Photo credit: Nick Wass
Dale Hunter hoped to lead the Washington Capitals to victory in his first game as head coach. He’d have to go through Jaroslav Halak to get there, but more importantly he’d have to get a flagging Capitals offense moving.
Alex Ovechkin threaded the needle, setting up Nick Backstrom to record the first goal of the game. T.J. Oshie cleaned up a Alex Steen’s slapshot to tie the score at 1-1. Matt D’Agostini caught a lucky bounce and wrapped it around to give St. Louis the lead. Despite a late-game flurry, it ended like that. Blues beat Caps 2-1.
- Tomas Vokoun got his 20th career assist on the Backstrom goal. Also, 28 saves for the big guy, which should have been enough for a win.
- Matt Hendricks had a little scrap with Scott Nichol during the third period, perhaps just to give Alex Semin some company in the 30+ PIM club.
- Speaking of which, no penalties for Alex Semin. This is apparently worth a bullet now.
- The leadership of Jason Arnott has been dearly lacking among the Capitals this season. Off-season pick-up Troy Brouwer welcomed Jason back to Verizon Center with a stick in the face. Arnott bled, and the Caps had to kill a double minor.
- That 5-minute window of penalty killing in the second period doomed Washington’s offensive life. Natch.
- Alex Ovechkin‘s assist on the Backstrom goal was lovely and smart, but he otherwise continued to struggle with the puck. Ovechkin did not fire his first shot on goal until the third period. That could be expected as AO missed a big chunk of play during the 2nd period PK epoch. Total ice-time? 16:26, second lowest of the season.
- Catching a puck somewhere on his arm, Marcus Johansson left the ice at the tail end of the second period. He returned in the third period apparently unfazed.
- Jaroslav Halak had to stop hundreds of pucks to beat the Capitals in the 2010 playoffs. Tonight he needed only stop 18.
- The troubled Washington power play improved not even a little tonight. Apparently they don’t commit a lot of penalties in St. Louis.
- Here’s a link to the Corsi/Fenwick totals for this game. Even if you don’t understand the stats, just absorb all the negative numbers next to Caps players’ names and wallow in sadness.
- No goals against for Roman Hamrlik. This is apparently worth a bullet now.
With a marginally improved– or at least pleasantly masked– defensive performance, the Caps nonetheless struggled in the offensive zone. They got pushed to the margins, where they’d either cycle ineffectually or turn it over. More frequently, zone entries would be aborted by a St. Louis poke check or poor puck control in general.
Those who expected Dale Hunter to be a panacea– an instant cure– deserve their disappointment. We must remain patient as this team tries to find itself. Installing a Capitals institution behind the bench might kick start the process, but we fans need to prepare ourselves for a month-long peyote-adled animal spirit journey.
We’ll need to wait a bit longer to see what kind of change Hunter can effect. Maybe all the way to Thursday, when Sidney Crosby and the Penguins bring their infuriatingly excellent brand of hockey to Chinatown.
But we can’t wait too long. This roster is packed to the salary cap, designed to win a championship soon. Scapegoating a coach might buy some time, but there is still a ticking clock for this team.