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.
>>After last night’s 6-3 loss to Pittsburgh, goaltender Braden Holtby cited problems with the Capitals “mental game” while others said they were “deflated” by allowing a pair of goals in the second period and couldn’t recover (read their full comments in my story for Monday’s paper). Told of the players’ comments, Coach Adam Oates disagreed and said he thought the team played well.
“I don’t see it that way. I don’t. I thought we played a good hockey game,” Oates said. “They had 14 shots, you know? We played a very good hockey game. We did what we were supposed to. They didn’t generate anything we didn’t give them. I don’t see it that way.”
A little later in the press conference, Oates was asked to assess how he believed the Capitals were playing as a group after nine games.
“Unless I see something crazy in the video that I didn’t notice, they had no chances that we didn’t give them. None,” Oates said. “So we made a couple mistakes, but other than that, I thought we played a good, solid hockey game, you know? Yeah, there’s things we can do better, of course, and we’ll address that, but I don’t look at that game as that it got away from us, because we were playing well.”
>>While the Capitals’ power play did cash in during the third period, the unit didn’t help tilt the ice in the home team’s favor early on when it needed it the most.
In the second period, after the score was tied 2-2, Washington had its first power play of the game with Zach Boychuk off for boarding. The Capitals didn’t record a single shot on goal during the man advantage and less than a minute after it expired, Kris Letang scored to put Pittsburgh ahead 3-2.
“You know, you don’t have to score all the time, but I think you need to create some momentum to keep it going,” Mike Ribeiro said. “A lot of times when you don’t create much on your power play, you just lose momentum and then other teams come back and score. And the line who goes there after us has to realize, too, that you cannot get score after a so-so power play. Just keep us in the game. Once again it comes down to details of the game.”
In the last four games, Washington’s power play is 2-for-14 (goals by Ribeiro against Pittsburgh and Alex Ovechkin against Toronto) with 19 shots. It’s not so much a lack of shots, but perhaps predictability that is hurting the unit.
More often than not it seems as though the play is geared toward setting up Ovechkin, making it easy for penalty-killing units and goaltenders to predict and prepare for. Even when it’s not a play to the left circle, the power play seems stiff rather than fluid and creative.
When they scored in the third period, the Capitals caught Pittsburgh’s penalty killers out of position and it was Ribeiro on a rebound from a close-range Nicklas Backstrom shot that finally found its way into the net, not a pretty tic-tac-toe play.
>>For the seventh time in nine games, Ovechkin went without a goal. But after referring to Ovechkin’s performance against Philadelphia Friday as his “best game,” Oates praised the captain once more after the loss to Pittsburgh.
“I thought he played great,” Oates said. “Way better – more touches, more involved. He was skating better. More physical. He was involved every shift.”
Ovechkin was certainly involved. On his first two shifts of the game, Ovechkin dished out explosive checks on Penguins defensemen Brooks Orpik and Simon Despres. He also played an instrumental role on goals by Mike Green and Ribeiro.
To help set up Green’s goal in the first period, Ovechkin fought off Brandon Sutter and Despres in the corner to maintain possession while drawing the full attention of the Penguins. Ribeiro jumped in the fray to help, chipped the puck to Wojtek Wolski, who found a wide-open Green in the slot. On the power play in the third it was Ovechkin who scrambled to the blue line to keep the puck in the zone so a play could develop that led to Ribeiro’s goal.
But for all the little ways Ovechkin has factored into recent games, the Capitals need him to score. He wants to be creating and capitalizing offensively. While Oates wants a more well-rounded game out of Ovechkin, and it appears he may be making some headway there, Washington doesn’t have enough scoring depth for the star winger to not produce.
Last week, Ovechkin was asked if he could be satisfied with his game when he wasn’t scoring goals.
“Of course. We just have to win the games. It’s all about it,” Ovechkin said. “Of course I wanna be there and score [goals], but let’s just play the games and win the games.”
>>The Capitals haven’t had a lot of bounces go their way this season, but in the second period they got a doozy. John Carlson’s dump-in ricocheted off the stanchion and redirected straight into the net, which had been vacated by Tomas Vokoun because he went behind the goal line to retrieve a puck that never got there.
Carlson wasn’t even looking when the puck went into the net; it was the crowd’s reaction that alerted him to the goal.
“I was skating to the bench. I didn’t have a clue,” he said.
>>While the Capitals won 52 percent (37 of 71) of the faceoffs against Pittsburgh, they only won 9 of 22 in their own zone. In the first period it was one of those losses in the circle, when Sidney Crosby beat Nicklas Backstrom, that led to Paul Martin’s goal.
Overall, though, the Capitals have struggled in the circle. Washington is winning just 48.5 percent (21st in the league) of its faceoffs, a stat that is detrimental to its ability to clear their own zone, set up offensively and simply maintain possession of the puck. The Capitals are missing the luxury of a true faceoff wizard, which they’ve had in previous years in the form of Jeff Halpern, David Steckel and Boyd Gordon.
Beagle is the only player, of those who taken more than 100 draws, who is successful more than half of the time at 55.7 percent. Backstrom, who has taken the most at 165, is at 47.9 percent and Mike Ribeiro is at an ugly 35.4 percent in his 110 draws.
You may have noticed Troy Brouwer in the circle a lot more. Brouwer has taken 48 draws this year (50 percent successful); he won 7 of 8 against Pittsburgh. A few days ago, Brouwer said his increase in faceoff workload was because Oates likes players to take draws on their strong side and he’s right handed, while his usual centers this season have been Ribeiro and Backstrom – both lefties.