When the Washington Capitals started the 1995 season after a lengthy lockout, they did so by stumbling out of the gate, tying and losing their first two games on their way to a 3-10-5 start. They righted the ship (due in no small part to a hot rookie goaltender by the name of Jim Carey) to earn a playoff spot, but things were touch-and-go for quite a while in that abbreviated season.
The Caps once again have stubbed their toe on the door jamb as they get their 2013 season underway. After dropping a 6-3 decision to Tampa Bay on Saturday the Caps made it 0-for-2 with a 4-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets in their home opener. It was the first loss in a home opener since the Los Angeles Kings beat them in the 2000-2001 home opener.
It looked good early for the Caps when Matt Hendricks finished a nice passing play all around. The play began with Alex Ovechkin turning out of the left wing circle in the Jets' end where he spotted Nicklas Backstrom sliding into the right wing circle. Backstrom spied Hendricks set up in front and snapped the puck to the Winnipeg net where Hendricks had only to redirect it (with his right foot it turned out) past goalie Ondrej Pavelec for the game’s first goal.
By the time the Caps got their second goal, though, things had taken a turn. Winnipeg would take the lead into the first intermission on goals by Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd, both on power plays. Kane’s goal was a real momentum stopper, a shot from the goal line that looked to tick of the heel of John Carlson’s skate before hitting the inside of goalie Braden Holtby’s right skate and caroming in.
The Jets added even strength goals by Blake Wheeler and Jim Slater in the second period to double the entire goal output they achieved in their first two games. For all intents and purposes the competitive portion of the game was over after the 40 minutes with the Jets holding a 4-1 lead.
Troy Brouwer added a power play goal of his own with 1:16 left, but it far too little, far too late for the Caps, who sank to 0-2-0 with the likes of the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes, and within whispering distance of last place in the East, now held by the 0-3-0 Philadelphia Flyers.
- Most folks knew and understood that the power play might take some time to iron out. At 2-for-8 so far, that might be considered a rather pleasant surprise. But the penalty kill smells like a fish freezer that had the power go out for a week. Giving up power play goals on their first two shorthanded situations in this game left the Caps 4-for-9 on the penalty kill to start the season. Killing off the last three shorthanded situations left them 7-for-12 after two games, a 58.3 percent kill rate. It might surprise you to know that 58.3 percent is not the worst in the league (it is 27th), but it is not a place the Caps can occupy for any length of time and have any hope of playing in the post season.
- Top line…13 shot attempts, six shots on goal, no goals, two points (and those came with Matt Hendricks, not Marcus Johansson skating with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom). This cannot become a recurring theme.
-- That brings us to young Mr. Johansson. It is early, but there are already a couple of players who really need to step their games up (pretty much all of them do, but there are some outstanding examples). Marcus Johansson skated only 10:30 last night with no shot attempts and two giveaways. He had one shift in the third period. The Caps have a shortage of scoring wingers, and he has to step up to be one of them. In 27:45 of ice time Johansson has one shot attempt, one shot on goal. He cannot be a passenger on the top line. He is not the sort of player to dig pucks out of trouble and start plays as a product of that. He is not the playmaker on that line. Perhaps he is ill suited to playing with Ovechkin and Backstrom, but if it is just a case of developing chemistry, the chemical reaction needs to be more… exothermic.
-- The Caps have allowed ten goals so far this season. Nicklas Backstrom has been on ice for half of them. The Caps have allowed five power play goals so far. John Carlson has been on ice for four of them. They might not be the root cause of the defensive problems, but those are not numbers one wants attached to their 2013 season resume, either.
-- There are folks who do not attach a lot of significance to faceoffs. But here’s the deal. The scoring line forwards on this team (Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Ribeiro, Troy Brouwer) are a combined 36-for-87 (41.4 percent). Teams cannot score without the puck. And wasting offensive players’ shifts with having to hunt down the puck after losing faceoffs does not bode well for scoring totals. Silver lining? They were a combined 8-for-15 in the offensive zone in this game.
-- Mike Green got a ton of ice time again – 27:35. In two games he has been on the ice for 94:32 and has seen only two goals scored against while on ice (ok, that’s two of five even strength goals).
-- Mathieu Perreault skated a total of 4:58 in ice time last night, bringing his total to 8:50 in his two games. The total ice time is less than 16 of the other 17 skaters recorded last night. One has to think Eric Fehr is going to get a sweater sooner rather than later.
-- Braden Holtby looks to be playing at about 95 percent of NHL speed. And that is quite enough to compile a 5.05 goals against average and a .863 save percentage. His .706 save percentage on the penalty kill is 36th of 43 goalies having played so far. We’ll chalk that up to its being early…right?
In the end, the Caps are not very good at the moment. One can rationalize this away by saying it’s early, new coach, new systems, blah blah blah. It has to stop…soon. Or this season can get away from them by Presidents Day. This is not 1995 when there were no Bettman points. Teams earning those points late might have enough of a buffer to hold off a charging Caps team late that is trying to climb out of a hole.
Moral?... Stop digging!