So far in the Dale Hunter Era, the Washington Capitals have shown two distinct patterns: Total domination of Canadian teams, and being utterly manhandled by American teams. Tonight the Caps faced the Colorado Avalanche, an American team that used to be a Canadian team. Unfortunately for the Caps, the American part of the Avalanche franchise won out and the Caps fell to 0-5-0 against American teams.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Goaltending has been an issue for the Caps for most of the season, and tonight's game started ominously for Michal Neuvirth. Some people will see a puck that got lost in the crowd, some people will see a 60 foot floater that found the net. Either way, it's hard to imagine Neuvirth wouldn't like another crack at that shot.
- Once that fluke goal got out of Neuvirth's system, he was solid. He stopped all the shots he saw the rest of the way and gave the team a chance to win. But when you are playing such close games, those freebies really hurt.
- As everyone that even passively follows either of these teams knows, the Caps and Avalanche were involved in a significant trade over the summer. Semyon Varlamov was shipped from Washington to Colorado for First and Second round draft picks. While some combination of the Avalanche coaching staff and Varlamov's back conspired to ruin the Neuvirth v. Varlamov showdown, the bigger story line remained. Caps fans have been excited at the prospect that Colorado's pick might be a choice top-ten pick. So Caps fans are likely ecstatic that the team has found a way to double the odds for a lottery pick.
- Little things can make a big difference in the NHL. Just prior to the first Avalanche PP we saw an example of that. Mathieu Perreault won the defensive zone draw to the corner, and then Dmitri Orlov got to the puck first and reversed the puck behind the net to Roman Hamrlik. If Hamrlik is able to control the routine pass then he has a simple play to get the puck to a wing and the Caps are out of their zone. Instead, Hamrlik muffed the pass, the Avalanche kept the puck in, and Perreault took a penalty. A routine breakout turned into a big PK early in the game, already down 1-0.
- If a team is losing going in to the third period, and then they only muster 5 shots on goal in the third period, that team will probably lose the game. The Avalanche played well, but they aren't exactly a shut it down kind of team. The Caps simply need to find a way to create more offensive opportunities when the pressure is on.
- Everybody knows you need to get traffic on good goalies if you want to score goals and John Carlson really made it a point to demonstrate that lesson tonight. His textbook screen was instrumental in getting Erik Johnson his first goal of the season.
- When Alex Semin scored on his snipe of a shot in the second period, you could feel the same thought resound across Caps fans: "It's about time." While one might wonder if Giguere has done any film study on Semin, it was still a great shot. The Caps are going to need more of that from Alex "Sell High" Semin if they are going to resemble the team that used to strike fear into the heart of defenses.
- Over the summer Caps fans were excited to welcome former-Captain Jeff Halpern back to the team. Caps fans knew they were getting a responsible player that would give an honest effort on the third or fourth lines. Even his most ardent supporters probably didn't envision him playing his way up to the second line this year, but (nominally) that's just what has happened. That's a good sign, right?
- Even though the Caps weren't directly burned by a faceoff loss, going 19-33 in the dot made their job harder all night. They started a lot of shifts in puck-pursuit mode, and didn't give themselves controlled possession in the offensive zone. On the last gasp power play opportunity Halpern got tossed from the circle and Brooks Laich lost the draw. Threat neutralized.
- Sometimes it's good to listen to out-of-town broadcasts (even if it is the Avalanche crew). Hearing the excitement they had watching Alex Ovechkin, in a game in which Ovechkin didn't really move the needle for Caps fans, was refreshing. His days of 65 goals are behind him, but he can still be an exciting player and hopefully we can still appreciate that.
The Caps continue to be a very flawed team, but they also continue to be a team that doesn't realistically represent what they will be when it matters. There are so many changes and adjustments being made that it makes no sense to get too worked up over these games. All that matters is how well the players continue to learn and execute the new systems. At this point it's a long process, one that won't be glamorous, but the transition has to be made. The next chance to take a step forward comes next Tuesday against the Nashville Predators.