If you are a Baltimore Ravens fan and a Washington Capitals fan (which is not a far stretch) then last night’s home loss to the Winnipeg Jets does not bother you all that much. The reason is when you consider the last time the Caps lost a home opener was also the last time the Baltimore Ravens were in the Super Bowl.
As a Ravens fan, I look for any coincidences I can find to point to a victory in New Orleans, even if it has nothing to do with football. The last time the Caps dropped a home opener was Oct. 6, 2000, vs.Los Angeles Kings. Until the Winnipeg Jets defeated the Capitals 4-2 last night before the 154th consecutive sell-out at Verizon Center, the Capitals were 10-0-0 in their last 10 home openers, outscoring their opponents 48-21 during that span.
Ironically, the Capitals allowed four goals to the Kings that night as Ron Wilson’s team tallied just once off the stick of now Caps assistant coach Calle Johansson. The Capitals started the 2000 season 0-3-3 before winning their first game against the New Jersey Devils, whom they play on Friday following a Thursday tilt with the Montreal Canadians.
Last night, the Capitals still appeared to be a team lost in transition. Alex Ovechkin continues to look lost on the penalty kill and Braden Holtby has not found a rhythm close to what he displayed during the 2012 playoffs.
Washington is now off to its first 0-2 starts since 1996-97 and to make matters worse, both losses have come to divisional opponents. What is particularly disturbing about the loss was the Jets were playing its third game in four days. Winnipeg came to D.C following a 2-1 shootout loss at Boston on Monday afternoon. The Jets found navigating around the District challenging once they arrived considering the road closures for the Presidential Inauguration.
The Capitals were rested and ready and despite grabbing an early 1-0 lead off a Matt Hendricks goal, Washington came out flat, never able to sustain any consistent pressure on Jets goalie Ondrea Pavelec, who stopped 32 of 34 Washington shots.
Pavelec evened his lifetime mark against the Capitals; he is now 9-9-1 with two shutouts, a 2.65 GAA and a .919 save pct. In his first nine appearances (eight starts) against Washington, Pavelec was 1-7 with a 4.11 GAA and a .876 save pct. In his last 12 games (11 starts) against the Capitals, Pavelec is now 8-2-1 with two shutouts, a 1.58 GAA and a .950 save pct.
PENALTY KILLING FUTILITY:
Following a pair of penalties in the second half of the opening period, the Jets tied the game and then took the lead. Joel Ward was called for tripping in his own offense zone and as a result, the Jets Evander Kane tied the game at 12:34. Following a John Carlson delay of game penalty after flipping the puck over the defensive end board, Jets captain Andrew Ladd put his team ahead to stay at 16:26.
The last time the Caps allowed more than one power-play goal in consecutive games was Nov. 17-19, 2011. Washington was mired in a losing 10 of 15 games that eventually cost Bruce Boudreau his job. The Caps allowed two power-play goals (on five attempts) in a 4-1 loss at Winnipeg on Nov. 17, 2011. Two nights later, the Caps surrendered three power-play goals to the Maple Leafs during an embarrassing 7-1 defeat at Toronto.
Washington has now allowed five power play goals on 10 shorthanded situations to start the year.
Aside from Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec continuing his hot play against the Caps, Evander Kane could easily be considered a Caps Killer as well. Kane’s first period power play marker and his assists on the Jets third goal give him 13 points in 16 career contests against the Capitals.
Braden Holtby was charged with four goals last night and has now allowed 10 through two games. He does not appear to be nearly as sharp as he was in last year’s playoffs and no goal scored against him backed that claim up more than the Jets first goal of the night.
Kane scored while standing in the right corner from the goal line. He fired the puck across the front of the crease and instead of having his stick out ready to play or deflect any shot, the puck bounced off Holtby’s right skate and into the net. I am also not a fan of his unnecessary flopping and was not thrilled to see him lying on the ice for an extended period following the Jets fourth goal of the night.
While I understand that what you see is what you get with Holtby, your teammates can feed off your ability to rebound from allowing tough goals. Holtby has not bounced back very well this season after giving up the soft goal. He allowed two goals on the first two shots he faced in Saturday’s 6-3 loss in Tampa and while the Caps defense is very suspect right now, Holtby needs to find at least a portion of the fire that earned the cage in the playoffs last season.
