Welcome to the newest feature here on Capitals Watch: Morning After. It’s a shortened season, so there’s less time to pick over the details of each game, but as Brooks Laich said recently, it also means: “it’s not like the NFL, but in a way that every single game is gonna be scrutinized so much more.”
So, welcome. I’m essentially stealing my colleague Rich Campbell’s “Initial Thoughts” blog idea, renaming it and doing it with the Caps instead of the Redskins. The idea is to give you, the reader a full meal of details and analysis from the most recent game.
Enjoy your breakfast:
GAME 8: CAPITALS 3, FLYERS 2
Alex Ovechkin’s stat line: 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points, 2 penalty minutes, 7 shots on goal, 1 miss.
“I thought it was the best game he’s played this year, quite honestly,” coach Adam Oates said. “He was involved in the whole game.”
Obviously the Caps want Ovechkin to score goals; that’s why he’s getting paid $9 million. But what Oates wants out of his captain is something more, the kind of complete game that the New Jersey Devils got out of Ilya Kovalchuk last season.
Ovechkin was back on right wing Friday night against Philadelphia, on a line with Mike Ribeiro and Wojtek Wolski. He might have carried the puck into the offensive zone less than previous games, but Oates liked the possession throughout the night.
“I actually thought he carried it the most he’s carried it all year,” Oates said. “I thought he had a lot of opportunities. He’s having a tough time with that empty net, but he’ll get there. He knows how to score.”
Ovechkin shot toward the empty net and the puck appeared to go in after the buzzer. So he’s stuck on two goals this season, both on the power play.
But progress is what Oates likes to see. If Ovechkin can be a force all over the ice and bring back the scoring threat, that adds a different element to the Caps on both ends.
Wojtek Wolski’s goal, poking the puck away from Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn and breaking in on Ilya Bryzgalov, looked like the perfect example of what Oates’ system is designed to do: create offense from neutral zone turnovers.
“The system works,” Wolski said. “When we stick to it we get opportunities. We seem to really create a hard game for the other team. It’s when we get away from it that they get a lot of opportunities.”
The same could be said for Nicklas Backstrom’s goal, which defenseman John Carlson helped create with a forced turnover. But the Flyers also got caught totally out of position because of a bad change.
“With Nicky’s goal I’m not going to get too excited about it because you’re not going to get a full blown 3-on-0 very often,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “I don’t know what happened there. But I’ll take it.”
Oates said of creating chances from neutral zone snafus, “I thought we did a good job of that.”
That’s what we need,” Backstrom said. “We try to be very tight there in the neutral zone and waiting for those turnovers. Today we were lucky.”
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. Friday night the Caps were both.
“I think we need to be aggressive offensively when we have the opportunity but we need to recognize it,” defenseman Mike Green said. “There’s time when you should jump and take a little bit of risk and time when you need to stay back and in that case, John made a great play to step up and close the gap and get a good stick, caused a great play for Nick.”
Brouwer’s goal wasn’t a product of the system. He had all the time in the world between the faceoff circle and the crease, eventually sniping one over Bryzgalov’s right shoulder.
“I was looking to pass for the longest time and then I saw that I had a little bit of room on the short side, so I figured I might as well take it,” Brouwer said.
Green set up the play, and things turned out better than Thursday night, when a hard pass from the defenseman went off Brouwer’s stick and out of play.
“Their D-men I think were trying to take away the pass because Mike sucked a lot of guys over to that side of the ice and was able to find a seam,” Brouwer said. “And thankfully it didn’t ramp off my stick and go into the 14th row today.”
Brouwer saw the opening in the upper-left corner of the net.
“That’s why I shot it there,” he said. “I did have quite a bit of time.”
Back to Backstrom’s goal for a second. It was his first of the season, set up by Carlson. The stretch pass was perfect.
“I can’t necessarily say that I meant to put it on his tape like that,” Carlson said, “but I was just trying to make a defensive play at the blue line and it worked out pretty well.”
Caps defensemen were looking for stretch passes against a porous Flyers defense.
“I think that the more you move the puck north the better you are,” Carlson said. “I think that’s one of our mentalities, and we’ve been working on it, whether it’s D-to-D and up or if the play’s there obviously they want us to make it. Sometimes you can catch D a little relaxed or trying to get their gap, and that’s tough. As a defenseman, I know when you got a guy stretching you don’t want to be standing flat-footed right next to him when the guy’s coming full speed down at you. When you gauge that, you can try to spring.”
The Caps’ power play looked downright atrocious at times, going 0-for-5 Friday night, including a horrid two-man advantage that came up empty.
“You’ve got to give them credit, they’re a good PK team,” Oates said of the Flyers, who entered the game ranked 27th in the NHL. “Maybe we didn’t win enough battles. I think faceoffs hurt us; not winning the draw makes a big difference.”
Ask Backstrom and the problem began before that. Nothing could get set up.
“First of all we’ve got to get in the zone,” he said, “and then we need everybody to help out a little bit better, I think, than we have been doing.”
Backstrom said the Caps should work on their power-play breakouts some more. But it also could have been an isolated problem against the Flyers.
“Philly kind of threw a different look at us tonight. I don’t know if we were expecting it, I don’t know if we were ready for it,” Brouwer said. “We had some troubles recovering pucks because they’d throw that one D-man a little bit further back than most teams do. They stand up at the blue line.
“So we had a little trouble with recovery and as a result if you can’t recover the puck you can’t start your power play. So we’d prefer to enter the zone with full possession, but sometimes it doesn’t work that way.”