Welcome to a new regular feature that will appear once a week online with takeaways – including observations and things to watch moving forward — from the past seven days of the Capitals’ 2011-12 season. So keep an eye out for it and share your thoughts in the comment section below.
On that Beagle-Asham fight. So much has been discussed in recent months about fighting’s role in the NHL, and it came up again following Jay Beagle’s fisticuffs with Arron Asham. It was a rather typical fracas with nothing wrong from a purely rules-based standpoint, and I doubt it would have garnered the attention that it did if not for Asham’s gestures afterward.
After being asked by many about the incident and how it relates to the larger NHL picture, I kept coming back to the same thing: As long as fighting is allowed in the NHL, the morality of knocking another player out or potentially causing him some form of bodily harm is a moot point — it’s a natural by-product of being able to punch an opponent in the face.
To be certain, there are inherent contradictions between that policy and the league’s attempt to remove headshots and minimize concussions, and whether that effort will impact the role of fighting in the league is not a given at this point.
Personally, I’ve never been opposed to fighting in hockey, having accepted it as a self-policing measure ingrained in the sport long ago. But there’s no denying that when the crowd in Pittsburgh cheered madly while a player lay obviously injured on the ice, regardless if the applause was for Asham’s victory in the fight, it was an uncomfortable, uneasy moment. (Full disclosure: I was born and raised in a suburb of Pittsburgh.)
I didn’t truly understand why so many people use the popular crack about “going to a fight and seeing a hockey game break out” before then.
Remember when the Capitals were elated when Tomas Vokoun fell into their laps on July 2? Maybe not during his debut, but during the subsequent two games he showed why Washington was so excited to add him.
It’s easy to see Vokoun grow increasingly comfortable in the net each night, the more work he gets. The 35-year-old, who was used to fending off a barrage of shots in each of the past four years with Florida, acknowledged that he’s learning how to deal with intermittent workloads after leading the Capitals to a 2-1 win over Ottawa.
Whether it was by design that Vokoun made that second start against the Penguins rather than a reaction to Michal Neuvirth’s injury — Coach Bruce Boudreau wouldn’t say — it probably helped the veteran settle in with his new team to get that stretch of starts.
As for the other goaltender... A week ago, Neuvirth had started the season opener and looked ready to make every start a tough call on the coaching staff. On Saturday night, he was limping as he walked down a Verizon Center hallway, avoiding putting much weight on his right foot, which means we could see plenty more of Vokoun in the near future.
While Boudreau maintains that Neuvirth’s conditioning isn’t worsening, it doesn’t change the fact that the 23-year-old has not been able to participate in normal practice for four days and struggled to push off and move laterally during an on-ice workout Saturday morning.
Last season, Neuvirth was the beneficiary when injuries sidelined Semyon Varlamov at the start of the year. So while Vokoun may see more starts, I’m sure Neuvirth is eager to return to prove his readiness.
Perfectly imperfect. The Capitals are 4-0 for the first time to start a season since 1997-98, which was the same year they went to the Stanley Cup final. I doubt anyone is getting too carried away with the comparisons given that in this small sample size, Washington has still shown imperfections — particularly in its own zone.
Roman Hamrlik put it bluntly after the Capitals’win over Ottawa Saturday: “It’s been only four games, but the neutral zone, the defensive zone, it’s the biggest problem right now that I see.”
Take Peter Regin’s goal on Saturday, which was brought to the Senators by a series of Washington miscues. First, an unwise pass by Dennis Wideman was tipped in the netutral zone, sending the play to the Capitals’ end, where Nicklas Backstrom tried to regain possession but turned it over to the Senators in the corner.
At that point, the quartet of Hamrlik, Wideman, Backstrom and Troy Brouwer set up in a box, as though they were on a penalty kill, and were chasing the play, unable to anticipate what the Senators may do next or take their options away. Nick Foligno sent the puck out to the right point, where David Runblad took a shot on net and reminded everyone that Alex Ovechkin was on the ice. But Ovechkin was floating between the top of the circles and point, not marking an opponent, not taking a pass away and doing little to pressure Runblad prior to the shot or anyone else after.
Vokoun stopped Runblad’s shot but the rebound went to Foligno as the Capitals goaltender dove in desperation for the puck. All four Capitals reacted to the rebound but no one picked up Regin as he slid from the slot toward the goal line, picking up the lose puck and making a nice shot to put Ottawa on the scoreboard.
There were four Capitals in or directly on top of the crease when Regin, who was likely Hamrlik’s responsibility, scores, and they were all frozen without the time to do anything about his chance.
Yes, it’s only October, but forming the correct habits now is important to make sure there’s no one standing around helpless to prevent a goal too often moving forward.