After opening the season on the road Tuesday night against one of the teams expected to be among the League's best, the Caps returned home to raise one final Southeast Division Champs banner and host one of the teams expected to be among the League's worst. But the NHL being what it is and the Capitals being who they are, nothing ever comes easy. Sometimes it may look that way, but if a team isn't prepared to play, it's rarely going to get the results it might want or even expect.
On Thursday night, the Caps dug themselves a deep hole early and spent most of the rest of the night digging out. Luckily, they had enough time to do just that, tying the game late in the third and pushing it to a scoreless overtime before a shootout settled things 5-4 in the Caps' favor. On this night, the proverbial "sixty-minute effort" wasn't needed. But don't get used to it.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The Caps had the better of play in the early going, but the Flames struck first when David Jones walked around Jack Hillen just inside the blueline and went in alone on Braden Holtby before putting the puck over the netminder's shoulder shortside. Both Hillen and Holtby were in fine position to stop Jones... they just didn't. Brutal play by Hillen, but Holtby didn't cover up the mistake, and both gave the Flames winger too much space.
- As bad as that shift was, Hillen's next one would come to a far more gruesome end, as the Caps blueliner took a hit along the boards from Lance Bouma, crumpled to the ice and lay writhing in pain while Tom Wilson was busy taking Bouma to task for what he felt was a bad hit (weird takedown, by the way). Hillen looked about as bad as a guy not on a board can look as he was helped off the ice. That Alexander Urbom waiver claim earlier in the day looks a whole lot better right now, doesn't it?
- A few minutes later, with the teams skating at four-on-four after coincidental minors to Alex Ovechkin and Kris Russell, Lee Stempniak out-muscled, out-worked, out-everythinged Mike Green in front of Holtby and had a tap-in for a 2-0 lead. If you include last year's playoffs, at that point the Caps had given up 13 of the last 14 even-strength goals scored in their games. As we noted earlier today, getting better at evens has to be priority number one for the Caps right now. Let's double-down on that one.
- Not to be outdone, the penalty kill would yield the third Calgary tally before the first period was done, and that would be all for Holtby, who looks to be off to a start this season reminiscent of last year's, when he was bad for the better part of the first month (1-4-0/4.74/.857 in his first five NHL appearances of the campaign). I'm no goalie coach, but he seems to be dropping into the butterfly a bit prematurely. That goal also made it eight-straight goals for Caps opponents at Verizon Center, so there's that.
- Five minutes and change into the second period, Connor Carrick took a hooking minor that was essentially two minutes because Jiri Hudler was holding his stick as if it were a baby bird. The hockey gods were apparently nonplussed by Hudler's handle, as they allowed Marcus Johansson to put a perfect pass on Carrick's stick as the latter left the box, springing him on a breakaway that the youngster deposited behind Karri Ramo (whose last NHL game came in April of 2009) on a beauty of a move. We still say he's headed out of town sooner rather than later, but maybe that Hillen injury recalibrates things just a bit.
- Calgary pushed the lead back to a field goal a minute-and-a-half later following a comical misplay by Michal Neuvirth behind the net. The way the Caps are playing right now, they can't afford to be gifting any goals to their opponents.
- The one thing you never have to worry about (apparently)? The power-play. Just past the midpoint of the middle stanza, the Caps got their first extra-man advantage and wasted no time. Johansson-Green-Ovechkin, pass-pass-goal. Twenty-four seconds, and you know pretty much exactly how it went down.
- The other thing you never have to worry about (apparently)? The top line. Four minutes after scoring on the power play, Ovechkin rocketed a shot over Ramo's shoulder, but the play was made by Nicklas Backstrom winning the draw thanks to Johansson, who teed it up for the captain. Superb effort by all three to draw the Caps to within one heading into the final frame (and put Ovechkin in a tie for the team lead in goals with Mikhail Grabovski... that didn't last long). It was also Johansson's third assist of the night, a career-best for him.
- A couple of penalties early in the third kept the top two lines off the ice for most of the first half of the period, but the Caps did get their second power-play chance of the night midway through the period and then a third on an Oscar-worthy sell of an interference penalty by Neuvirth. Backstrom converted on that one on a bit of a scramble and a Grabovski feed and the game was tied, the power-play once again coming through.
- The rest of the actual hockey proved fruitless, so off to a shootout we went... but not for long. Grabovski and Ovechkin both abused Ramo on the backhand, Neuvirth held the fort at his end and that was that. Never a doubt.
Through two games, the Caps simply need more. More saves, more depth scoring, more consistent defense, more discipline all over the ice... just more. Because if they don't get it, they'll get more losses before the wins start coming with any frequency. There's only so much power-play lipstick that can be put on the pig we've seen so far...