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 9: PENGUINS 6, CAPITALS 3
It was over in less than 10 minutes. Not 10 minutes into the game but 10 minutes after John Carlson’s flukey goal off the stanchion and in, the Pittsburgh Penguins pounced. Three goals within 7 minutes and 3 seconds.
Defenseman Karl Alzner sounded like a prophet.
“It’s just definitely a team where if you don’t play that 60 minutes like we’ve been talking about we’re going to be in trouble because they only a need a couple minutes to score a few goals,” Alzner said Saturday.
Goals by Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz 37 seconds apart put the Caps down two, but it was Kunitz’s on the power play that put the game out of reach.
“When we’re playing well we were right with them. We were in the game, we thought we carried the play as much as they did and then we got scored on in bunches,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “That seems to be the theme of this season. … It was a second quick goal after a deflating goal when we thought we had the play.”
When goaltender Braden Holtby said “our mental game right now isn’t strong enough,” this is what he meant. A bad bounce goes against the Caps and things snowball.
“I think that’s something that we haven’t really gotten over: When the chips aren’t quite falling our way we kind of, I don’t want to say give up, but we change our game plan a tiny bit,” right wing Joey Crabb said. “We just got to stick to what we’re doing.”
Left wing Wojtek Wolski’s tripping penalty at 13:10 of the second period was a turning point. It ended the Caps’ power play as they were down 4-2.
And the shift frustrated center Mike Ribeiro.
“[On the power play] you don’t have to score all the time, but I think you need to create some momentum to keep it going,” Ribeiro said. “A lot of times when you don’t create much on your power play you just lose momentum and then other teams come back and score. And the line who goes there after us has to realize, too, that you cannot get score after a so-so power play. Just keep us in the game.”
It seemed like “Just keep us in the game” is all the Caps asked out of Holtby, at least early on. The young goaltender wasn’t the sole reason for the loss, but he allowed five goals on the game’s first 14 shots.
There was at least one goal (Kunitz’s first of three on the day) Holtby wished he could have back.
“I was trying to be too perfect on the save, trying to get my positioning too perfect, and sometimes you just have to scramble and make the save or whatever you have to do, and I think that’s what I should have done there,” he said.
After Holtby allowed the Penguins’ fourth goal, and then the fifth, coach Adam Oates had a decision to make.
“There was a time where I thought about pulling him for a spark, but you know what? The guy’s been very good for this franchise the last year, and I thought he earned the right to stay in there and fight through it, and the guys rallied around him,” Oates said. “You know, we had a really good third period.”
Previous coaches around here would have been quicker with that trigger. But Oates doesn’t want his young goaltender to lose confidence in himself.
“I mean, that was kind of the thought process,” Oates said. “I thought we were playing good hockey game, and it’s like, you know what? I really felt like last year, when Holts came up, he really gave this team a rallying cry, and I thought, ‘You know what? He’s earned the right to stay in there and fight through this, and hopefully, we’ll rally and get some goals back for him.’ ”
Likewise, Holtby and Michal Neuvirth shouldn’t freak out given that Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis was at Verizon Center for Sunday’s game. Immediately the Roberto Luongo to the Caps speculation began, fueled by the NBC broadcast throwing out possible trade combinations.
I was told the Caps and Canucks haven’t had a single discussion about Luongo. That’s not to say Gillis was in town on vacation, but don’t spend too much time inventing deals that involve Luongo coming to Washington.
Alex Ovechkin had an assist Sunday and is up to four points on the season. Still no even-strength goals, but Oates offered a glowing review of his captain’s play against the Penguins.
“I thought played great,” he said. Better than Friday’s game vs. the Philadelphia Flyers, which Oates called Ovechkin’s best of the season?
“Yeah, way better: more touches, more involved,” he said. “He was skating better. More physical. He was involved every shift.”
Tomas Vokoun didn’t beat the Caps. Yes, he won against his former team, but it wasn’t like the Penguins goaltender was the reason.
“We got some good shots, some good looks, he made some good saves,” Brouwer said. “We obviously know him very well from playing with him last year and we were trying to exploit his weaknesses, but he stood tall. He played a good game today.”
Or, as Oates said, “He played good.”
Vokoun finished with 21 saves on 24 shots. The 36-year-old was happy after the victory but vindictive about teaching his former team a lesson or anything.
“I’d be lying if I say I don’t want to win,” Vokoun said. “Obviously, I do, but I had a great time here, honestly. Sometimes players leave with bad taste in their mouth and stuff like that. People were great to me here. I really enjoyed living here and playing, so except when I’m playing against them I wish them the best, so I’m happy we won today but I hope they do well next game.”
One goal Vokoun allowed was just the worst kind of bounce for a goaltender.
Early in the second period, Carlson dumped the puck into the offensive zone from just beyond the red line. As Vokoun went behind the net to retrieve it as physics would recommend, the puck banked off a stanchion and into the empty net.
The same kind of thing happened to Vokoun several years ago at the Chicago Blackhawks.
“They’re rare, but it happens,” he said. “Thankfully, we won. I remember that game in Chicago, we lost. This one doesn’t feel as bad.”
Carlson brushed off his first goal of the season as a “lucky play.” He didn’t know it went in until he heard the goal horn and cheers.
“Yeah I was skating to the bench,” he said. “I didn’t have a clue.”
Video of the goal: