The Capitals got part of what they were aiming for in this homestand opener with a strong start Thursday night and two even-strength goals against the Carolina Hurricanes. Washington even held a lead entering the first period for the first time this season.
But while those components came together as planned, others didn’t. Penalties caught up to the Capitals in the second period, helping to allow the Hurricanes a window to tie the score and Nathan Gerbe scored the game-winner in the third on a play that featured multiple defensive breakdowns.
Five thoughts on the Capitals’ 3-2 loss to Carolina.
1. Powerless. The power play has been Washington’s consistent source of strength through the early stages of the season, but after recording at least one goal on the man-advantage in each of the first three contests, the unit came up empty on five opportunities Thursday. Not all of those power plays were a full two minutes, with the Capitals often drawing calls while shorthanded or taking penalties when already on the man-advantage.
But the Hurricanes also were effective at getting in lanes and disrupting Washington’s passes.
“Our guys really seemed to be in sync,” Carolina Coach Kirk Muller said. “They were in the right lanes at the right times. We didn’t see that look that they have. They’re so potent and they didn’t really have the chance to set it up a lot.”
The Capitals weren’t going to maintain the 50 percent effectiveness on the power play that they enjoyed through the first three games when they went 6 for 12. But Thursday night they couldn’t seem to help build themselves any momentum off of their man advantages.
2. A little more level at even strength. After three days focused on how they could better perform at even strength, the Capitals found their footing 5-on-5. Able to roll four lines until the penalty trouble began, the Capitals consistently pushed the puck forward and every line was driving to the net, looking for chances around the crease. Jason Chimera and Alex Ovechkin recorded goals at even strength, but the Capitals managed just five shots in the second period.
“Five-on-five we’ve got to do more, create more,” Chimera said. “We had some great zone time today, but we can still get some more out of it.”
3. Tipped by Ovechkin in front. Everyone who watches the Capitals with any regularity is familiar with the trademark Alex Ovechkin goals: the one-timer from the left circle and the snap shot through a defenseman after curling to the center of the ice for example. Tips and deflections as a result of Ovechkin being in high-traffic areas around the crease aren’t exactly typical tallies for the star winger, but that’s what Coach Adam Oates is going for. He wants Ovechkin to see and create scoring opportunities all over the ice and going to the front of the net is part of that.
Before the season started, Ovechkin said he planned on taking advantage of opportunities in front more, his goal against the Hurricanes when he redirected a shot by Steve Oleksy was his first example of it paying off. Also this was Ovechkin’s fifth goal in just four games. Last year it took him 13 contests to record five goals.
4. Latta’s second NHL game. He skated just 7:03 over the course of 12 shifts, but rookie center Michael Latta made his presence known. Latta finished checks, fought for pucks all over the ice and got under the skin of the Hurricanes a few times. He also drew a pair of penalties – a slashing call on Nathan Gerbe and a tripping call on Eric Staal – while in pursuit of the puck. It wasn’t a perfect outing as he and Tom Wilson were stuck in their own zone on the game-winning goal by Gerbe, but all things considered you can see why the coaching staff likes what he’s shown them so far.
5. Urbom’s debut. Big defenseman Alex Urbom made his debut with the Capitals on Thursday night and finally offered a first hand look at both his skating ability and willingness to shoot the puck, attributes that made him a desirable waiver wire pickup in the first place. As advertised, Urbom can move well as a 6-feet-4, 215-pounder, and that came in handy to work himself out of trouble on a few occasions. He also didn’t shy away from releasing his big shot either and was credited with three shots in 16:12 of ice time against the Hurricanes.
Earlier this week I had the chance to ask assistant Coach Calle Johansson about Urbom. Here was his initial impression of the 22-year-old Swede.
“He’s very teachable, he wants to be better, wants to progress and wants to suck everything up,” Johansson said. “A great skater, big strong man and he just has to adjust because he hasn’t played that many [NHL] games. He’s got the tools, though.”