The Washington Capitals will open the 2012-13 home portion of their regular-season schedule tonight against the Winnipeg Jets at Verizon Center. Washington dropped its first contest of the season 6-3 in Tampa Bay on Saturday night and will face its second Southeast Division opponent in as many games tonight.
Tonight’s game is the start of four games in six nights for a Washington team that looked as if they need more practice time than game time during Saturday’s loss in Tampa.
Saturday’s loss showed why not having a training camp could hurt teams with new head coaches, like the Capitals. Washington did not perform well and failed to play sound fundamental hockey, which led to a lot mistakes and penalties. While one playoff hero from last season shined for Washington, one did not. Caps net minder Braden Holtby allowed goals on the first two shots he faced and subsequently, Washington was never able to hold a lead. Holtby allowed six goals on the 34 Tampa shots.
He did not get much help from his defense or his special teams, especially his penalty killers. Washington was called for six consecutive penalties over a span of 30 minutes and 21 seconds and the Bolts took advantage scoring three power play goals.
According to the Washington Capitals Mike Vogel, including last spring’s Stanley Cup playoffs, Washington had gone 40 games without allowing as many as three power-play goals in a game prior to Saturday’s trio of Lightning strikes. The Caps were victimized by three power-play goals in a 5-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks at Verizon Center last Feb. 13.
Despite the three-goal loss, there were some encouraging signs. The playoff hero that continued his post season success was Caps right-winger, Joel Ward.
Ward, who scored the Caps biggest goal of the 2012 playoffs when he slid a Game 7 rebound past Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins in overtime to give the Caps a 4-3 series victory, scored two goals in Tampa on Saturday night, one on the power play.
The two goals by Ward are already one third of his total goal scoring production from all of last season and was the first time Ward has scored twice in a contest since he did so as a member of the Nashville Predators during Game 5 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs (second round) against the Vancouver Canucks.
New Caps players also had a positive impact on Saturday’s contest. Mike Ribeiro, Wojtek Wolski and Jack Hillen all made their Capitals debuts on Saturday in Tampa Bay. Ribeiro recorded his first two assists as a Capital while Wolski tallied his first goal with Washington.
For the first time since the 2002-03 season and just the fourth time in franchise history (1978-79, 1997-98 and 2002-03), the Capitals opened the season with a new head coach. Oates, the 16th head coach in franchise history and fourth to have played for the team, made his NHL head-coaching debut in the place where his short coaching career began on Saturday night.
Oates was an assistant coach with the Lightning in 2009-10 and he spent the last two seasons as an assistant with the New Jersey Devils.
Oates leads his team to the ice tonight against a Winnipeg team that played the Capitals tough last season. Winnipeg handed the Caps a tough home loss late in March last season that had many doubting the resolve of Washington.
After forging a 3-0 second-period lead over Winnipeg in a key game for playoff positioning, Washington gave back two of those goals in a span of just 71 seconds in the second period. Then Washington spent virtually the entire third period chasing the Jets and playing the equivalent of a prevent defense, which prevented the Caps from winning the game. The result was a huge setback at the time, as Washington dropped a stunning 4-3 overtime loss to the never say die Jets.
The loss ruined the Capitals perfect 22-0-0 record in games in which they led after 40 minutes. They had also not coughed up a lead of three goals in any of their 74 previous games in 2011-12. Winnipeg was 0-22-3 in games in which they had trailed after 40 minutes.
The Caps rebounded to make the playoffs but the Jets managed to even the season series at 2-2-2. Five of the six matchups between these two teams were decided by one goal last season. Tonight’s contest is the first of five meetings between these two clubs this season.
GOOD TO BE HOME:
The Capitals finished 2011-12 with a home record of 26-11-4, the eighth-best home record in the league. They surrendered just 99 goals on home ice last season, the 10th best mark in the NHL. Washington is 23-8-3-4 at home against Winnipeg all-time and are12-6-2 in their last 20 contests vs. the Jets.
Despite having a relatively young in age roster, Washington enters the 2013 campaign considered a veteran team. They do not have a rookie on the opening-night roster for the second-consecutive season and the last time the Capitals opened a season with a rookie on the roster was in 2010-11. The Caps had three first-year players take the ice to start that season (John Carlson, Marcus Johansson and Michal Neuvirth).
There is a lot of homegrown talent on the roster as Washington has 11 players on the opening night roster that were originally drafted by the team. Nine players were signed as free agents while three were acquired via trade. Defenseman Tom Poti appeared in his first NHL game in over two seasons on Jan. 19 at Tampa Bay and recorded his first assist since Dec. 21, 2010, vs. New Jersey. Prior to Saturday, Poti’s last NHL game came with the Capitals on Jan.12, 2011, also at Tampa Bay.
