Sunday, January 27, 2013

Caps defeat Sabres for first win of season

The Washington Capitals earned their first win of the 2013 season on Sunday afternoon, 3-2 over the visting Buffalo Sabres.
Washington got goals from Joel Ward, John Erskine and Alex Ovechkin, and 22 saves from goaltender Michael Neuvirth to end their longest winless streak to start a season since they lost their first six games of the 1993-94 season.
The Capitals entered Sunday's contest confident after coming back from a two-goal third period deficit against the New Jersey Devils on Friday night to force overtime. Despite losing, Washington knew the effort and fundamentals it took to force overtime would serve them well against the Sabres if they could carry it over.
They did just that, getting traffic in front of Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller and keeping skaters away from Neuvirth.
Ward's goal, which came with 3:58 remaining in the first period came on a rebound of a Jason Chimera shot from the left of Miller. Ward saw Chimera getting ready to shoot and skated past a Buffalo defender in the mid-slot to put himself in position to take the shot.
Ward's line, which included Chimera and Mike Ribeiro on Sunday was one of the Capitals best.
Both Ward and Chimera assisted on Erskine's goal early in the second period that deflected off of Buffalo's Cody Hodgson, after working the puck out from behind Miller and back to Erskine who was at the top of the zone.
Ovechkin's tally, his first of the season came on an early third period power play on a slap shot from the left cirlce on a pass from Mike Green. Ovechkin opened his body and got everything on the shot that Miller had no chance of stopping.
Ovechkin nearly scored in the first period on a scramble in front of the net with Jay Beagle, but was denied by Miller.
Along with getting traffic in front of Miller, the Capitals were better disciplined only taking two minor penalties and killing both.
Washington's penalty killers did a better job of staying in their area's on the ice and not turning their backs to the Buffalo shooters. Both Jay Beagle and Troy Brouwer intercepted passes on a third period power play for the Sabres because they stayed disciplined and were able to make easy clears.
Discipline and effort have been the biggest issues for the Capitals in their first four games. They got going in the right direction Friday against the Devils and carried that effort, and discipline into Sunday's game against the Sabres.
The Capitals have the size in their forward lines to consistently be able to put pressure on any opposing goaltender, and have enough size on defense, especially when Erskine is in the line up to do the same.
Friday and Sunday were starts; now the Capitals just need to keep it up.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Capitals still winless after loss to Canadians

The Washington Capitals said the time to stop blaming learning a new system had passed after two losses to begin the season. They said their effort needed to be better, and they needed to remember their fundamentals and make smarter plays on the ice.
Apparently, those words were merely good quotes. The Capitals gave solid effort for the first 20 minutes against the Montreal Canadians last night, but let two second period power play goals zap their energy as they fell to 0-3 with a 4-1 loss at Verizon Center.
Washington is 0-3 for the first time since the 1993-94 season.
After an early penalty to Matthieu Perrault allowed the Canadians to register the games first five shots, the Capitals rolled all four lines for the remainder of the period, outshooting Montreal 11-4 over that stretch and possessing the puck in the Montreal zone for sustained periods of time.
However, the Capitals were unable to capitalize on a few solid chances and entered the first intermission with the game tied at zero.
Back to back penalties to Alex Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer gave the Canadians a two-man advantage for 1:35 and they took advantage with a goal by Tomas Plekanac in the dying seconds of Ovechkin's penalty.
Players playing the puck and not remembering their positioning is what led to the goal. Instead of staying with Plekanac, Capitals defenseman John Carlson skated forward after seeing the puck bounce out in front of him. That move allowed Montreal's Andrei Markov to fake a shot and pass to a wide-open Plekanac.
On the Canadians next goal, 53 seconds later, Jay Beagle, like Carlson found himself out of position after chasing the loose puck which caused him to have his back to Markov as the rebound off of Max Pacioretty's shot bounced towards him. Beagle merely swong his stick at Markov as he tried to turn around, and Markov easily put the puck in the Capitals' net.
Another troubling trend that continued last night is the Capitals inability to get bodies consistently in front of the opposing net. The Capitals regularly took shots from the permimeter of the offensive zone and failed to generate second chances even when Canadians goaltender, Carey Price left rebounds.
Joey Crabb found his way to the net and poked home a pass from Jason Chimera with 2:23 left to avoid the shutout.
Washington suffered from the same lack of net presence last season and it has spilled into this season. With players the size of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer, a net presence should be the least of the Capitals worries.
Yes, they are without do-it-all forward Brooks Laich right now, but this is more than just a one player problem.
Michael Neuvirth was good in his first game action since April of last year, but did not receive the help from his teammates he needed to keep the Canadians off the score board.
The Capitals are now 0-3 and head to New Jersey tonight to take on the defending Eastern Conference Champion Devils. New Jersey has not missed Zach Parise through their first two games, winning both and displaying the same characteristics that allowed them to get to the Stanely Cup Finals last season.
Points are at a premium this season, and another effort like last nights will most certainly put the Capitals where they don't want to be.
Pointless one week into a shortened season.


