Déjà vu all over again for the Capitals against Calgary, but this time the mistakes didn’t come with a happy ending. Washington fell, 5-2, to the Flames, snapped its winning streak and gets to take stock of some familiar problems.
Five thoughts on the loss in Calgary:
1. Those slow starts. Getting off to a strong start in the first period has been a consistent issue for the Capitals through the first 11 games. Saturday night there was a lack of execution in which pretty much every player was concerned in the first 20 minutes with turnovers, missed assignments and general sloppiness. Even in games the Capitals have won this season – like in Edmonton and Winnipeg earlier this week – they were uneven in the opening frame.
It’s a risky habit and one that bit Washington in the form of three Flames goals Saturday night.
“We’ve got to figure that out, especially on the road, especially in these buildings teams are tough to play against,” Aaron Volpatti said. “They’re fast. There’s no excuse we’ve got to come out better.”
Establishing a better start isn’t all about offensive production and in the Capitals’ case, the opposite cause is more critical. Washington, which has been outscored 12-6 in the first period this season, needs to home in on the details of its defensive and transition game from the opening faceoff.
More to come on the slow starts later in the day Sunday, a day off for the Capitals.
2. Second line. I asked Coach Adam Oates about the group of Martin Erat, Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer, which was heading into its fourth game together. Here’s what he had to say: “On a night-to-night basis, on a consistent basis, they all skate good, they’re all top-six forwards. They can handle any defense pairing that’s put against them, any line. I count on them for a lot of minutes. They all kill penalties, they’re on the power play. Not everybody’s perfect every night but they play 20 minutes for us every night.”
His point is well taken in that regardless of how much offense the second line is or isn’t producing, those players will be counted on to handle heavy workloads. In Calgary, Erat and Laich were on the ice for four goals against while Brouwer was on for two. On the play leading to the first goal, Erat lost a battle against two Flames on the boards but none of his teammates helped out either. On the second, Erat got caught between Sven Baertschi and Sean Monahan in the slot. A lost faceoff by Laich, who went 5 for 16 in the circle against the Flames, led to Mike Cammalleri’s second goal of the night.
When that group is having as much trouble in its own end as it did in Calgary, it’s likely the rest of the team isn’t faring well either.
3. Where’s the D? Overall the Capitals’ play in their own end Saturday night left plenty to be desired, from the forwards getting back to provide proper support to the defensemen making the correct decision.
No one could escape criticism in this one and it seemed like each defensive pairing had its own adventures in the early going: getting split by a speedy Calgary forward like John Erskine and Steve Oleksy; getting caught flat-footed like Mike Green and Nate Schmidt; or giving up uncharacteristic time and space like Karl Alzner and John Carlson.
“There was a couple mistakes by everybody,” Oates said. “They got two goals off of bad tracking and then we get worn down in our own end and out of position. Little mistakes by everybody.”
4. Volpatti’s goal. The gritty winger recorded his first goal as a Capital and first since Jan. 25 with a nice putback on a rebound that popped into the slot. Re-acquired on Feb. 28 off waivers from Vancouver, Volpatti played only 4:58 against Calgary. But perhaps there’s something to be said for being willing to make a hit and then going to a high-traffic area on the ice.
“It went up to the point and I tried to get in that soft spot,” Volpatti said. “Sometimes I find myself a little bit almost too close to the net and that time it bounced right out to me. Luckily I got enough on it, I kind of whiffed it.”
Rookie defenseman Nate Schmidt also recorded his first NHL point on the play, with the primary assist, after firing the shot that rebounded to Volpatti.
5. Chimera, goal scorer. Jason Chimera recorded his second goal in as many games and third of the season with a pretty backhander after a quick feed from Mikhail Grabovski. With his third tally, Chimera matched his regular season output from last year.
He helped set up the play creating a rush into the offensive zone with Eric Fehr, but when Derek Smith laid down to block his shot Chimera recovered the puck and fed it down low to create a cycle. Some work by Fehr and Grabovski to create space down by the goal line and suddenly the veteran winger was all alone with the puck and able to skate right through the crease for the shot.