When the Capitals took the ice for practice Monday morning, their forwards’ fashion made a clear statement.
Marcus Johansson, Alex Ovechkin, and Nicklas Backstrom donned first-line red jerseys, Brooks Laich, Mikhail Grabovski, and Troy Brouwer wore second-line grey, Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr and Joel Ward wore third-line green, and Martin Erat, Jay Beagle, and Tom Wilson skated in fourth-line white. In other words, despite being outscored 10-3 in even strength situations through three games, Adam Oates isn’t ready to tinker with his lines just yet.
“Nothing’s glaring, I mean we’ve lost one-goal games,” Oates said.
“I think we’ve made mistakes at times in certain areas. I thought the other night [in Dallas], there were moments where we turned it over too many times, trying to get cute instead of making the obvious play and try to wear them out, which is the plan.”
The even-strength struggles are the talk of a town that expected better than a 1-2 start from the Capitals. But Washington’s players are quick to point out that scoring goals hasn’t exactly been a problem this season.
“I mean we scored four goals against Calgary and four goals against Chicago, too, so we’re scoring goals,” said Marcus Johansson. “It’s small details in our game that maybe stop us a little bit from getting our offense. Once we get that under control, people are going to score a lot of goals.”
Troy Brouwer said he believes part of the five-on-five issues are the result of rushing on defense, where the Caps are trying to clear pucks quickly, rather than build cohesive offensive attacks.
Because of that, “we’re chasing pucks in the neutral zone, we spend half the game skating after the puck rather than possessing the puck, which is what our team should be doing,” Brouwer said. “We’ve got to be a little bit more comfortable in our d-zone, making those outlet passes. It starts in practice, making sure guys are making passes on the tape under a little bit of pressure.”
Ovechkin agrees with Brouwer, that play in the offensive zone is a product of what happens in the defensive one.
“We’ve got to play better in our zone,” said Ovechkin, who has scored one even-strength goal in three games. “Don’t make turnovers, because turnovers kill us all the time. Of course everybody knows we have the skill guys in this group, but sometimes we have to play more simple.”
Oates said he thinks all the lines have created chances, but that finishing in five-on-five situations is easier said than done.
“Five-on-five hockey’s tough to score. You’ve got to wait for your turns. I think once everyone gets a couple goals, things will seem a little easier,” Oates said. “I think every team is playing better and better D, the goaltending’s better, and [in five-on-five] the ice seems so clogged up. It’s very difficult.”