The Washington Capitals had a rough first period against the Edmonton Oilers before ultimately pulling out the victory. If not for some timely saves, and a weak goal allowed by Jason LaBarbera, the score could have been ugly after twenty minutes. One of the culprits in the Capitals' difficult first period (and, really, their difficult start to the season, as Troy Brouwer was quick to point out Saturday night) was poor passing. Passes were not crisp and accurate, and players failed to cleanly receive them. Nowhere was this more evident than on Boyd Gordon's opening strike.
Prior to Gordon's goal, the Capitals won a loose puck below the goal line and had an opportunity for what should have been a fairly easy breakout. Mike Green, one of the best puck-handlers and passers on the Caps, had the puck in the corner and open passing lanes to both Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson. A good pass would have had either player clearly out of the zone and heading up ice with speed.
Instead, as you can see, Green doesn't give Ovechkin a great pass, and Ovechkin fails to corral the puck. The pass was probably good enough for Ovechkin to handle, but not great - both players should have done better, and normally do. As it turned out, the puck went down the length of the ice and icing was called against the Caps. The tired top line and defensive pair had to stay out on the ice against a rested Oilers unit headed by noted offensive powerhouse, Boyd Gordon.
After the following draw, the Capitals eventually won the puck and had an opportunity to move the puck up ice and get a line change. But rather than making a conservative play, Green went for a home run pass to Nicklas Backstrom, looking to catch the Oilers off guard.
Justin Schultz knocked the puck out of the air and started an odd-man rush back into the Caps' zone. While Schultz did make a great play on the puck (probably the first time that phrase has ever appeared on this blog), that wasn't a good decision by Green - his momentum is taking him away from where he's passing, meaning he didn't have his weight behind the puck and was using all arms to try to go across the entire neutral zone. He had two Capitals (Ovechkin and Johansson) skating toward the bench right by the red line. A simple chip up to them would have allowed a dump-and-change, but Green opted for the high-risk, high-reward play, and the Capitals were quickly put on the defensive.
The tired unit (with Ovechkin and Johansson forced to abort an attempted line change) had to race back to try to neutralize a three-on-two. It didn't quite work out.
Because the Oilers are charging up ice with speed, and Alzner and Green are tired, the gap-control is poor for the Caps (though admirable given the circumstances). The Oilers have a ton of space, and make good use of it. Schultz gains the zone and pushes Alzner back, then hits Gordon at the top of the slot, and Gordon fires the puck just inside the far post. You can see Backstrom and Ovechkin coasting back into the picture, and it's hard not to be reminded of the game winning goal the Capitals allowed against the Dallas Stars.
All of this started from a simple failed breakout pass, and when it was all said and done Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green, and Karl Alzner had all finished way-too-long shifts that ended with them fishing the puck out of their own net. Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Johansson all skated 1:23 that shift; Alzner and Green a whopping 1:46 each. The icing occurred at 9:17; the goal was scored at 9:48. The extra half-minute the unit had to skate turned a normal-length shift into an unreasonably-long shift, and the fatigue was evident in all five skaters. Better execution of a simple pass could have prevented this. It's not the end of the world, and the Caps still won the two points, but these are the little things the team will need to fine tune if they want to be true contenders this season.