We’ll be reviewing the Capitals week by week throughout the season. The week will run from Monday through Sunday. This first edition is a little longer to cover the first game as well. So lets see how we did.
New Jersey Devils 5–3 WIN
In spite of a pretty convincing win on the scoreboard, the game in many ways was what you might expect for a first game of the season. The play was quick but very choppy. A lot of missed passes and poor puck possession overall. Happy to get the win but against a better opponent, the outcome may have been different. Jason Chimera(SHG), Brooks Orpik, Alex Ovechkin, Marcus Johansson(PPG) and Matt Niskanen(PPG) were the goal scorers with MoJo getting the game winner. The Capitals had a great game in the face-off circle with the team winning 56% for the night.
San Jose Sharks 5–0 loss
Everything that the Capitals got away with in the first game, caught up with them in the second game. Starting out the game minus Alex Ovechkin for personal reasons (later determined to be oversleeping and being late to the morning skate), things went downhill from there. Without some stellar play in net by Braden Holtby this game could have easily got out of hand in the first period. Hung out to dry over and over again, Holtby made some great saves but second and third shots at close range eventually proved to be too much. We also saw our first coaches challenge of the season on a disallowed goal by Dmitry Orlov. The call on the ice was correct and the replay clearly showed it, but in the end it mattered little. The NHL proved even with replay they can still screw up the call. If there was any life to be had for the Capitals, that disallowed goal put an end to those dreams. Holtby’s .900 save percentage looks like he had a bad game but in reality he’s the only reason this one wasn’t much worse. Burn the tape.
Chicago Blackhawks 4–1 WIN
The first game after a disaster like the Sharks game is critical, and the Capitals certainly responded. With Alex Ovechkin back on the ice, the Capitals defeated the defending Stanley Cup Champions in convincing fashion. Chicago made a big push in the 2nd period, but Holtby was the Holtbeast when the Caps needed him most. With a .963 save percentage for the game against 27 shots, this time the stats do tell just how good he was. TJ Oshie(PPG), John Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Alex Ovechkin each scored for the Capitals.
Carolina Hurricanes 4–1 WIN
Carolina came in with only one win and left still searching for their second. The Capitals dominated from beginning to end in this one, and only some stellar goal tending by Carolina’s Cam Ward kept this game close until the 3rd period. The Capitals easily could have buried 5–6 goals in the first two periods. Ward was that good. Carolina, playing the second game of a back to back just couldn’t keep up in the 3rd period, and Wards heroics weren’t enough. This one was never really in doubt. Nick Backstrom poured in a goal and two assists in his much-anticipated return, looking like he’d never missed a game. Braden Holtby had a good game with a .947 save percentage on the night, though with only 19 SOG, he was rarely challenged.
2 bad games, 2 good games, 3 wins and 6 points out of a possible 8 for the week. As first weeks go, we really can’t complain. 4 wins would have been better, but the wakeup call against the Sharks may prove to be exactly what the team needed. Overall the scoring was well-distributed among the lines and 5 on 5 versus power play. The defensive core pitched in with 5 goals in 4 games. The power play is humming at 38.5% in spite of missing Nick Backstrom for the first 3 games. What should be scary for the rest of the league is that the Capitals can play much better than they have. The last two games of the week were more notable for being a full 60 minutes of good hockey than for being great. If the Capitals can continue to play a full 60 minutes most games and get back to the shutdown team that they were at the end of last season, that could be very bad news for the rest of the league. Caps fans have a lot to look forward to as the season moves along.
Alex Ovechkin started out the season hot, scoring a goal in every game he’s played in and adding in an assist for good measure. His first goal of the season may well turn out to be the goal of the year in the NHL. His second, off a feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov, is as sick of a passing play as you’ll see. Both goals will be making highlight reels for a while yet.
Speaking of Kuznetsov and players who are hot; is there a pass this kid can’t make? The stats for the week show one very strong game. The stats don’t tell half of the story in this case! Skating, stick handling, shooting and passing, Kuznetsov has been dangerous every game in every dimension. Kuznetsov’s play made it easy for coach Trotz to put Nick Backstrom on the second line in his return Friday night. Doing anything else would have been the difficult decision. His face-offs still need some work, but it’s really hard to find anything else in his game to criticize right now.
The third member of the top line certainly hasn’t been quiet either. TJ Oshie had a goal and an assist in each of the last two games of the week, and a solid debut as well. Sliding into Troy Brouwer’s former spot on the power play, Oshie has been everything Capitals fans could have hoped for and then some.
The third line was a bit of a mystery right up to the first game, but along with the top line has been dangerous every night. Jay Beagle winning face-offs and playing great defense is nothing new. Tom Wilson’s play on the other hand has been better than most anticipated. He’s been able to fit into the Joel Ward role very well with the extra added edge that he brings to everything he does. Playing under control and focused on producing offense, it’s just a matter of time before his play starts to show up more in the box score. Jason Chimera had a big night in the opener with a shorthanded goal and an assist, but he’s been solid defensively and creating with speed every single game. Far from looking like the 36-year-old that he is, Chimera is looking more like a player with a lot left in the tank and deserving of a new deal. Any fear of a major drop-off in play for the third line, or a new role over what we saw last season has been answered. This group can be as good, maybe even better than last seasons 3rd line which is quite the compliment.
I feel like I’m shortchanging some guys, Braden Holtby has been very good and John Carlson looks like he really wants a Norris Trophy all his own. Face-offs have been a bit hit and miss across the board so far, but it’s a little early to see any meaningful trends there. Passing and possession overall definitely improved over the course of the 4 games. There’s still work to do but the trend is in the right direction.
Things We Need To Improve On
The biggest thing we need to get better at right now is playing the system. The first two games were both bad in that regard with the second in particular being absolutely horrible. The Chicago game was better but still not where we need to be. Against Carolina we started to see more of the possession game and pounding the puck loose on defense. The difference from the first game to the fourth is night and day but we need to be better.
Face-offs need to improve and the return of Nick Backstrom should certainly help with that effort. Likewise our defensive zone exits could be better but seem to be trending in that direction.
The Week Ahead
The Capitals head out west for three games this week on their first road trip of the new season. Two of the three opponents are off to slow starts, but historically these trips out west haven’t been kind to the Capitals. That trend began to change last season and hopefully they can pick up where they left off in that regard. Coming home with anything less than two wins has to be considered a bad trip.
Tuesday 9pm EST – @Calgary Flames – CSN-DC, SN360
Thursday 10pm EST – @Vancouver Canucks – CSN-DC, SN360
Friday 9pm EST – @Edmonton Oilers – CSN-DC
We can expect to get our first look at Philip Grubauer on this road trip. Most likely in the second game of the back to back set against Edmonton.
Written by Ernie Mudd
Statistics by Diane Doyle