Thursday night certainly wasn’t the way anyone would have drawn up a win, but the Capitals will take it.
After spotting the Calgary Flames a 3-0 lead and looking remarkably out of sorts for the first period, Washington found its footing in the final 40 minutes. Connor Carrick started the comeback with his first NHL goal, Alex Ovechkin posted two of his own and Nicklas Backstrom scored to tie the contest with 5:50 remaining in regulation. In the shootout, Mikhail Grabovski and Ovechkin scored to secure two points.
And while it wasn’t perfect, getting that first win out of the way is never a bad thing.
Five thoughts on the Capitals’ victory over the Flames.
1. Holtby’s short night. Braden Holtby made a second consecutive start but this appearance didn’t last long. He allowed three goals on 11 shots in the first 16:22 of the contest. Of the three, the first goal by David Jones was arguably the most preventable on Holtby’s part as the shot beat him high right corner after he appeared to dropped down into the butterfly early.
Oates acknowledged that after the three goals against the Flames, and the fluky goal Holtby allowed in Chicago he “wasn’t sure where [Holtby] was mentally” but said that the move was more to spark the team.
“You’re looking for some sort of momentum change, the time it takes to do that maybe the guys start talking amongst themselves,” Oates said. “Some coaches yell, I kind of just said things to guys. You’re just looking for them to regroup really.”
Through two games Holtby has allowed eight goals on 45 shots. While it’s a different season, it’s worth noting that last year in his first two starts Holtby allowed 10 goals on 73 shots.
Asked if he would go back to Holtby for Saturday’s game in Dallas, Oates was blunt.
“Absolutely. Already told him,” Oates said. “Everybody has hiccups – everybody. And he’s got to understand that to me, that’s what it is.”
2. Neuvirth in relief. Michal Neuvirth made his first appearance of the season when he entered the game late in the first period. He stopped 27 of the 28 shots he faced and was solid — aside from a miscue when he tried to play the puck, which ultimately led to Lance Bouma scoring Calgary’s fourth goal.
“Neuvy was great. He’s got something to prove,” Karl Alzner said. “A lot of people are counting him out and a lot of attention is going to Holtsy. Sometimes people forget how good of a goalie Neuvy is and we needed that big time out of him.”
The coaching staff has asked Neuvirth to work on his puck-handling skills and during the preseason there was a definite improvement. But in the second period when he ventured behind the net to corral the puck he tripped on his way around the net. That mistake allowed Brian McGrattan to gain possession of the puck and send it out in front to Bouma, who shot into an empty net.
“After I gave up that goal it kind of crush my confidence with the puck but just another experience,” Neuvirth said. “I’ve got to learn from the mistakes, keep working in practice and try to get better every day. “
3. Redemption for Carrick. The rookie defenseman wanted a better all-around performance in his second game and he delivered. After taking a hooking penalty in the second period, Carrick stepped out of the penalty box to receive a head-man pass from Marcus Johansson. Carrick skated in alone on net, pulled the puck around Karri Ramo’s toe and put the Capitals on the board.
Then he was treated to the rite of passage that is having Alex Ovechkin smash a towel full of shaving cream in your face afterwards.
“That was more how I imagined my first game going, not so much the goal, but managing the puck – being good defensively,” Carrick said. “I was happy to get back on the horse and have a performance that I felt I could build on.”
4. Even strength questions. The Capitals have been outscored 8-3 at even strength through two games and some of the same problems they experienced in Chicago were evident early against Calgary. Turnovers were abundant, the defense wasn’t as well orchestrated as it should be and those factors caught up to them. They’ll continue to do so if Washington can’t clean up its game in the defensive zone.
But when the power play is 5-for-9 through two games it can be easy to rely on that unit, even if Oates would rather the team not make it the primary focus.
“I’m so leery about focusing so much on our power play,” Oates said. “You don’t want the guys thinking oh we can wait until we get a power play. No you’ve got to play hockey. You get three power plays a game that’s 6 minutes. There’s 54 minutes you’re not focused on. To me, I want our power play to be solid but we have to have all aspects of our game solid.”
5. Shots. Alex Ovechkin took 11 shots on goal against the Flames, bringing him to a two-game total of 20. Looking at attempted shots that were either blocked or missed the target, Ovechkin has 11 more between the two contests. Remember back to the 2011-12 season when Ovechkin recorded only 303 shots on goal? It was a relatively down year for him – he took 220 to lead the league once again in the lockout shortened season. Oates has talked a lot about Ovechkin getting more touches, more time with the puck, more opportunity to shoot. Looks like he’s taking advantage.