The Capitals wrapped up their brief road trip with a 4-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche and likely won’t mind not having to face that particular opponent the rest of the season.
1. Back-to-back roadblock. The Capitals were upbeat and confident when they went on the road for this trip but return home having suffered consecutive losses to two of the NHL’s top teams.
The loss in Phoenix, frittering away a two-goal lead in four minutes and unable to take advantage of multiple power play opportunities to capture two points, is arguably a more frustrating defeat for the team to look back on. But then Washington made some all too familiar mistakes in Colorado, including the inability to convert on a 5-on-3 in the third period and giving up a goal immediately after scoring one themselves. (More on both of those trends to come later on Monday.)
Saturday “was tough loss. [Sunday] I think, this a hard building to play. You have to get used to the air and the atmosphere here, but I think in second period we have pretty good chance,” Alex Ovechkin said. “We tie the game and they score right away. They have that kind of momentum and Varly play unbelievable as well. We have chances to score in the third but we didn’t.”
There’s often talk of using games as measuring sticks over the course of a season to gauge a team’s progress at any given point. While it’s still early in the season and these aren’t teams the Capitals will vie for a playoff spot against, it’s clear they didn’t do enough to pass these particular tests.
2. Pay no attention to the man behind the net. Nick Holden’s goal that came 28 seconds after Joel Ward’s, to put the Avalanche up 2-1, started with Gabriel Landeskog working the puck behind the Capitals’ net. P.A. Parenteau’s goal came after Matt Duchene moved the puck along behind the Washington net. Sense a pattern here?
While the Avalanche are particularly adept with working the play down low, the Capitals fell too quickly into the trap of chasing players who have the puck below the goal line and behind the net. On Holden’s tally, Landeskog appeared to mesmerize the Washington players on the ice leaving them slow to react when he sent the puck back out front. The same was true when Duchene set up Parenteau before the Capitals could move to stop the play.
“We get in trouble when we chase guys behind the goal line. The guy behind the goal line is the least dangerous guy on the ice. He’s the only guy on the ice that can’t score,” said Brooks Laich, who was on the ice and the closest player to Parenteau when he received the puck and scored. “We need to be more patient when they have the puck below the goal line, wait for them to move it up and then chase after guys and win some battles that way rather than lunging behind the net and leaving somebody above the goal line open.
“We’ve been guilty of a couple of those in the last couple games. It’s even haunted us a little bit on the penalty kill too,” Laich added. “That was something that Dale Hunter really stressed, that the guy behind the goal line is the least dangerous guy on the ice. It’s something that we have to teach ourselves again and get back to making better decisions in that area.”
3. High stick. From the moment the puck found its way into the back of the net for the Avalanche’s first goal of the night Sunday, Braden Holtby and several Capitals indicated that they believed Patrick Bordeleau deflected it in with a high stick.
It very well may have been a high stick, but even from Oates’s perspective there wasn’t enough on the replay to cancel it out.
“Tough one,” Oates said. “It’s very close but I don’t see it to be – the call on the ice was a goal so it’s got to be conclusive to overturn that goal. I don’t see that.”
That tally marked the 10th time the Capitals have given up the first goal of the game, they’re 3-6-1 when doing so. It was also the eighth occasion that they’ve given up that first goal in the opening 10 minutes of a contest.
Here’s the goal.
4. The start. While on the topic, even though they gave up the first goal and chased the Avalanche more than anything else throughout the first period the Capitals surprisingly weren’t concerned about their play early on in Colorado.
“We spotted them the first goal but I was quite pleased with how that didn’t affect our game. We didn’t let it rattle us, we hung in there, we played a decent hockey game,” Coach Adam Oates said. “They had a couple moments, they did, but I thought it was a decent game. We spent a lot of time behind their net we wore them out once we got our legs.”
It wasn’t just the lopsided shot totals (12-4) in the opening frame that made it an unexpected response but the fact that the Avalanche seemed to jump on turnovers and turn the play back into the Washington zone at least once a shift.
“I actually thought that we had our legs early on,” Brooks Laich said. “The shots I think at one point were 7-0 for them but to us on the bench we felt like we had our legs.”
5. Back to the East. The Capitals have played 12 of their first 18 games against Western Conference opponents and had plenty of mixed results with a 5-6-1 record against those opponents. It’s no secret, even at this early stage of the season, that the bulk of the NHL’s elite squads reside in the West.
But where the Capitals must earn their keep and a playoff berth is against the largely underwhelming Eastern Conference. Nine of the next 10 games come against foes from the East, whom Washington is 4-2-0 against so far, offering an opportunity find its footing. This week they’ll host Metropolitan Division foe Columbus Tuesday and then visit Detroit, which has lost three straight.