The Capitals started the season with a stinker in Atlanta on Friday night, and just about completely redeemed themselves by blowing out New Jersey at home on Saturday. The odds were pretty strong tonight's game was going to fall somewhere in the middle, and it did -- though probably closer to the season opener than fans would have liked.
That's not to say the games were all that comparable, because they weren't. On Friday, the Capitals looked flat, uninspired, even uninterested. Tonight the team just looked, well, off. Passes were missed, pucks were mishandled, and players looked like they had a hard time getting on the same page as one another. Fortunately, the Ottawa Senators were just as sloppy, and the Caps were able to come away with the victory.
For Washington, the biggest plus was probably Michal Neuvirth. The Czech netminder stopped 29 of the 31 shots he faced, as the Capitals relied on him to make big stops and keep them in the game, something they've done in each of their three games in 2010-11. Of course, therein lies the rub: while it's great that the Capitals have been buoyed by their rookie 22-year-old (ostensible) number two goalkeeper, it's not so great that they've needed him to be so good so often.
Ten additional thoughts on tonight's game:
- Matt Hendricks may very well be the new Matt Bradley, and the fact that he was an unrestricted free agent until about two weeks ago means there are a lot of teams around the NHL whose pro scouting staffs should be kicking themselves right now or that good fourth liners aren't that hard to find in the offseason. Or both.
- Through three games, Mike Green and Jeff Schultz have played a combined 149 minutes and have been on the ice for a combined total of one goal (Green was out for Andrew Ladd's goal in Atlanta; opponents have yet to score with Schultz on the ice). They also have a combined plus-seven rating, 11 hits, and 12 blocked shots. Not bad for a soft player who can't skate and a misplaced winger, huh?
- In the first period, the Senators had a run of extended pressure that helped them establish momentum, and had nearly weathered a shorthanded situation that ran the risk of turning the tide. Then Matt Carkner took an unnecessary roughing penalty, laying out Caps winger Brooks Laich in front of the Ottawa net after the whistle. The Caps were able to score on the extension of the power play, and went in to the first intermission ahead 1-0, depite having been outshot and, generally speaking, outplayed in the first period. That's what crease-clearing generally does for you in the post-lockout NHL.
- John Erskine's played three games for the Capitals this season; in two of them he's taken bad penalties around the net and lucked out that the referees decided to even things up, and in two of them he's taken himself out of position to make a big hit in the neutral zone, resulting in the creation or exacerbation of a scoring chance against the Caps. As J.P. tweeted on Friday, there's physical, and then there's smart and physical. Erskine needs more of the latter.
- In today's Ups and Down post, J.P. expressed hope that Eric Fehr's garbage-time goal against the Devils would kickstart the winger's offense after a couple of games where he'd been largely invisible. That looks to have been the case, as Fehr picked up a second-period marker and was making noise in the offensive zone from that point on. The best part? Both the goal and the subsequent pressure were the result of Fehr getting to the front of the net.
- Speaking of going to the net, the Capitals had two goals in regulation, and both came from players working hard along the boards while a teammate drove the net. Imagine that.
- Two night after having a great game against the New Jersey Devils, John Carlson struggled a bit, ending up with a giveaway, a minus-one rating, four times as many shots blocked or off target as on net, and getting beat by Ryan Shannon by being over-aggressive and playing the puck over the body. That said, something tells me he'll be just fine.
- Man, how bummed is Jarkko Ruutu going to be when he finds out Oscars aren't handed out at the NHL Awards show?
- It's hard to say how much of it is the result of his ongoing competition with David Steckel (and, to a certain extent, Matt Hendricks) and how much is the result of being fully healthy, but Boyd Gordon has played the first two games of his season with a level of energy and reckless abandon we didn't get enough of in 2009-10.
- If I were a coach and had to dress both Tyler Sloan and John Erskine, and had the home-ice, last change advantage, I'd strongly consider putting the two defensemen together and doing my best to protect them, rather than creating two weak pairings.
Moving forward, look for the Capitals to try and address the issue of puck possession; namely, to get more of it. Which bring us to one last thought: with the team garnering so little, and performing inconsistently in the faceoff dot, is Bruce Boudreau going to have to find a way to get both David Steckel and Boyd Gordon in the lineup Wednesday night?