The Caps haven't played in four days. Four days with nothing else to talk about or report on aside from Martin Erat's continued presence on the fourth line and the team's lack of even-strength scoring (with a fair amount of silliness sprinkled in, both hilarious and annoying).
It's been a long four days.
So puck drop couldn't come too soon for the Caps and their fans as they played host to their new-old division rivals, the Carolina Hurricanes. Time to put all the ridiculousness behind them, start finding some chemistry and kick off the five-game homestand with a much-needed win. Alas...
Ten more notes on the game:
- Much of the talk through these first few games - and understandably so - has centered around the Caps' lack of production at even strength. In fact, coming into tonight's game the Caps had scored just three times five-on-five (tied for second-fewest in the League) and given up eight (tied for fourth-most). So it was something of a relief to see the Caps not only come out with some strong even-strength shifts early in the game but actually get a goal a little over five minutes into the first period.
- That goal, while not the prettiest one you'll ever see, came courtesy of Jason Chimera (who refuses to go 27 games without a goal this time around, thank you very much). It was also the product of a good shift and continued attack by the third line, perhaps the Caps' best trio on the night and definitely in the opening frame. Chimera, Joel Ward and Eric Fehr combined for seven shots on goal (five of which came in the first period) and looked noticeably better than they had in the first three games. Not that it was hard.
- Alexander Urbom's Caps' debut was a good one for the young blueliner, as he demonstrated some of the skills that clearly made the Caps want him and the Devils sad to lose him. He does have a cannon of a shot from the blue line, and got it on net three times in the first period, but more importantly seems very calm on the blue line and wasn't trying to do too much. Good start.
- The defense as a whole did a much better job tonight of not only getting some shots on net in their own right but also getting the puck up ice... although at times it was sloppier than others, particularly after the first period, and it cost them in the end.
- After getting called up earlier this week for what seemed to be just practice time with the team, Michael Latta got into his second game of the season - and really got into it, generating some good physicality all over the ice and goading Nathan Gerbe into a retaliatory penalty that negated a power play for Carolina.
- The captain keeps on captaining and getting goals - but the continued pleasant surprise is the different ways Alex Ovechkin is finding to score, and it paid off again tonight. Good job by him to get to the front of the net and get his stick in the way of a Steve Oleksy point shot to tip it past Anton Khudobin. That tally gives him five on the season already, a mark he didn't hit until the 13th game last year, and he finished the night with eight shots on goal, two more that were blocked and three that missed the target in just about twenty minutes of ice time.
- That deflection goal by Ovechkin was just one of many times where a failed clear by one team led to a goal or a penalty drawn (or both) by the other. It bit the Caps in the second period when Martin Erat's failed clear results in a John Erskine penalty, which resulted in the game-tying goal by Alexander Semin. A few minutes earlier, it was a failed clear by rookie Elias Lindholm that ended up in the net courtesy of Ovechkin's deflection. And the kicker, the eventual game-winning goal, came about when Latta and Tom Wilson got trapped in their own end after a minute-long shift. Sometimes it's the little things.
- There were lots of bodies falling to the ice on the game-winner by Nathan Gerbe, but the most noticeable (in part because of the very graceful way he fell) was John Erskine, who got tangled up in his own legs in front of the net and not only couldn't help Braden Holtby out but probably hindered his ability to make the save. Add in a bad penalty that resulted in the 'Canes' power play goal earlier in the game and... yeah. Not the best night for Big John.
- A goal and a diving penalty? That's just one assist shy of an Alexander Semin Hat Trick, Alexander Semin! ...oh, we kid, but that penalty was probably a reputation call more than anything else. And admit it, there is something beautiful and familiar about that shot from #28 on the power play... even if it went against the Caps.
- Ironically, while the Caps looked much better at even strength and actually got some results, their power play that had been dominant through the first three games suddenly sputtered. A number of the Caps' power plays were truncated, either because they took a penalty themselves or because they drew a call while killing a penalty of their own, but all told the Caps still managed a big donut on five power play opportunities...
- ...including a crucial one late in the game while trailing by one. With the teams at four-on-four, Jordan Staal made the mistake of putting the puck over the glass with just under 30 seconds to go in regulation. A mad scramble ensued, but the Caps were unable to generate much more than that... perhaps in large part because their captain was sitting in the box. Guessing the 'Canes will take that any day.
So the win we all needed was not to be tonight, and another late power play dooms the Caps' chances at a comeback. What started out as a strong game for the team tapered off until they looked almost out of gas at the end when they needed it the most. 9:15 of ice time for Martin Erat will do little to quell the talk about his demotion on the fourth line, and the defense (some notable culprits in particular) continues to struggle.
But hey, at least they scored 5-on-5 - check that one off the list and on to the next game.