Here’s Saturday’s Plus/Minus:
Plus: Congratulations to Pheonix Copley on earning his first NHL win, a strong showing all game including three of four saves in the shootout to pick up the two points.
Minus: The Caps had leads of 2-0 and 3-2 and saw both slip away, and almost saw two points slip away as well with a late-game penalty. Not an ideal way to play a struggling team.
Ten more notes on the game.
- Today’s game marked the debut of some new lines, as Coach Reirden continues to look for a top-six formula that can provide consistent offense. The change paid off early in this one, as the Caps got on the board first thanks to some nice forechecking by the new-look top line. Ovechkin and Kuznetsov helped keep the puck alive, and Kuznetsov (as he so often does) found the open man - i.e. Vrana - for the tap-in and 1-0 lead.
- In case you were wondering, yes, the Caps’ power play is still pretty damn good, and this time it was T.J. Oshie cashing in with his first extra-man goal of the season. It was his ridiculously good backhand pass to Ovechkin that got the play started, with the captain getting his usual shot from the office and setting up a rebound for Oshie to clean up.
- The Flames didn’t let the Caps celebrate that 2-0 lead for too long, however, as Travis Hamonic deflected a puck past Copley less than 30 seconds after Oshie’s goal.
- And then just over two minutes later, it was 2-2, as the mighty Calgary power play - which has had more opportunities than any other team this year and yet cashed in just six times - struck just nine seconds into Brett Connolly’s minor.
- It’s no secret that the Caps’ penalty kill has struggled to start the season. And since the team is definitely aware of their deficiency in this particular area, they’d be wise to keep avoidable penalties to a minimum - and yet this game featured no less than three offensive-zone penalties, including two that negated power plays (their biggest strength at the moment). Not an ideal game plan, and something to keep an eye on as the season goes on.
- Strictly by the numbers, Pheonix Copley has had a rough start to the year - but it’s hard to pin too much of that on him, and he was solid again today, turning aside
- After a four-goal first period, things quieted a bit in the second until a Niskanen point shot late in the period found the back of the net to give the Caps a 3-2 lead. It was, to say the least, a more traditional goal than his first of the year.
- Niskanen was able to put the Caps on top thanks in part to a nice screen by Jaskin. This is the second-straight game in which Jaskin’s big body has helped the Caps get on the board (the first being Burakovsky’s tally Thursday night) - and that net-front presence is something the team has been missing at times this year, especially with Tom Wilson out of the lineup.
- The Caps were able to ride Niskanen’s lead tally almost to the end, but gave up the tying goal in the last two minutes with Mike Smith on the bench on a bomb from Matthew Tkachuk... and then found themselves shorthanded again, this time by way of everyone’s favorite delay of game penalty. Nothing like a little extra excitement to hope the Caps could capture even a single point, but thankfully the penalty-killers were able to take care of the remainder of regulation...
- ...and the 48 seconds of the penalty that extended into overtime. Ultimately overtime yielded nothing for either team, and for the second time this season the Caps (and Copley) were headed to the shootout. Thankfully the outcome was different this time around, with Kuznetsov and Backstrom scoring the goals and Copley turning aside all but one shooter to pick up the win.
So that’s a wrap on Western Canada, and the Caps head home for a bit of a break before heading back out to Montreal next week. It was an up-and-down trip, but one that yielded four of a possible six points - and that’s not a bad way to end October.