The Washington Capitals started the season with an air-tight penalty killing unit, but for the second straight game it let the club down as it gave up all three goals in a 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night.
Kris Letang recorded his first point of the season on a power play early in the first period when, after the Pens worked the puck around the perimeter, Letang went to the net as Conor Sheary sent the puck to the net. Off a goal-mouth scramble, the puck squirted out to the uncovered Letang to the left of goalie Braden Holtby, and he backhanded it over Holtby’s left pad to make it 1-0, 5:22 into the game.
On what would be their fourth power play less than half way into the game, the Pens struck again. As the power play was winding down, Patric Hornqvist chipped a loose puck from the top of the paint over a sprawled Holtby to make it 2-0 at the 8:20 mark of the period. To that point of the contest the Caps were shorthanded a total of 6:49 of 28:20 of total ice time.
The Caps halved the deficit with a little bit of history. For the second time this season a rookie making his NHL debut scored his first career goal. In the last minute of the second period, Lars Eller backhanded a pass to the right wing circle where Christian Djoos was waiting. Djoos blasted a one-timer that beat goalie Matt Murray cleanly over the left pad and inside the post at the 19:20 mark for his first NHL goal to put the Caps on the board.
Whatever momentum the Caps might have generated from the Djoos goal late in the second period, it was ripped away in the first minute of the third period. On their sixth power play of the game, the Pens made it 3-1 when Conor Sheary got inside position of Brooks Orpik at the top of the crease and redirected a Justin Schultz drive past Holtby at the 38-second mark.
The Caps made it interesting mid-way through the period. Nicklas Backstrom feathered a pass over Kris Letang’s stick to Djoos in the left wing circle. Djoos calmly slid the puck around Schultz’ skate to Alex Ovechkin parked at the top of the paint. Ovechkin redirected the puck past Murray’s left pad, and it was 3-2 at the 12:51 mark. The Caps could not find the equalizer, though, and the Pens skated off with a 3-2 win to open the 2017-2018 series between the clubs.
-- Alex Ovechkin’s eighth goal of the season means he has as many or more goals than 14 teams in the NHL.
-- Last season, the Caps did not allow an opponent more than 30 shots in a game until Game 9, when the Winnipeg Jets launched 45 shots on goal in a 6-2 Caps win. With the 36 shots on goal recorded by the Penguins, the Caps have allowed more than 30 shots in each of their first four games. In each of their last three games, the Caps have been on the short end of shots on goal by double digits (minus-16 to Montreal, minus-14 to Tampa Bay, and minus-14 to the Pens).
-- Last season the Caps did not record their third game with ten or more penalty minutes until Game 14 in a 5-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Caps have been charged with ten or more penalty minutes in each of their last three games.
-- Last season, the Caps were not held under 30 shots per game over four consecutive games until Games 12-15. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Caps did not win any of those games in regulation (1-2-1), their only win a 3-2 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Caps have been held under 30 shots in each of their first four games this season.
-- Last season, the Caps did not allow three goals in any of their first four games. They have allowed three or more in three of their first four games this season.
-- The shot attempts last night were not dominated by Pittsburgh, although they did have a 57-54 edge in total. The difference was getting shots to the net. The Pens got 36 of 57 attempts to the net (63.2 percent), while the Caps got only 22 of 54 (40.7 percent) to the net.
-- Alex Ovechkin had almost a third of the Caps’ shots on goal (seven of 22). No one else had more than two, and of the three players who had two, two were defensemen (Christian Djoos and John Carlson).
-- Christian Djoos is the first rookie defenseman to record two or more points in a season (that’s right, in a season, not a game) since the Caps had four blueliners do it in the 2013-2014 season: Alexander Urbom, Patrick Wey, Connor Carrick, and Nate Schmidt. Djoos is now the eighth player from the 2012 draft to appear in a single NHL game. He is the only one-gamer with two points. We think he's likely to get more work.
-- Nicklas Backstrom had an assist. He has perhaps the quietest six points in three games you’ll ever see.
-- Matt Niskanen has had an odd pattern to start the season. He has alternated games with no penalty minutes (Games 1 and 3) with games of four penalty minutes (Games 2 and 4), and he has all eight of his penalty minutes in his two home games, none in his two away games.
In the end…
As we said in the prognosto, “it is never a bad thing to beat the Penguins, but let’s not make too much of it, either.” In that same vein, let’s not make too much of a loss, at least not in the context of the team to which the Caps lost. There are troubling signs, though. The offense so far is “Ovechkin and (insert name of rookie here)” with support from Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. The bottom six forwards and defense have not been heard from much. That lack of bottom half support is reflected in shot deficits. Ovechkin has more shots on goal (25) than the next three forwards combined (Oshie, Jakub Vrana, and Brett Connolly). TheCaps are spending too much time killing penalties. And, of course, they lost both games to the two teams that just might be the class of the Eastern Conference.
But it’s early, right? Yeah, but it can get late pretty quick, too, even for a team with a 2-1-1 record.