On Saturday, the Caps traveled to Dallas to take on the Stars looking for their first regulation win of the season, and looking to stem some defensive bleeding after letting up nine goals (empty netter excluded) in the first two games. The Caps did a better job, letting in only two goals, but a closer look shows they've got a long way to improve if they want to start collecting standings points.
With the game tied in the second period (shortly after Nicklas Backstrom's goal was dubiously disallowed and after an earlier breakdown put the Stars on the board), the Stars headed through the neutral zone with a three-on-two odd man rush. A couple quick passes and a rebound shot later, the Stars scored what stood as to be the game-winning goal. Odd man rushes are tough for any defense or goalie to handle, but even granting that, the Caps skaters could have and should have played that situation much better. Here's the full replay:
The Stars have numbers from the red line in, but the Caps have a couple of backcheckers in Jay Beagle and Martin Erat. The Stars take the puck wide, and Alex Chiasson slows down to make himself available as the high man (the standard posture for the third man on a rush into the offensive zone). Chiasson's coasting gives the Caps an opportunity to catch up to him, but both Beagle and Erat inexplicably stopped skating when they cross the blue line. It's questionable whether Erat could have caught Chiasson, but Beagle definitely could have with a couple more hard strides:
Caps fans may be used to seeing one of their players with the number "8" gliding in on a backcheck, but unlike the other Caps forwards with an "8" on their jersey, Jay Beagle isn't going to make up any value in the offensive zone. He's a defense-first, defense-only player. For Beagle to let up on the backcheck in that situation is inexcusable.
Compounding the lack of effort from Beagle and Erat, John Erskine lets Cody Eakin and Alex Chiasson play their two-on-one (it became a de facto two-one-one when Steve Oleksy neutralized Ray Whitney driving to the net) like it was a two-on-none. Ideally, you'd like the defenseman to take the pass on a two-on-one, letting the goalie focus on the shooter. With the puck passing across Erskine twice, that clearly didn't happen. If the defender can't take the pass, they should try to limit the shot, or at least force a poor-angle shot. That also didn't happen. Eakin got an open shot on net from just below the faceoff dot:
Braden Holtby did an admirable job getting in front of Eakin's shot, but he put the rebound straight into the slot, which is literally the last place you want to put a rebound. It's difficult to control the rebound in those circumstances, but you have to think Holtby wishes he could have done anything else with that shot.
All told, some poor defensive positioning, effort, and execution combined to put the Caps down a goal at the midway point in the game. Unfortunately, this time the Caps weren't able to score their way out of the hole they dug, and they ended up taking zero points in a game that was there for the taking.
GIFs by B. Sheridan/@capitalshill.