Last night the the Capitals blew a multi-goal lead against the Winnipeg Jets, for the second time this week. And for the second consecutive time they managed to pull out the “W,” winning 4-3 in overtime on a record-tying Alex Ovechkin power play one-timer.
Overall the Caps had a solid game at even strength, where they scored all three of their regulation goals. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t allow some dangerous chances. This even strength shot location chart shows the Caps allowing many shot attempts from Braden Holtby’s doorstep.
Through the first nine games of the season, defensemen for the Capitals have accrued 15 assists. That comes to 38 percent of the total number of assists for the entire team. All six d-men who have suited up for the Caps have gotten at least two assists; only six forwards can say that. Even Karl Alzner has gotten on the scoreboard, recording the only two goals scored by Capitals defensemen this season.
This has all been by design (minus Alzner scoring). Washington’s defensemen have been more active in the Capitals offensive game on the rush and in the zone. Barry Trotz has been stressing the need to work the puck from high-to-low in the offensive zone for his entire tenure in Washington, and he — along with assistant coach Todd Rierden — doubled down on that point in training camp.
Here are the three things I’ve noticed that have made the Caps defensemen more productive this season.
For two seasons, Evgeny Kuznetsov has terrorized NHL teams with his twister pass. As the Caps center would skate around the net, he would blindly pass the puck behind his body to a crease-crashing teammate. The goalie, assuming Kuznetsov would complete his revolution around the net, would guard against a wraparound shot or forehand pass. That assumption would result in Kuznetsov’s teammate having a wide open net to shoot at on the short side.
Tuesday night in Winnipeg, Kuznetsov played some hockey chess and flipped the script on his opponent. Kuzy did not attempt the twister pass to setup Marcus Johansson’s fifth goal in three games, but the Jets assumed one was coming. And that’s why Johansson scored easily.
Last night the Washington Capitals eked out a 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets on the back of a last-minute (literally) Jay Beagle goal. Outshot 45 to 27, it felt like the Caps were increasingly under siege as the game progressed. And indeed they did forfeit a 2-goal lead, for the third time this season.
But the underlying numbers could’ve been worse. Here is the shot attempt chart at five on five (unadjusted.)
All power plays go through slumps over an 82-game season. When a slump happens at the start of the season, it’s a lot more noticeable because they’re the only numbers we see. This is the case with the Caps power play, who, with two goals on 19 opportunities, is currently 28th in the league.
We know this slump won’t last. There’s too much talent on this team for the slump to last. But just because the numbers are likely to go up and the sample size is small doesn’t mean there aren’t other things going on.
Last night the Washington Capitals lost their third game of the season, 4-1 to the Edmonton Oilers. Through the first two periods the game was mostly a sleepy affair, with neither team getting much going and the Oilers gaining a two-goal lead off of a couple of deflections. Despite an Alex Ovechkin goal to start off the third period (his fourth of the season), the Caps couldn’t catch up and ultimately allowed another pair, resulting in their first losing streak in a long time.
How did the battles within the game go? Well, considering the final score, it was mostly okay for the boys from Washington. Shot attempts at five-on-five ended up being exactly tied at 45-45. The Caps actually out-attempted the Oilers overall, 64-57.
We are six games into the season and the Caps are 3-2-1. But oh boy, after losing 4-1 Wednesday night to Edmonton you’d think this team was coming down the home stretch and in danger of missing the playoffs. Braden Holtby stated that the team was facing adversity while Matt Niskanen said the team was looking average. It’s not a bad thing that the team is recognizing parts of their game could get better.
But can all of us non-Caps players pump the brakes on being concerned about this team just yet? For one thing, it’s only six freaking games into the season, so regardless of how the Caps have played, it’s too early to make sweeping judgments about this team. And here’s the thing, they’ve actually played decently in the six games.
So, let’s all take a deep breath and talk about why, even when not accounting for sample size, there is no reason to be down on the Caps.
Opinions vary widely on Tom Wilson. Many fans around the league think he’s a dirty player while Caps fans forever debate whether he’s a bust or not. To all of this I have the following to say: who cares?
Today, our purpose here is not to make sweeping judgements for or against the Caps fourth line forward. We are also not going to compare Wilson to other first round picks and assess the judgement of selecting him in the first round.
Today, we are here to recognize Tom Wilson for being one of the Caps most trusted and effective penalty killers.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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