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.
>>Coach Adam Oates has said multiple times that he believes the goals will come for Alex Ovechkin. In addition to the usual expectations to score, though, what the first-year bench boss wants is to help Ovechkin become a better all-around player. Through better play all over the ice, more scoring chances will come.
That’s why even after a game in which Ovechkin didn’t score a goal Oates was pleased with the captain’s performance.
“I thought it was the best game he’s played this year, quite honestly,” Oates said of Ovechkin after the Capitals’ 3-2 win over the Flyers on Friday night. “He was involved in the whole game.”
Ovechkin skated 22 minutes 16 seconds on 23 shifts. He recorded seven shots on goal, four attempts blocked, one miss, one hit and a two-minute minor for roughing. He also consistently made hustle plays, whether diving to keep the puck in at the offensive blue line, working to create chances for his teammates or finding open space to maneuver for more individual opportunities.
After playing on the left wing for the four previous games, Ovechkin was back on the right skating with Mike Ribeiro and Wojtek Wolski against the Flyers. Unlike the initial eight-period experiment with Ovechkin on the right side, the Capitals star winger largely stayed with his routes.
Ovechkin did not appear to carry the puck across the offensive blue line on rushes as consistently as he has in the past, but Oates liked Ovechkin’s overall play with the puck.
“I actually thought he carried it the most he’s carried it all year,” Oates said. “I thought he had a lot of opportunities. He’s having a tough time with that empty net, but he’ll get there. He knows how to score.”
>>Matt Hendricks and Philadelphia’s Zac Rinaldo both received game misconducts for fighting before the puck was dropped on a faceoff late in the first period. Last night, Oates said he believed both players were tricked by linesman Steve Barton essentially doing a pump fake on the faceoff.
“Oh yeah, there was some tomfoolery in that one, without a doubt. We had all the expectations that the puck was dropped,” Hendricks said Saturday. “The ref has his back to us, the linesman, so to us it looked like he dropped the puck. His arms clearly moved, both centermen engaged in the circle and I guess he didn’t drop it.”
Rinaldo prompted the fight immediately after John Erskine’s elbow sent Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds to the dressing room. Hendricks wasn’t keen on dropping the gloves with the teams in a scoreless tie late in the first period, but decided it was better to prevent the Flyers from seeking additional retribution.
“It wasn’t really the best time for me to fight for our team. I thought we had the momentum going,” Hendricks said. “But something like that, I felt maybe it was a good time just to nip it in the bud right away and get it over with so we could get back to playing hockey, because I knew they would start running around and maybe cheap-shot some of our guys.”
>>The ugliest part of the game for the Capitals was by far the power play. They went 0 for 5 and failed to convert on 1:13 of a five-on-three at the start of the third period.
While the issues ranged from failure to win faceoffs to making smart passes and shot selection, the largest problem may have been how Washington struggled even to enter the offensive zone.
“Philly kind of threw a different look at us tonight. I don’t know if we were expecting it, I don’t know if we were ready for it,” Troy Brouwer said of the trouble with zone entries. “We had some troubles recovering pucks because they’d throw that one D-man a little bit further back than most teams do.
“They stand up at the blue line,” Brouwer continued. “So we had a little trouble with recovery and as a result if you can’t recover the puck you can’t start your power play. So we’d prefer to enter the zone with full possession, but sometimes it doesn’t work that way.”
>>The win marked the first time this season the Capitals have scored three even-strength goals and one in particular, the game-winner by Wojtek Wolski, served as a prime demonstration of how Oates’s pressure-based system can transform neutral-zone turnovers into offense.
The Flyers won a neutral-zone faceoff but defenseman Luke Schenn couldn’t settle the puck before Wolski jumped up with pressure and a well-placed poke check. Wolski picked Schenn’s pocket, springing himself up ice for a backhander past Ilya Bryzgalov to make it 3-1 in the third period.
“The system works. When we stick to it we get opportunities,” Wolski said. “We seem to really create a hard game for the other team. It’s when we get away from it that they get a lot of opportunities. So we’ve got to just stick to it and make sure that we’re on the same page and we’re really giving a hard, full effort for 60 minutes.”
Nicklas Backstrom’s first-period goal, while not a play they can rely on, was opportunistic in the sense that the Capitals took advantage of a bad Philadelphia line change to create an opportunity.
John Carlson poked the puck away from Sean Couturier at the Capitals’ blue line while the majority of the Flyers went for a line change. He wasn’t necessarily trying to have the play turn into a breakaway for Backstrom, but Carlson wasn’t complaining.
“I can’t necessarily say that I meant to put it on his tape like that,” Carlson said, “But I was just trying to make a defensive play at the blue line and it worked out pretty well.”
Said Backstrom: “That’s what we need. We try to be very tight there in the neutral zone and waiting for those turnovers. Today we were lucky.”
Mike Green added that whenever the defensemen have the opportunity to connect with a teammate on a stretch pass, take advantage of an opponent’s misstep or simply jump up into the play the Capitals need to take advantage of it.
“I think we need to be aggressive offensively when we have the opportunity but we need to recognize it,” Green said. “There’s time when you should jump and take a little bit of risk and time when you need to stay back and in that case, Kohn made a great play to step up and close the gap and get a good stick, caused a great play for Nick.”