The first game of the seeding round is in the books for the Caps, a shootout loss to the rival Lightning. While they didn’t walk away with two points, it was a solid opener for the team as they look ahead to the start of the real playoffs - plenty to work on, but plenty to build on as well.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the good and bad (and one ugly) from yesterday’s game.
Good: Braden Holtby.
If the Caps are going to make any noise in the playoffs this year, they’ll need Braden Holtby to be at his best (especially without Ilya Samsonov to turn to), and his performance in yesterday’s game was a promising start. He was especially good in the early going when his team was sleep-walking a bit in front of him, and while he gave up two goals, neither was really his fault. That Kucherov shot in particular was not getting stopped.
Bad: The Early Deficit.
We’re all too familiar with the Caps’ penchant for slow starts, and that reared its ugly head once again in this one. The first 20-30 minutes definitely felt like a preseason game, and despite some solid play by Holtby, it put the Caps behind early.
Good: The Comeback.
If you’re going to fall behind early, you’d damn well better be able to claw your way back - and the Caps did just that, scoring a couple of ugly goals that needed to be ugly and then dominating the third period.
Bad: The Second Line.
Jakub Vrana had a failed breakaway in overtime, and T.J. Oshie scored a beauty in the shootout (and inexplicably dropped the gloves in regulation). Outside of that, there’s not much proof that the team’s second line even played in yesterday’s game. This is the time of year when you really need all four lines stepping up their game and chipping in, because depth is at a premium. That hasn’t happened yet.
Sure, Tom Wilson nabbed a couple of minor penalties during the game, but he made sure to take some Lightning players with him both times - which means our Tom was basically living his best life. Aside from that, a delayed penalty that was never served (on Nikita Kucherov’s opening tally) and T.J. Oshie’s fighting major/roughing minor combo, the Caps were remarkably disciplined and gave the Lightning exactly zero power-play chances. Now, do we expect a repeat of that angelic performance? Well... no.
While the team may have stayed out of the penalty box, that doesn’t mean they were holding back on the physical stuff. In fact, aside from a bit of sluggishness early on, both teams were engaged and downright feisty throughout the game, with the Caps not shying away from laying out a punishing check.
Bad: Oshie’s Bout.
It’s been mentioned a few times already, but yes, T.J. Oshie indeed dropped the gloves yesterday. Did it potentially fire up the team and spur on the comeback? That will certainly be the narrative the team will stick with, and maybe it’s a little true. Still, it wasn’t really a welcome sight. For one thing, you generally don’t want one of your top-six guys sitting in the penalty box for five and two. For another, Oshie has a history of concussion issues, so perhaps not taking blows directly to the head would be a better option for him going forward. Love the tenacity, Osh, but keep those gloves on.
Good: The Bottom Six.
One of the keys to the Caps’ Stanley Cup win two years ago was not just the offensive contribution but also the energy and physicality provided by their third and fourth lines. They stepped up again today (with a few exceptions), with guys like Garnet Hathaway and Nic Dowd mixing it up at every opportunity, Ilya Kovalchuk showing surprising speed, and Richard Panik picking up where he left off when the season paused.
Bad: The Power Play.
It may seem weird to include this as a negative considering that a) the Caps only had two power-play chances and b) they cashed in on one of them. But neither one looked particularly good (and the second one was only salvaged by a net-front scramble). The absence of John Carlson was definitely a big one, but it didn’t look great in the exhibition game against the ‘Canes when he was there — or in the regular season, for that matter. Those five guys should be intimidating opponents whenever they step on the ice, and it’s just not happening.
Bad: The Kempny-Gudas Phenomenon.
This pairing needs to never happen again. Also, breaking news: Radko Gudas is not as good at hockey as John Carlson.
Good: Brenden Dillon.
Dillon led the entire team in relCF% - by a wide margin - while skating close to 20 minutes at even strength, was not on the ice for either goal-against, and kept the Lightning to just three scoring chances at five-on-five while he was patrolling the blue line. An all-around strong game for the new guy.
Bad: The Shootout.
Not the Caps’ performance in said shootout (although... blech) but just the existence of it in the first place. This is probably one of the bigger flaws with the round-robin games in general. Are they playoff games or are they regular-season games? And if they’re the former for the purposes of recording stats, why are they played under the overtime/shootout rules of the latter? Playoffs should not have shootouts. Period.
And speaking of the shootout...
Ugly - Kuznetsov’s Shootout “Attempt”
Now, granted, issues in the shootout aren’t going to come up when the first round gets underway... but what in the name of all that is good and holy was this crap??