but he could only fan on the attempt from a similar position to Wilgosh. Had that gone in it might have been that, but the Storm were still alive and kicking.

Adam Harding was at the heart of two bits of play for Manchester, firing wide from the blue line before tipping Ehrhardt’s effort towards goal. The pressure continued to grow and the Capitals had hearts in mouths following a goalmouth scramble involving Cartier, but Edinburgh hurriedly cleared their lines.

It commenced a succession of chances with D’Orazio’s slapshot gloved by Clemente, before Milan and Staal combined to good effect with the latter forcing a pad stop.

Manchester were still throwing everything in search of a leveller and good work by Bissonette found Trabucco but again, Edinburgh’s man of the match, Fullerton was there to save smartly.

A late power play chance for the Capitals, called against Dziurzynski with 2:48 to go, gave the hosts the opportunity to see off any stubborn attempts to force the game into overtime. Chances would come and go though with Staal denied and Wilgosh wrapped up by Clemente’s save.

The Storm’s final desperation attempt would be seen off by a stout Edinburgh rearguard with Manchester pulling Clemente for the final exchanges in favour of an extra skater.

It secured the Capitals a crucial two points as Manchester left their 3-in-3 without a win to show for their efforts. Edinburgh won’t care though as they secured a win in a game of must-win magnitude to keep the pressure on both Dundee and Coventry above them.

A visit to the SkyDome awaits next weekend as they seek to make up more ground on their closest rivals, before welcoming Manchester Storm again to home ice on Sunday.

Michael D’Orazio praised the Capitals’ performance, drawing particular attention to their strong special teams play in the second frame as Edinburgh saw off two 5 on 3 chances for Manchester, before notching a power play goal of their own.

“We played really well defensively. We’ve done our homework and we’ve started to do video breaking down our defensive zone because it’s been pretty bad this year, so we’ve been tightening up and staying sharp. It goes to show when you win a 2-1 game and kudos to the guys, we played sharp the whole game.

“I just think we need to win games. We’re in a spot right now where this is the time to win games or we’re going to be packing our bags at the end of the season and not going to make the playoffs. The time is now to push and this is a big win for our team, obviously Manchester’s had our number this year so it’s good to beat them. Every team is beatable in this league, it is just consistency that’s a big thing in the league. To be a good team you have to be consistent, you have to play the same game every night and hopefully we can build off this one.

“It was great penalty killing. I know our penalty kill has been struggling, been last in the league, so it is definitely an area we need to address but we started tonight, we worked hard and got in the lanes. You need a little luck too as they have an extra guy but we were prepared, we were blocking shots, we were sharp. Our power play has been struggling too, but as of late it’s been pretty good. The power play is there to win games and tonight it won us a game. We’ve had ample opportunities this year to win a game on our power play and we haven’t done it. The power play is a very important thing, you can win games that way and we did tonight.

“It’s a huge two points and we can’t afford to let up now, it’s a push to the end now for the playoffs. We can’t really play a bad game, the boys are focused and we’re ready to go.”

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