The Washington Capitals spent yesterday away from the rink, savoring a day off after their win and tie in back-to-back games over the weekend. But the respite will be brief. Coach Ron Wilson is stewing over some critical errors the team committed through the first three games. The Capitals heard about it during the second intermission Saturday night, and responded with two third-period goals and a 2-2 tie with Los Angeles. There is much more to come.
The coaching staff feels certain individuals refuse to make safe plays in the defensive zone--flipping the puck out, chipping it off the boards or finding the nearest supporting forward--while instead trying dangerous cross-ice passes that lead to turnovers. Teams have thrived on Washington's mistakes and, though goaltender Olaf Kolzig has bailed out the team on several occasions, it's not the kind of hockey that's conducive to long playoff runs.
"That's what we're talking about," Wilson said. "They're going to get a good, strong lecture this week and I'm going to pound it home, or I'll pull guys out and we'll call guys up from the minors who will chip it off the glass. It's that simple. We can't have three games in a row where guys just skate up ice and pass it to the other team when you could chip it off the boards.
"And there will be times in a game where you see us doing that [using the boards], and we have success, but it's strange--we're having all this success and guys think, 'Oh, that's working, I'm going to try something different.' And then we turn it over again. I was really getting frustrated [Saturday night]. We weren't making the first quick pass and I don't know why we wouldn't do it. It gets frustrating. . . . I don't understand why we can't make a simple pass--you know, keep it simple, stupid. The key to genius is simplicity."
Wilson is pleased with his team's overall effort, but has preached the same fundamentals since the opening of training camp, with mixed results. Opening the season 1-1-1 is far from poor, especially since two games were on the road against playoff-caliber division rivals. But it's important for Washington to take advantage of its current stretch of four straight home games before departing for a tough four-game, 10-day West Coast trip.
If not for the mistakes around their own net, the Capitals could be 3-0. Florida took advantage of several blunders for a 4-3 win in the teams' season opener, and the Kings scored twice during the second period Saturday night when the Capitals' mistakes mounted and they fell behind by two goals.
"We have to simplify a little bit at both blue lines--getting it out of our blue line and in at their blue line," winger Steve Konowalchuk said. "Because that's where a lot of teams are good on transition and where [the Kings] started generating their momentum in the second period, because we were trying to be too fancy.
"And in the third period we came out and played really basic hockey. With the kind of forwards we have, we can chase down loose pucks and create scoring chances at the other end. We don't have to rely on fancy passes in the neutral zone."
Things aren't all bad, though.
The Capitals' biggest worry entering the season was whether they would have ample goal scoring, coming off a season in which they produced just 200 goals in 82 games. While the top line, led by Peter Bondra and Adam Oates, hasn't been as effective at even strength, it has produced two big power-play goals. The youthful combination of Richard Zednik, Jan Bulis and Konowalchuk has been Washington's best line in all three games, and the third line, led by center Andrei Nikolishin, has done a fine job combining scoring chances with checking responsibilities.
"We've got a lot of confidence, we know we can score goals," defenseman Ken Klee said. "Maybe in the past the fear was, 'Oh, we can't score goals.' But we know we can score goals. We've got the Bulis line scoring goals and Bondra is scoring goals. It's just a matter of time before Niko's line starts scoring. I think we've got a lot of faith we'll be able to do it."
Now, a team that entered the season believing its biggest strength was a deep and talented defense must simply do what comes naturally. The message is simple. The task is simple. Just keep it simple.