With 48 games in 99 days, there’s not a lot of time to digest what happened in any single contest. So as we churn through this compressed Capitals season, I’ll be rounding up my thoughts and analysis of each game here.
>>The loss to Winnipeg earlier this week was ugly. The 4-1 loss to Montreal, in which the Capitals lacked confidence in the face of adversity and were plagued by too many mistakes of “pure effort,” was hideous.
At a stage in which their ability to tread water in the Eastern Conference depends almost exclusively on a willingness to out-hustle opponents and gut through games to come out on the winning end, the Capitals are citing a lack of work ethic.
That’s more than a tad unsettling just three games into the season, as is the fact that the Capitals are now the only team in the NHL who have yet to claim a single point.
>>One of the few constants over the course of coaching changes and upheaval over the past two seasons has been the steady pairing of Karl Alzner and John Carlson. They’ve struggled mightily this season, though, and after being on the ice for all four Canadiens goals Thursday night, Alzner suggested to assistant coach Calle Johansson that the duo be split up.
There was no good reason not to try to shake things up. So in the third, Alzner skated with Mike Green while Carlson worked with Tom Poti.
“I know that I was saying to Calle that it’s just not going the right way for us,” Alzner said. “We’re not getting the bounces. Plays that I would normally do — an easy poke check — isn’t happening. And it’s for the both of us. You can’t have two guys where things aren’t going their way together. And so I kind of mentioned it to Calle between the second and third that we’ve got to do something here, either a switch or take us down a little bit because we weren’t contributing to anything good for the team.”
Montreal’s second goal of the night, a power-play tally by Andrei Markov, came after the Capitals won the faceoff but failed to clear the zone. Alzner had retrieved the puck behind the goal line and tried to throw it around the end boards but it was picked off allowing the Canadiens to maintain pressure.
Brian Gionta’s goal to make it 3-0 occurred when Alzner left his side of the ice to help out Carlson, who had been beaten back into the zone by Montreal forward Rene Bourque. Alzner failed to block Bourque’s pass back to the front of the net, where Gionta was alone for an easy redirection. That goal, Alzner said, could have served as a case study of routine plays simply going awry.
“That’s the play that I’ve done probably 20 times a year for the last three years and maybe one time it gets over,” Alzner said. “But that’s what I mean. That’s a play that I would do all the time. And it didn’t work, and if it’s not going to work with me going over there, I’ve got to stay back and try to play a different way from now on.”
When Josh Georges blasted a shot past Michal Neuvirth to make it 4-0, it marked the eighth goal in eight periods Alzner had been on the ice for this season and the ninth in eight periods with Carlson on the ice.
“They’ve been married to each other for a long time now. Just kind of wanted to split them up,” Oates said. “And the score kind of forced us to do that just to give Greenie a chance to see Karl and see what happened there. Just looking at combinations at that point.”
>>After eight periods on the right wing, Alex Ovechkin was back on the left side for the third period Thursday night. The experiment likely isn’t over, however, and the switch back to left wing was Oates searching for a way to ignite his top line for the first time this season.
“I know it’s what he’s used to,” Oates said. “I still think he should be a right winger. But I also want him to be happy and get something out of his game. So it was more to try and get a spark for him and get him going.”
It remains to be seen if Ovechkin playing the right side will actually pay dividends. In those eight periods on the right, he drifted over to the left more often than not, crossing paths with his linemates causing miscommunications and turnovers.
Part of the problem may be the lack of a strong presence on the opposite wing. Thursday night alone, Oates tried Wojtek Wolski, Marcus Johansson and Joey Crabb on the top unit with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Whoever that third player is, he isn’t getting the puck enough to effectively ease some of the pressure on Ovechkin and Backstrom by demanding the attention of an opponent.
Also, Ovechkin continues to serve as the primary puck carrier as they enter the offensive zone making him the focal point and an easy target for defenders. Perhaps he would be better served by having one of his linemates carry the puck into the zone so he can find open space for scoring chances. But it’s no secret that Ovechkin wants control of the puck like he wants oxygen to breathe.
“When I have the space, I want the puck. Without the puck, you can do nothing,” Ovechkin said Thursday morning. “You can be out there 25 minutes, but without the puck, you’re just gonna be out there. It’s gonna be like figure skate. Of course I want the puck. I want to control the game, and you know, like, everybody knows.”
Sometimes it’s far too easy for an opposing team to try and contain him when he’s constantly leading the rush into the offensive zone. He’s even tried the mirror image of his go-to play – carry the puck over the blue line, cut hard across the high slot and try to shoot through a screen – on the right side. Guess what? Opponents still know that move, even on the opposite side.