The Caps have made their way back from their inaugural “bye-week”, and upon “re-entry”, have not surprisingly, dropped a pair of back-to-back road games. But have no fear, here are NoVa Caps’ six positive points to take away from this past weekend:
- The encouraging trend was that the Caps’ play improved as the games went along. In the third period, the Caps seemed to outplay both opponents.
- The Caps were in both games until the end and could have won either game; they were not decisive losses.
- Both Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer had strong outings in goal and held the team in the games.
- The Detroit Red Wings have won all seven of their shootouts; the Caps managed to take the Red Wings to two extra rounds and at least earned a point in their first game back from break.
- A great challenge by the Capitals’ coaching staff on the New York Rangers goal in the second period that was disallowed due to the play being offside.
- Zach Sanford has played well and for now, appears to have won the replacement battle for Andre Burakovsky while the young forward is sidelined with a hand injury; hopefully Jakub Vrana isn’t throwing in the towel, in the competition for that spot, as he’s been sent back to Hershey. The Caps need Vrana to take his game to next step, to which he’s capable.
.@zachsanford21‘s second @nhl goal is a big one #CapsWings on @csnma pic.twitter.com/i5Novn5KOj
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) February 18, 2017
There are explanations for the defeats
While the Caps’ execution was uneven, (first period play and passing accuracy in particular), this was somewhat anticipated coming off of the bye week. We know that teams have been unable to immediately show their pre-break form. Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Rangers went 5-5 in their first ten games back.
Both the Red Wings and Rangers played up-tempo styles of hockey, which challenged the Caps. However, the Caps adjusted pretty well. Nothing the Caps could do in Friday’s practice could replicate game conditions to get their “legs and stamina” back in them.
The margin for error between the top and bottom of the NHL is slim to begin with, and the Caps almost always get their opponents’ “A” game. Even though the Red Wings are near the bottom of the league standings, they’re playing with a lot of pride, and are desperately trying to keep their club’s quarter century playoff streak alive; if in doubt, just ask the Penguins, who were rested and at home but still lost in regulation to the Red Wings yesterday. Don’t count out Detroit yet. As for the Rangers, they’ve been playing as an NHL top five club.
Sometimes you have to tip your hat to opposing goaltenders. As well as Holtby and Grubauer played this weekend, so did Detroit’s Petr Mrazek and New York’s Henrik Lundqvist.
Expect the Caps to rebound if…
I expect strong performances from the Caps against the Philadelphia Flyers and Edmonton Oilers. Their game against the Nashville Predators may be closer to what we saw this past weekend, as the Caps are 1-4-1 when the second game in a back-to-back series is played on the road. The Predators will have a day’s rest too. While I want all six points for this week, I expect the Caps to get three to five points.
For these improved results to happen, the Capitals must continue to work on strong, defensive play and conservative puck possession that have been the hallmark of the Caps’ dominant form in 2017, when their starters are healthy. If the Capitals play this way, they’re much less likely to surrender the opening goal, which they did in both games this weekend. Some of the elements of this shutdown form of play include:
- The Caps must mark their opponents near the net. In the first period against the Red Wings, the Caps allowed two Red Wings players to establish presence on the edge of the goal crease without being challenged, allowing a goal. Against the Rangers, Mats Zuccarello was left unmarked in front of the goal after a faceoff win. Zuccarello admitted that this was not a designed play, but lucky positioning. Whatever the reason, the goal counts either way.
- The Caps had uncharacteristically dangerous turnovers this weekend (for example, Matt Niskanen in the third period versus the Red Wings and Justin Williams in the first period versus the Rangers); these must be eliminated or they will eventually hurt the Capitals.
- In the second period of the Red Wings game, Nate Schmidt and then John Carlson made poor puck possession decisions, which led to a giveaway during a trap play and a two-goal deficit.
- Hockey can be a game of inches and plays like the ones above, can be the difference between winning and losing. Being on the correct side of these plays will help the Caps rebound to their form before the break.
- The Caps went 1-7 on the power play over the weekend and need to get at least one more goal from one of their PP units.
If the Capitals can do these things, there will be better execution and in turn, better results.
By Tim Foisie
Wednesday’s game will be a big one.