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Capitals vs. Blackhawks: Grabovski's Hatty Not Quite Enough

Despite a tremendous showing from Mikhail Grabovski, and fine performances from Alex Ovechkin and the rest of the power play unit, untimely poor goaltending, suspect play in the defensive zone, and a failure to connect when it counted most led to a campaign-opening loss.

Jonathan Daniel

[GameCenter - Ice Tracker - Game Summary - Event Summary - Shot Summary - Faceoff Summary - Play-by-Play - Home TOI - Visitor TOI - Advanced Stats via Extra Skater]

It seems like just last week that Capitals faithful were making their annual dejected trudge from the Verizon Center to the Metro, where they'd spend the rest of their evening scowling at fratboys-turned-young-professionals sweating out that one-too-many Gordon Biersch Schwarzbiers into their yellow-stained collars and asking with sudden flashes of interest, "Did the Caps win?"

Well now they're back, and with a handful of fresh faces to boot. And what better way to ring in the new season than watching a banner that actually matters fall from the rafters?

Ten more notes on the game:

  • Speaking of those fresh faces, it was Connor Carrick who first made himself noticeable, and not in the way he would have liked. Brandon Bollig, who is listed at 6"2, 228 pounds, outmuscled Carrick in front of the net like a meathead gymrat outmuscles a kale-munching basketweaver, and easily deposited a rebound to open the scoring. Carrick was also the culprit on a second period holding call, which resulted in the Hawks' third goal, and then was beat in the low slot when the Blackhawks knotted the game at 4. Not the greatest debut for the 19-year-old rookie, who looked, well, like a 19-year old rookie. Think Steve Oleksy is limbering up for Thursday?
  • But despite the early gut-punch, the Capitals responded quickly with something for their own faithful to cheer about. Alexander Ovechkin. Powerplay. Pass through the slot to the circle from the goal-line. Goal. Sound familiar? The only difference was Mikhail Grabovski occupying that Mike Ribeiro spot near the goal-line in Adam Oates's powerplay. And the result was the same, and the don't-resign-Ribeiro-pickup-Grabovski-at-a-discount story arc of this offseason is becoming sweeter and sweeter by the minute.
  • Tonight marks game 1 on Braden Holtby's march towards his first full-length NHL season, and this season will undoubtedly recalibrate the measuring stick of his merits as a workhorse goalie. Allowing 3+ goals is never a point of pride for a netminder, but without several key stops by Holtby, the game could have been out of reach by the end of the second period. Instead, breakaway saves on Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane (and let's not diminish the difficulty of that) kept the game within reach. Of course, at least one of those goals was given back on what would end up being the game-winning goal— an unscreened half-slapper from near the point that likely would have been saved by a tattered old shooter tutor.
  • Early on, the Chimera/Fehr/Ward line looked good, creating a lot of chances. But the luster faded as the game wore on, with perhaps the unfamiliar defensive responsibilities of pivot catching up to Eric Fehr, who was on the ice for the Blackhawks' first three goals and then— on a more individual note— failed to slam home would should have been an easy game-tying goal on a late-game 5 on 3.
  • It was Joel Ward who did a great job of winning a stick-battle along the boards, and shooting the puck up to Mikhai Grabovski, who found himself in a two on one rush with running mate Jason Chimera. Grabovski did what every person who watched Chimera brickhand his way to a 3.3% shooting percentage last year hoped he would do. He didn't pass, instead whistling one over Corey Crawford's mitt to tie the game. Grabovski notched another goal on the powerplay in the third period, giving him four points and a hat trick on the night, putting him on pace for 328 points on the season. We'll take it.
  • Martin Erat found himself in unlikely territory, skating alongside rookies Tom Wilson and Michael Latta on the fourth line (and we'll point out that this entire line is directly related to the Capitals' 2013 first round draft picks).  We have no doubt that Adam Oates has a reason for Erat's lodging in the cellar— he had a reason for Joey Crabb's brief existence on the first line last year, didn't he? But don't expect Erat to be the Wilson/Latta chaperone for long. That's not the role you trade away an 11th overall draft pick to fill. But don't worry. Adam Oates knows that.
  • Much was made about the regular season debut of Tom Wilson, but as far as the opener went, it was much ado about nothing. Wilson saw just under 7 minutes of ice time, and in that time he put one shot on net. Grow into your role, young Jedi. We'll be patient.
  • Let's revisit the defending Hart-Trophy winning player's performance on the night. A goal, an assist, 8 shots. Alex Ovechkin looked like a force out there (and showed up on the scoresheet as a force). Here's to hoping the days of Captain Slowstart are past us.
  • Three power play goals off three offensive zone face-off wins, one from Brouwer, two from Backstrom. That's no coincidence.
  • According to the hometown scorers, the Capitals only managed 1 takeaway, to Chicago's 9. But then again, according to the same scorers, the Capitals only gave up 1 giveaway, to Chicago's 9. Sounds fishy to me...

There was good, there was bad. There was frustration, there was excitement, there was elation, there was disappointment. Welcome back to the NHL season, Rink readers. Going into the Champs' barn on banner-raising night is no easy task, and the Caps had a fair showing. There are lineup (and goaltending) kinks to be worked out, for certain, but if nothing else, this team looks exciting, they look like they've got identity, and they've certainly got the offensive firepower to hang with the best of 'em.

We'll see you on Thursday.

Game highlights: