Saturday’s game in Dallas was quite similar to the last trip the Capitals made to the Lone Star State. Both were 2-1 losses and both featured disallowed goals for Washington that changed the dynamic of the game.
Alex Ovechkin gave the Capitals an early 1-0 lead with his third power-play goal and fourth overall of the season. The Stars scored a pair of even-strength goals, though, with Washington unable to establish enough puck possession to generate any real sort of comeback.
Five thoughts on the Capitals 2-1 loss to the Stars.
1. Braden Holtby bounces back. Coach Adam Oates went back to Holtby after pulling the 24-year-old in the first period against Calgary. Holtby rewarded the coach’s confidence in him.
He stopped all but two of the 21 shots he faced and neither of the Stars’ goals can be exclusively attributed to a miscue on his part. On the first, Erik Cole made his way to the slot without any Capitals picking up on his presence. On the second, Cody Eakin’s shot created a rebound that Alex Chiasson fired on before it even hit the ground, according to Holtby. None of his teammates were in position to defend against Chiasson, the trailing man on the play, either.
Holtby made a few nice stops as well to keep the contest close, including thwarting a partial breakaway chance by Ryan Garbutt. Early in the second he inadvertently poked the puck toward Ray Whitney but managed to recover and prevent the veteran winger from scoring on the point-blank chance.
All things considered, this was more of what Holtby expects of himself.
“I feel like I needed to give our team a better chance to win. Looking back the last two games, I don’t think it was complete meltdowns, I think it was just one or two goals that could really change the game,” Holtby said. “Against Calgary, if I can hold that to two goals after the first period that we had I think that’s what the goalie’s job is to do. When you let the other one in, that’s where you fail to do your job. I wanted to make sure that I kept our team in the game” in Dallas.
2. Survive it. Oates has repeated in the first week of the season that the Capitals need to be strong enough to “survive” things, whether it’s a mistake by a rookie, a bad penalty or, as it was against the Stars, a disallowed goal.
It’s an interesting way to look at things and a perspective that should be able to help the Capitals rather than dwelling on something like what happened Saturday. As frustrating as it was to have Nicklas Backstrom’s second-period goal waved off, Washington still had nearly 32 minutes remaining to do something about it. That’s plenty of time for the Capitals to create more offense and negate the fact that outside forces – such as officials – that don’t always aid their cause.
The referees “do their best,” Oates said after the game. “The guy thought he was interfered with. You’ve got to be able to survive that stuff. Tough time, you want the goal, but it happens.”
3. Even-strength woes. I’ll have more on this in a separate post later in the day, but consider the third period against the Stars. A one-goal deficit isn’t something that seems overly daunting in the face of Washington’s offensive firepower. But when the Capitals’ passes aren’t on the mark to execute clean breakouts and they can’t maintain possession long enough to create a strong cycle, they struggle to simply create shots on goal.
Combine that with a Lindy Ruff-coached team that will play deep in its own zone to protect what advantage they have, and you have the Capitals recording only six shots in the third period. That number in itself isn’t especially alarming, but the fact that Washington didn’t record a second shot on Kari Lehtonen until 5:33 remained in the period is indicative of the uphill climb they faced.
“They were keeping us in our own zone for sustained periods of time and when you’re trying to make a push to score a goal,” Troy Brouwer said, trailing off. “Well, you’re not going to score many from your own end.”
4. No leads here. Look at the Capitals’ ice-time distribution through the first three games and it’s pretty clear they haven’t been able to roll their four lines and three defensive pairings with any sort of balance. That’s largely due to the abundance of special teams play and Washington’s inability to play with a lead much this season. The Capitals spent nearly all of the season opener trailing Chicago, had to erase a three-goal deficit against Calgary and against Dallas they held a lead for all of 3:35 in the first period. All of this plays into the Capitals’ five-on-five struggles. Find stable ground at even strength and they should be playing from a position of strength more often, which would allow them to rely less heavily on the top half of the lineup.
5. What’s next. Washington has four days between the loss to Dallas and its next game Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes at home. That contest kicks off a five-game homestand with tilts against the Hurricanes, Avalanche, Oilers, Rangers and Blue Jackets. Seems like as good a time as any to clean up the turnover problems and find something positive to build on at even strength. The Capitals will take Sunday off and resume practice on Monday morning at KCI.