Capitals Neuvirth in familiar position

Washington Capitals goaltender Michael Neuvirth will get his first start of the season tonight against the visiting Montreal Canadians as the Capitals look for their first win of the season.
Neuvirth is in a familiar position having to make a start with the Capitals enduring a losing streak.
During the 2010-11 season, the Capitals dropped eight straight games from Dec. 2 to Dec. 18. Yes, Neuvirth was the goalie of record in four of those losses, but he also helped get the Capitals out of the losing streak allowing just three goals in wins Dec. 19 and 21st of that season over the Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils.
Does winning two straight starts after losing four straight make you a great bearer of pressure? No, but he showed he could overcome his own struggles and turn in solid performances when the team needed them.
The Capitals defense has not played well in front of Braden Holtby the first two games as Holtby gave up 10 goals on 73 shots.
So, Neuvirth should ready himself for a barrage of shots and a lot of traffic in his face, but I suspect he will be ready for that kind of night.
Neuvirth was not happy that former coach Dale Hunter stayed with Holtby during the playoffs last season after Neuvirth returned from injury.
He made those feelings clear in an interview with a newspaper in his home Czech Republic during the offseason.
Point being, Neuvirth has extra motivation heading into tonight's game.
Does that motivation guarentee a strong start? No, because there are other variables Neuvirth can't control. Will Capital's defenders clear Canadian fowards out of the crease and get into shooting lanes? Will they force the Canadians to have to dump the puck to get into the zone and prevent them easy entry, and will their stamina hold up for the full 60 minutes?
If they do, I suspect Neuvirth will turn in the kind of performance the Capitals need to end this early season slide.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Capitals Holtby struggling early

Washington Capitals netminder Braden Holtby is probably the only player at the roster with expectations as high as Alex Ovechkin's coming into the season.
Ok, maybe not as high, but certainly a close second.
Holtby captured the admiration of Capital's nation last spring with the best playoff performance from a Capitals goaltender since Olaf Kolzig's heroics during Washington's run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998.
Holtby turned in a save percentage of .935 and a goals against average of 1.95 in 14 games against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins and Eastern Conference number one seed, the New York Rangers.
His performance through two games this season has been nothing like what Holtby turned in just eight months ago.
The 23-year old has given up 10 goals on 73 shots against the Lightning and Jets. Holtby has been out of position on several goals and has reacted late to a few others.
The first and fifth goals given up against the Lightning were bad goals, according to Holtby. Holtby lost sight of the puck on Eric Brewer's opening tally and was out of position on an odd-man break in the third period on Cory Conacher's goal that made the score 5-3.
Bad positioning and instincts were Holtby's downfall, again, against the Jets. Holtby was out of position and reacted late to react to a shot by Andrew Ladd from the mid-slot on a first period power play with Ladd wide open. Holtby also miss played a deflection by Jim Slater with less than a minute to go in the second period. Holtby turned his head to the right, momentarily leaving his five-hole open which allowed the puck to go in.
Goalies have bad games all the time, but one thing that was so remarkable about Holtby during the playoffs was his ability to bounce back from a bad game. After dropping Game 1 to Boston in overtime, Holtby stopped 43 of 44 shots in Game 2 as the Caps tied the series. He stopped 44 of 45 shots in Game 4 after dropping Game 3 to the Bruins, and after giving up two late goals in Game 5 against the Rangers in Madison Square Garden, Holtby responded with 30 saves and gave up one goal in Washington's Game 6 win.
That bounce back ability did not show last night.
Michael Neuvirth will start tomorrow night against the visiting Montreal Canadians in what was probably a scheduled start. With Oates's declaration last week that both goalies will need to play a lot in a short season, Holtby is sure to get his chances.
But, if he continues to falter, he may find himself in the position Neuvirth is in right now. Trying to fight his way back to the top of the depth chart.