The Capitals have gone 10-0-0 in their last 10 home openers and have not lost a home opener since Oct. 6, 2000, vs.Los Angeles. They have outscored their opponents 48-21 in those 10 games.
WHO FLIES THE JETS:
Alex Ovechkin led the Capitals with six points (four goals, two assists) in six games against Winnipeg last season and has recorded 69 points (34 goals, 35 assists) in 48 career games against the Winnipeg franchise, his highest total against any NHL team.
While Caps coach Adam Oates hasn’t settled on a goaltender for Tuesday’s game against the Jets, Michal Neuvirth may not be a bad start for Oates first home game. Neuvy is 6-2-1 with a shutout, a 2.74 GAA and a .918 save pct. lifetime against the Jets.
While the Jets were one of the bets teams in the NHL last season, they were one of the worst on the road. Winnipeg was 14-22-5 on the road last season, 27th among the 30 NHL clubs and 14th among Eastern Conference teams.
Winnipeg finished 11th in the NHL with 221 goals last season. It was 10th with 158 goals in 5-on-5 play. So far this season, Winnipeg’s offense has struggled. The Jets have managed just two goals in 125 minutes over their first two games. One of those was a power-play goal from Dustin Byfuglien, the other an even-strength strike from fourth-liner Chris Thorburn.
Evander Kane scored 30 goals for the Jets last season. He was the youngest player in the league to reach that plateau and Captain Andrew Ladd had 28. Bryan Little had 24 and seven other players , six of whom are still on the roster, scored at least 10.
Byfuglien (10) and Kane (eight) have combined to account for nearly a third of Winnipeg’s 55 shots on goal thus far this season. Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec was solid in Monday’s game against the B’s, but was less than perfect vs. the Ottawa Senators in Winnipeg on Saturday, as the Jets fell 4-1.
Al Montoya may get the start tonight but Pavelec started 67 of Winnipeg’s 82 games last season. Lifetime against the Capitals, he is 8-9-1 with two shutouts, a 2.69 GAA and a .916 save pct. In his first nine appearances (eight starts) against Washington, Pavelec was 1-7 with a 4.11 GAA and an .876 save pct. In his last 11 outings (10 starts) against the Capitals, Pavelec went 7-2-1 with a very tidy 1.53 GAA and a .950 save pct.
CAPS LOOKING TO START QUICK IN SHORT SEASON:
Returning to the playoffs for many of last season’s post- season qualifiers may not be as hard as many think however. The last time the NHL played a shortened 48 game tilt in 95-95 , all but two of the 16 teams that made the playoffs in 1993-94 returned. All eight Western Conference playoff teams in 1995 were the same as '94, and six of the eight teams in the Eastern were the same. The only changes were the Quebec Nordiques and Philadelphia Flyers, who replaced the New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens -- and neither newcomer made the playoffs because of the shorter schedule. Quebec finished first in the East and went on to win the Cup as the Colorado Avalanche in 1996; the Flyers were third, beginning a stretch of 11 seasons in which they would finish no worse than fifth in the East.
Last season, with 82 games 15 of the 16 teams that owned playoff berths after 48 games still had them at the end of the season. The lone change was that the Phoenix Coyotes supplanted the Minnesota Wild, who faded after a fast start. Thus, while it's not impossible to "steal" a playoff berth in a shorter season, it doesn't figure to be easy.
This is all-good news in the Nation’s Capital. Since the 2007-08 seasons, the Capitals averaged 26.8 wins and 58.6 points. However, when factoring in the 2007-08 season the better barometer would be to measure Washington’s final 48 games when they posted a 30-13-5 record after Bruce Boudreau took over just before Thanksgiving for Glen Hanlon and led the Caps to a stunning turnaround, winning coach of the year honors.
Using the final 48 in 07-08, the Caps average 28.4 wins and 61.8 points.
Starting fast will the key to having a good season for every NHL team in 2013. Twelve games into a regular 82 game season represent just 14.6 percent of the season but now 12 games is a quarter of campaign.
Since the start of the 2008-09 season, Washington checks out just fine in that category as well. The Caps have started quickly enough not to worry in the past four seasons. They have averaged 8.5 wins over the first dozen games during that span, including last season when they began the season with a franchise best 7-0-0- mark. That included wins over Detroit, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in the process.
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