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The Washington Capitals laid a massive egg in their season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins. After a decent first period, there was reason for optimism. Then, the second period happened, and the Penguins scored three unanswered goals.
“If you chalk it up, it’s the worst scripted start that we possibly could have had,” Caps head coach Spencer Carbery said after Friday’s loss. “In terms of just being disappointed, home ice, trying to generate some momentum from a season standpoint, and that certainly did not happen.”
The Capitals ended up falling to the Penguins 4-0, which is the first time in franchise history that the Caps were shut out in a season-opener.
Here are three things that stood out:
Failing Special Teams
The Capitals went 0-for-3 on the power play and only had two shots on goal. The Penguins penalty killers put on a shot-blocking masterclass and did not give the man-advantage a lot of room to operate.
They did a very good job at keeping the puck to the perimeter and Washington also struggled to bring the puck in the offensive zone.
“I thought there’s was snapping it around. They make a couple tic tac toe plays on both those. We’ll have to go back and look at it, but entries were an issue for us power play-wise, especially when we’re on the left side, and then penalty kill obviously puts us in a hole.”
Pittsburgh went 2-for-3 on its power play, both tallies coming from Sidney Crosby. The Capitals were not strong on their puck retrievals when they were a man-down and were puck-watching.
Terrible Second Period
The second period was terrible. There is no sugarcoating how bad it was. Missed assignments in the defensive zone, failed clears, poor execution up the ice, and three goals against.
“They grab momentum there to start the period, and we just couldn’t stop the bleeding,” Carbery said. “We get hemmed on the one shift, they turn that into two three and yeah, we lost momentum right away.”
Evgeni Malkin got the game’s first goal after the Caps failed to get the puck out of their own zone. Alex Ovechkin failed to corral the puck on his stick on the breakout and Erik Karlsson kept the play alive at the blue line. Three Capitals players were puck-watching on Rickard Rakell, which led to Malkin being wide-open in front. Ovechkin took blame for the first goal.
“I think just the execution. I think the textbook plays both sides; a lot of wall plays. Guys are fast in this league. If you can make wall plays, guys are gone and if you can’t, they’re looking at attacking and that first goal is kind of the same thing,” Carlson said. “We’re pressing, we’re jumping up, and [it] doesn’t really happen; they make a good keep and are in attack mode.”
After Crosby’s first power-play goal, the Caps started to find their legs and had about two and a half minutes of sustained pressure. But they could not find a clear shooting lane. Then Crosby scored again on the man-advantage and the Capitals could not regain possession.
“You saw in a couple of those extended shifts, Pitt just sits inside and says, ‘we’ll let you do whatever you want on the outside. You’re not going to come into the scoring area and unless you’re willing to get people and bodies inside there, and then the second part of that is you got to deliver, and you got to find ways to get shots through and deliver.’ That’s obviously their game plan. They threw a ton of pucks that are not, and we didn’t generate enough at theirs.”
Pittsburgh outshot Washington 13-7 in the middle stanza.
Charlie Lindgren, The Lone Bright Spot
The goals that Lindgren gave up were not his fault. Even in the first period, when the Caps played relatively well, he kept the game scoreless. He was left out to dry numerous times, which was a theme last year as well.
“We put him in a tough spot. He wasn’t slated to play today, but we didn’t help him, and that’s disappointing,” Carbery said.
Darcy Kuemper and his wife Sydney welcomed their first child overnight, which is why Lindgren was in between the pipes on opening night.
“The best thing was I got a really good goalie partner that was keeping me in the loop, and so he let me know yesterday evening that most likely I was going to be in the pipes and credit to him too. I mean, it says how good of a teammate he is, where he was, you know, he’s got a baby coming in, his first baby, and he’s thinking about me,” Lindgren said. “When I found out I was playing, obviously I was excited. I grew up watching this rivalry between Pittsburgh and Washington, going on NHL.com and see Alexander the Great verses Sid the Kid.”
Lindgren finished the evening with 31 saves on 35 shots.
Notable Numbers and Observations
- The Penguins blocked 22 shots compared to Washington’s 18.
- It was a physical affair from the drop of the puck. The Capitals led in the hit category 18-15.
- Rasmus Sandin had a very bad game. His worst play was when he fumbled the puck in the corner, and it went right to Malkin, who went in between the legs, but Lindgren stood tall. He and Carlson were each a minus-2.
- Carbery mixed up his line combinations when things started to go sideways. He was finding ways to create a spark. He went with an Ovechkin-Strome-Oshie trio, but that didn’t work.
- Connor McMichael was solid in his first regular-season action. He was making plays and had a prime scoring opportunity that hit the post.
- The first period was pretty even, but the Caps were the better team despite being outshot 10-8 in the first. They had lots of sustained pressure, and breakouts were very crisp and clean.
The Capitals will look to bounce back on Monday, Oct. 16 against the Calgary Flames.
By Jacob Cheris