Capitals drop home opener to Winnipeg

The Verizon Center crowd was decked out in read, holding up signs that read "Welcome Back" and "We missed you" in anticipation of the Washington Capitals long-awaited home opener.
Unfortunately for the fans, the guys in red, white and blue jerseys on the ice weren't as excited.
Washington fell to the Southeast Division rival, the Winnipeg Jets, 4-2, for their first loss in a home opener since 2000.
The Capitals are also 0-2 to start a season for the first time since 1996-97.
For the second consecutive outing, the Capitals overall performance was lackluster and not worthy of a team that came within a game of the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
A lack of fundamentals and effort caused Washington to surrender two power-play goals 3:52 apart in the first period to let an early 1-0 lead turn into a one-goal deficit.
Capitals defensemen John Carlson was caught flat-footed as an Evander Kane pass delfected off of Carlson's left skate and passed Captials' goaltender, Braden Holtby, for the Jets first goal. The second came when Andrew Ladd became wide-open in the slot with Washington's penalty killers, again, standing around watching.
Carlson's poor effort cost the Capitals late in the second period. With the Capitals still trailing by one, Carlson non-chalantly skated backwards as Kane exited the Jets zone. Carlson waived his stick at Kane, but Kane quickly elluded the stick, and Carlson, and skated into the Caps zone where he sent a cross-ice pass to forward Blake Wheeler. Wheeler easily tipped the puck passed Holtby for a 3-1 lead as Washington's Karl Alzner stood in front of the net dumbfounded.
Troy Brouwer did score on the power play with 1:16 left in the game to give the remaining fans something to clap about, but that is a small consolation.
The effort and mistakes in these first two games are troubling. Yes, the Capitals are learning a new system under not-ideal circumstances with the short-season, but that is no reason for a lack of effort. If Carlson was out of position on Kane's rush on the Jets third goal, ok, that will happen when learning a new system. But, skating backwards, flat-footed, waiving your stick is unacceptable for a player considered to be a core guy for the next decade.
The Capitals are also still trying to find a rythm offensively which I find surprising. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom played on the same line in the KHL during the lockout, but only have three combined points, all assists, through the first two games.
A notable lack of chemistry has shown with the top line of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Marcus Johannson. Ovechkin is learning to play a new position which shouldn't be ignored, but I still thought he and Backstrom would be able to connect enough to pressure defenses until Ovechkin becomes completely comfortable.
The season is still young, and a win over the visiting Montreal Canadians tomorrow night will help ease the distaste of these two early losses.
Another loss, though, and the distaste will turn into distain.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Projected lineup for Capitals vs. Jets

According to Katie Carrera of The Washington Post's Capitals Insider blog, here is the projected lineup for the Washington Capitals home opener tonight at the Verizon Center versus the Winnipeg Jets.

Here’s what the lineup should look like:








Goal: Holtby, Neuvirth

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Caps get off to inauspicous start

Last night's performance against the Tampa Bay Lightning is not the start the Capitals or us fans were hoping for. Evident was the free flowing offensive system that new coach Adam Oates said he would instill, but the tight defense was not.
Braden Holtby was frequently looking through screens and the Lightning consistently waked away at rebounds Holtby left loose in front of the net because the Capitals defense failed to keep them out of the crease.
Washington's penalty kill was also atrocious, allowing three goals and doing little to prevent Tampa Bay from setting up their power play or clear the puck out of their zone when they had chances. The Lightning were able to freely pass the puck and take shots which is one reason they were able to strike three times.
The Capitals did come back from three one-goal deficits and struck once on the power play themselves, the first of Joel Wards two tallies.
Newcomers Mike Riberio and Wojtek Wolski turned in strong performances, even hooking up on the Capitals third goal. Riberio skated hard into the Lightning zone, threw a backhander on net and Wolski punched home the rebound.
The effects of the lockout and lack of a normal training camp was evident last night as the Capitals clearly are not comfortable in Oates system, and tired as the game went on.
Washington came out skating hard and dictating play, but by the middle of the second period there was a clear lack of energy in the Capitals and they found themselves trying to fend off the Tampa push.
Fans are going to over blow the loss because of the expectations coming into the season. We've heard of how Riberio will improve the offense because he's a legit second line center, and how Oates balanced system will allow the Capitals to take advantage of the offensive talents of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and company.
We're also felt we have a legit number one goaltender in Holtby after his playoff performance last year, and watched him struggle mightily last night.
The flaws the Capitals showed last night should not be ignored by the coaching staff, but it was the first game in over six-months for many players, and it's going to take time for the players to learn Oates's system.
Last night was not wasn't the start everyone hoped for, but it is not the first game of a lost season, either.