After a solid start to the season, the Washington Capitals lost their second straight game in regulation on Wednesday night. It was the first time that had happened in 19 months. On Saturday night, they hope to get back on track as the opening month of the NHL season winds down when they face the Vancouver Canucks in the second part of Washington’s four game western Canadian road trip.
The Capitals and Canucks face similar problems: they started the year off well, but now they can’t score.
“We probably have to get a few more pucks on net and probably get a dirty goal rather than a pretty goal,” Canucks coach Willie Desjardins said Friday night. “We have to find a way.
Washington and Vancouver are tied for the second fewest goals in the NHL with 14.
On Wednesday night, the Washington Capitals lost their second straight game in regulation for the first time in 19 months. Hours earlier head coach Barry Trotz had dismissed Washington’s struggles as “small samples” that just gave the media “something to write about.” At the Capitals’ first practice since Washington’s 4-1 defeat to the Edmonton Oilers, Trotz gave the media plenty to write about all by himself, dramatically tweaking the forward lines.
“The coaching staff feels something fresh is going to happen,” new first line right wing Justin Williams said Tuesday in Vancouver, where the Capitals will play the Canucks Saturday night. “Obviously we need it. We’re not scoring enough goals, and that’s pretty evident, it’s clear.”
The last time the Washington Capitals lost two straight games in regulation was March 13, 2015. Curtis Glencross led the way for the Capitals with a first period goal in the team’s 4-2 defeat to the Dallas Stars.
Nineteen months later, the Capitals crashed back to earth after a season of tremendous success. On Wednesday night, the Caps fell 4-1 in Edmonton to Oilers after losing their previous matchup against New York 4-2. The team has now won three of its six games.
Last year, the Capitals had one of the best regular-season performances of all time, capturing the Presidents’ Trophy. Despite bringing back a nearly identical roster, the 2016-17 campaign has gotten off to a choppy start.
“We got to perform better,” defensemen Matt Niskanen said after Wednesday’s loss. “Guys need to do their jobs. It’s a little uncomfortable here tonight after the game.”
For years, the Edmonton Oilers were in the cellar of the standings, raking in high draft picks like fall leaves. Last offseason, the Oilers rebuilt their rebuild, trading away number one selections Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov while signing Milan Lucic to a seven-year contract. Connor McDavid, a generational talent with just 45 games of NHL experience, was given the C.
With the new captain, the youngest in NHL history, and a half billion dollar new arena, the Oilers have now won five of their first six games in the 2016-17 season, holding the top spot in the Western Conference and placing second in the NHL.
“It’ll interesting to see how they do this year because I think they have all the talent to be a much better team than they have been recently, with McDavid leading the way especially,” Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen said Tuesday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “It’ll be for sure a different Oilers team than it’s been the last couple years.”
Special teams was key to the Washington Capitals’ success last season. The team has long been known for its vaunted power play, but the Caps captured the Presidents’ Trophy in large part due to their brilliant penalty kill, which stopped their opponents 85.2 percent of the time, second only to the Anaheim Ducks.
This year, however, the Caps PK is faltering. They are the fourth-worst unit in the NHL, allowing goals 28.6 percent of the time that their enemy has the man-advantage. Washington has allowed power play goals in four of the five games they’ve played, including a Jimmy Vesey tally Saturday night against the New York Rangers.
“I think it’s just little things here and there we need to work on and continue to get better on,” center Jay Beagle said. “We’re obviously not happy. That’s not good enough.”
Tuesday night, Dmitry Orlov delivered a perfect hip check to Matt Duchene. The hit lit up both Duchene and social media, garnering nearly 4,000 retweets on the NHL’s Twitter account in 24 hours.
On Wednesday, Orlov spoke about his highlight-reel play with local media. The Russian defenseman was quick to show concern for the Avalanche forward, saying “I think it’s good that [Duchene] didn’t get hurt and was still in the game… and that we win that game.”
Orlov’s full comments on the hit are below.
In 2014, Andre Burakovsky came into the league as a 19-year-old rookie from Sweden. Out of training camp, he won a job as the Washington Capitals’ second line center due to his skill and speed. But before the new year, he was playing for the Hershey Bears, demoted to Washington’s farm club after a string of healthy scratches and games on the forth line. Burakovsky eventually made it back up to the Capitals, but continued to see time in the press box. Last season, Burakovsky began the season on the power play, but lost his job after another poor start, scoring two goals in his first 32 games.
“I knew this was going to be a tough league but I didn’t expect it to be that tough every single game,” Burakovsky said Monday. “If you’re not prepared the proper way and you’re not there 100 percent, you will have a really tough game.”
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.”
For a decade, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have been dominant offensive forces for the Washington Capitals, spending most of their time in DC together on one line. Over this time Ovechkin has scored 50 goals six times, becoming the greatest goal scorer in the NHL, while Backstrom has hit 70 points during five campaigns.
The Capitals spent years trying to find a quality, second line center to make the team more than just one line of firepower. They finally found one in Evgeny Kuznetsov, who flourished in his second NHL season last year, leading the team with 77 points. Some of his 57 assists, fourth most in the league, were spellbinding. So now, at least to start, Backstrom is the one backing him up — at least on the depth chart.
During Thursday’s 3-2 shootout loss, Backstrom assisted on both of his team’s goals, making enlightened and deft passes that led to two goals for Andre Burakovsky. Backstrom also had five shots on goal and won 16 of his 23 faceoff attempts. The trio was rounded out by Marcus Johansson, a Swede like Backstrom and Burakovsky.
“The Backstrom line was really good,” head coach Barry Trotz told reporters after the game. “All the other lines had spurts where there were okay, but they also weren’t as as consistent as that line. That line was our most effective by a large margin today.”
Last night, the Washington Capitals fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 in a shootout. One of the most electric moments of the night was watching Justin Williams drag Evgeni Malkin to the ice by his neck.
Apparently, this should not be much of a surprise since the two have quite the history.
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