Last night marked the beginning of both the 2014-15 season, the 40th in franchise history, and the Barry Trotz era in DC. After a bit of ceremony, a bit of history and a bit of fanfare, the Caps dropped the puck on a new season and immediately took charge - while many of the faces were familiar, the team that took the ice at the start of the game was not the Caps of a season ago. And while some troubling tendencies lingered (and while the team would eventually experience their first loss of the season), there was a lot to like about the first of 82.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Fueled by a combination of opening-night adrenaline, a tired opponent and (hopefully) just the system Barry Trotz wants his team to play, the Caps absolutely steamrolled the Canadiens through the opening twenty minutes. Every loose puck was chased down, every pass was crisp and on target, and every opponent who ventured into the Caps' zone was quickly nullified. By the end of the first frame, the Caps held a 1-0 lead and a shot advantage of 15-2... with both Montreal shots coming in the period's final two minutes, and both on the power play. Of course, the fact that the Caps weren't able to end the game right then and there ended up being crucial to the eventual outcome, allowing the Habs to regroup and get back into the game. Killer instinct, boys.
- That 1-0 lead after 20 minutes was thanks to Andre Burakovsky, who picked up his first career NHL goal - the first Cap to do so in his first game since some guy named Alex Ovechkin did it back in 2005, by the way. The play started with Troy Brouwer's hard work in the Habs' zone forcing a turnover that Brouwer then got to Burakovsky in the slot - just one of many times on the night when the kid was in the right place at the right time. He didn't seem fazed by the enormity of his debut, and Trotz made sure to give him opportunities in a number of situations from even strength to power-play time to four-on-four, and even a turn in the shootout.
- He wasn't the only one having an eventful first game; Liam O'Brien, the camp invitee-turned-NHLer, made sure to make his presence known early on, jumping in to challenge heavyweight Brandon Prust after a hit on Jack Hillen along the boards. Prust probably got the better of O'Brien when all was said and done, but the youngster got some decent shots of his own in and held his own against a pretty tough customer.
- Keeping with the theme of strong debuts, how about Brooks Orpik? He isn't exactly a wide-eyed rookie, but he was playing in his first game with his new team, and he stood out for all the right reasons. His physicality was on full display most of the night, with some thunderous hits - particularly at the blue line, which created more than a few chances for his teammates to jump on the puck and carry it to safety. And while he's never going to win a footrace, and while there were a few times when a Montreal player was able to slip past him, he generally showed very good positioning. All in all, a nice start for a guy that hasn't had the warmest of welcomes in DC.
- They didn't show up on the scoresheet last night (at least not in a positive way), but the top trio of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Eric Fehr looked pretty good together, particularly early in the game - and made some plays in the offensive zone that were mesmerizing for their speed and skill. Things are still a bit off for them as they work to build chemistry and timing, but it feels like they're poised to break out. Give it a few more games, they'll find it.
- Braden Holtby came into last night's game with a flawless record against the Habs; sadly, that record now has a bit of a blemish on it with the first loss of the season. That doesn't take away from the fact that he was very solid in the opener, keeping Montreal off the scoreboard until late in the third period. He did get lucky a few times (more on that in a minute) and we've become accustomed to him tightening up a bit more in the shootout, but overall not a bad start.
- They say you have to be good to be lucky, lucky to be good - well, Holtby and the Caps were both at times in last night's game, with not one but two would-be goals going to review and getting waved off. The first was called off thanks to Rene Bourque making "incidental contact" with Holtby (although one person's incidental contact is another's blatant goaltender interference); the second simply wasn't a goal, but a laser of a shot from Bourque - yup, him again - that caught metal but definitely had Holtby beaten. So... whew.
- Throughout preseason the Caps and their coaching staff talked about wanting to tighten up the penalty killing, something that has plagued the team for a number of years. They had plenty of opportunities to practice it last night, giving Montreal five opportunities with the extra man (albeit a few of them overlapping with some power-play chances of their own), and killed off all five of them, giving the Habs just six shots in those five man-advantages.
- Of course, while seeing the Caps kill off all of their opponents' power plays was nice, it wasn't quite as nice to watch them kill off their own power-play chances, as well. This is probably the one area that has troubled them the most, through preseason and into last night's game, as the power play that once dominated the League has sputtered so far this season. It didn't help that they took penalties on three separate occasions to nullify a power play (Ovechkin doing so twice); in the almost seven minutes that were spent with the extra man, they mustered just four shots of their own. That said... if there's one area that is a concern but not really a concern, it's probably the power play.
- Last season the Caps went to the shootout a staggering 21 times; they're off to a good start in that department, as regulation and overtime weren't enough to decide a winner. Nice job by the Caps in overtime, however, as they carried much of the play and had a few excellent chances right as time expired. After that it was on to the shootout, with five rounds needed (including a couple of beautiful goals by Nicklas Backstrom and Eric Fehr) before Montreal would ultimately emerge triumphant. C'est la vie.
So the season officially gets underway with a loss, but a loss that is accompanied by a point in the standings - and more importantly, a lot of positive things on which the team can build going forward. Eventually it would be nice to see the Caps not only take control of a period but an entire game, to turn a 15-2 shot advantage in a single frame into a three- or four-goal margin on the scoreboard... but that will hopefully happen down the road.
For now, It's just Game 1, but if this is the way the Caps are going to play the rest of the season, this could be a really fun team to watch.