With 48 games in 99 days, there’s not a lot of time to digest what happened in any single contest. So as we churn through this compressed Capitals season, I’ll be rounding up my thoughts and analysis of each game here.
>> The Capitals had eight, yes eight, power-play chances against the Devils on Friday night. Five of them, including separate five-on-threes, occurred in the third period in a span of 5 minutes 23 seconds.
Despite all those chances, the Capitals recorded only four shots on goal and scored just once while playing a man up: Mike Ribeiro’s tally came during a two-man advantage at 12:45 and cut the score to 2-1.
What if the Capitals’ power-play unit – which is 3 for 20 on the season so far – was clicking? Would they have cashed in on more of those chances and won the game? It certainly wasn’t for a lack of opportunity.
>> One of Washington’s most easily correctable flaws at this stage of the season should be the number of trips it has made to the penalty box. The Capitals have been whistled for 25 minor penalties so far this season, including six at New Jersey on Friday.
Perhaps the most alarming trend, however, is how frequently the Capitals find themselves trying to kill off a five-on-three. They’ve faced a two-man deficit in three of the first four games, giving up a critical goal each time. It’s a bad formula when the penalty kill is 16 for 24 on the season.
In the second period against New Jersey, after a series of stellar saves by goaltender Michal Neuvirth, the compounding penalties took their toll again. Nicklas Backstrom went off for tripping and 18 seconds into that penalty kill Jay Beagle joined him in the box, also for tripping.
It gave the Devils 1:42 of a two-man advantage late in the middle stanza but it wouldn’t take anywhere near that long. A rebound off a shot by David Clarkson popped out to an unguarded Patrik Elias for an easy goal that gave New Jersey a 2-0 lead.
“It feels like we’ve been killing five-on-threes every game,” Joel Ward said. “If we could kind of prevent those and get a few on our side it’d be a big benefit for us. It’s essentially a slam dunk. You definitely hope you can stop it, but you can’t give those up all day. That will come back to bite you.”
>>Coach Adam Oates shuffled the entire lineup to face New Jersey. From start to finish, grinders Jay Beagle (14:19 of ice time) and Joey Crabb (12:38) played alongside Alex Ovechkin (22:29).
“I wouldn’t call it the first line,” Oates said. “It’s just more to give Jay and Crabber – Crabber played a lot of hockey games so he had some real good jump – and just let them play with Ovi for 60 minutes so they can skate.”
Oates has talked about conditioning every day since training camp started, or at least it certainly seems that way.
The shake-up, he said, was designed to make sure that each line had players who he knew were in game shape. In addition to Ovechkin skating with new linemates, Nicklas Backstrom worked with Wojtek Wolski and Troy Brouwer; Ribeiro with Jason Chimera and Joel Ward; and Marcus Johansson skated in between Matt Hendricks and Eric Fehr.
“Trying to find balance and chemistry,” Oates said. “The biggest subject we’ve been talking about is conditioning and just trying to make sure that we have someone in the line that has got game shape, total game shape.”
Defensively, Oates brought in Jeff Schultz and John Erskine for “fresh legs” and sat Tom Poti and Roman Hamrlik. Schultz played 9:04, paired with Tomas Kundratek, while Erskine skated 17:30 in his season debut while working with John Carlson.
>>Speaking of Carlson, the 23-year-old blue-liner has now been on the ice for seven consecutive goals against and 12 of the league-high 17 they’ve allowed so far this season.
On the play that resulted in the Devils’ first goal Friday night, it was Brouwer, not Carlson, who hurried to get back to help Kundratek as Jacob Josefson raced toward the net. Carlson glided back into the zone, didn’t take a single stride after crossing the Capitals’ blue line and only tried to reach Stephen Gionta with his stick when the puck was already on its way to the Devils winger for a goal.
Earlier in the week, assistant coach Calle Johansson said that he believes focus can be an issue for Carlson.
“He’s a great defenseman. Sometimes with John maybe the game comes a little, almost, too easy. He is such a talented guy, so hockey to him is so natural and so easy. I think maybe focus for the whole game,” Johansson said. “Sometimes when things come easy to you, you take it for granted. And that’s when you’re not on top maybe all the time. I think just the focus part would be for him to think about a little bit.”