On Saturday night, the Caps finally lost their first game of the season in regulation. They lost, in part, because their penalty kill allowed a goal for the fourth time in five games and fell to 27th in the NHL in PK percentage.
After the game, Lars Eller said that, while there’s always room for improvement, he felt like the difference so far for the PK unit has been that they haven’t been getting the bounces. Here’s the thing: Eller’s right. So far, the Caps penalty kill hasn’t been allowing shots or scoring chances at an alarming rate, it’s just that pucks have been going in on a more regular basis, something that can happen in five game samples.
On Saturday night the Capitals suffered their first regulation loss of the season, by a score of 4-2 to the New York Rangers. Two of those goals came from touted prospect and Hobey Baker winner Jimmy Vesey. While overall it’s hard to complain about the start to the season, some negative trends have begun to emerge.
This was the second consecutive game in which the Caps coughed up a two-goal lead (and then some). And special teams are struggling, with the penalty kill only 71.4 percent effective (4th worst in the league) and the 12.5 percent power play not getting properly set up in the zone.
One of the most beloved superstars in hockey history, Teemu Selanne, was back in Winnipeg this weekend to participate in the Heritage Alumni Game between the Jets and Oilers. He had a great time.
“Two weeks training and I would be ready for the NHL,” Selanne quipped at the Jets’ alumni practice Friday, according to Finnish reporter Sami Hoffren.
While Selanne was not actually pondering a comeback, he did have some positive things to say about Patrik Laine, the Jets’ new face of the franchise. Selanne believes Laine could break his rookie record of 76 goals.
On Thursday night, the Capitals continued their strong start to the season with a 4-2 win against the Florida Panthers. They are now one of only three teams in the NHL yet to lose in regulation. The game itself was mostly solid, except for losing both a 2-goal lead and a piece of Daniel Winnik’s ear when he blocked a shot with his head in the third period.
The game also featured Alex Ovechkin’s 90th career game winning goal (a lovely tip-in off a Niskanen blast), and the 750th goal by someone named Jaromir Jagr.
After beginning the year zero for eight on the power play, the Capitals burst out of their goalless drought Tuesday night with two goals in five opportunities. Nicklas Backstrom may be the most important player on the Capitals’ power play, according to the CSN poll between periods last game, but some love needs to be given to the point men. When John Carlson and now, Dmitry Orlov get shots through and feed pucks accurately to Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals power play is virtually unstoppable.
For the first three games of the season, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin have been split up. Though this separation may not last long, and though they have spent some time apart during their years in DC, splitting them up is definitely a deviation from the norm. One impact of this change is forcing opponents to make a tough decision in how to match lines against the Caps.
But another major impact is the way the Caps are matching up against the opposition’s top line. Barry Trotz had generally preferred a power vs power matchup, often pitting the Backstrom-Ovechkin line against the other team’s top offensive line. With the duo broken up, the tough task of playing against the opponent’s top line each night has been assigned to the Caps second line of Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky, and Backstrom.
So far, through an admittedly tiny sample of three games, the results have been outstanding. Not only has the Caps’ second line stifled the offense of the opponent’s top line, but by controlling the puck and going on the attack, they’ve been forcing the top offensive weapons of the Caps’ opponent to spend more time on defense than offense.
Over the past four seasons, the power play has been the lifeblood of the Washington Capitals.
Since 2013, nearly one-fourth of the team’s goals have been scored on the man-advantage. Impressive regular season numbers and Alex Ovechkin’s resurgence, led by his one-timers from the Ovi Spot, have all benefited greatly from Washington’s power play firepower. This year, however, one of league’s perennial top units is off to a slow start. Through two games and eight opportunities, the normally deadly Washington PP has come up with nothing.
“We’re leaving a lot on the ice,” John Carlson, who anchors the point on the first power play unit said after Saturday’s win over the Islanders. “For our skill level, our talent, we should have more goals than we do.”
Nicklas Backstrom had a strong opening night for the Caps. He had two beautiful assists, a 59 percent shot attempt percentage, and won 69 percent of the draws he took. Barry Trotz was thrilled with the way his second line played. Backstrom was the driving force behind the success.
Backstrom’s assist on the Caps’ second goal was what I kept going back to when re-watching parts of the game. From the patience and vision shown, to the execution of the pass, this play was a perfect example of what makes Backstrom one the the NHL’s best centers.
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