Head coach Adam Oates experiment with playing Alex Ovechkin on the penalty kill probably needs to be put to bed. On the Jets second PP goal last night, Ovechkin and his stick was a virtual statue as Andrew Ladd walked down the slot and ripped one past Holtby, Ovechkin was the closest Caps player to him. Admittedly, The Great 8 is uncomfortable on the unit and Oates has plenty of options other than Ovie to kill penalties.
Ovie entered the 2013 season having played just 178 minutes and 38 seconds of penalty kill time in his seven-year career. There is a reason that three other head coaches chose to NOT to use Ovechkin when the Caps were a man down. He does not sell out on that end of the ice.
Asked about playing on the unit during the brief training camp last week at Kettler Ice Plex, Ovechkin said, “Of course I have to learn from the different guys. Of course I’m not gonna be first guy out there to PK,” adding that he would probably play the last 30-40 seconds of a penalty kill.
“We’ll see how it goes. I talk to [Oates], and he just ask me ‘What do you think about it? Can you do it?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m gonna learn; I’m gonna teach; I’m gonna do my best to be out there and make some job done.’ Ovechkin finished by saying he has done it before and is OK with it now, but one does not get the sense that he is thrilled with it.
“Why not? Last year I play defensive responsibility. It’s gonna be hard, but it’s gonna be something new for me,” Ovechkin said. “I played PK with Bruce, and I played with Glen. It was not that much time. But how I said, last 30, 40 seconds I can be there and I can do job done.”
Now is simply not the time to get too extreme in transition. The Caps are already at a disadvantage when you consider Washington is adapting to their fifth system change and fourth head coach (Hanlon, Boudreau, Hunter Oates) during the past five seasons.
POTI CHIPPING IN NICELY:
Capitals defenseman Tom Poti did not take long to make an impact in the line-up in terms of ice time contribution. Poti logged 13:20 in Saturday’s season opener, his first NHL action in more than two years. Last night, Poti skated 9:35 in the first period, the most of any Caps skater. By the end of the game, Poti’s ice time was at 21:31 second only to Mike Green’s 27:35 among Washington defensemen.
According to the Capitals Media site, for a span of 11 seasons beginning in 1999-00, Poti averaged better than 20 minutes a night every year, topping out at 25:38 in 2005-06 with the New York Islanders.
The Capitals must find more consistency in the shots on goal category. Just as they were for much of last season, the Caps were outshot heavily during the first two periods. Winnipeg fired 33 of their 39 shots during the first 40-minutes. Washington countered with just 17 shots. The Capitals ended the contest with 34 total, outshooting Winnipeg 17-6 in the final frame but it was too little too late.
Wojtek Wolski led the Caps with five S.O.G last night. John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin were second with four each.
HENDRICKS THE HEART AND SOUL:
The Caps got on the board last night thanks to a goal from Matt Hendricks and a late meaningless power play goal from Troy Brouwer. The Hendricks goal was reviewed after it appeared he deflected the shot off his skate. The goal was counted as good. Brouwer scored with just 1:16 to play in the game.
Hendricks still appears to be the go to guy when the team needs to jump-start their play. Hendricks engaged two different Jets in fights last night in an attempt to get his bench going. He fought Jim Slater at the end of the second period, following Slater’s goal that put his team ahead 4-1.
Hendricks was easily voted the winner on hockeyfights.com but was not given the decision when he took on Chris Thorburn at 14:31 of the third period. Thorburn, who is one of Winnipeg’s tough guys, was awarded the decision on hockeyfights.com.
Thorburn was given a 46.9 percent advantage with Hendricks receiving 32.7 percent of the votes. 20.4 percent ruled the fight a draw. Hendricks said after the game, “I didn’t think we had the energy we needed tonight. One of our keys to success was to put them on their heels, put pucks in their end, get them to turn, get them to work. They played last night and we didn’t make it look like that.”
The Capitals return to home ice on Thursday night to host the Montreal Canadiens before traveling to New Jersey on Friday to play the Eastern Conference Champion, Devils.