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. My hope is that this can serves as something of a postgame notebook, with analysis that you can’t get in the paper or in online stories.
GAME 2: JETS 4, CAPS 2
What does it say about Marcus Johansson, first-line left wing, when he only plays one 50-second shift in the third period? Hint: It’s not a good sign.
Coach Adam Oates played 19 NHL seasons and he’s not one to throw his own players under the bus. It’s part of the reason he’s so well-respected.
But he’s also not afraid to explain decisions like sitting Johansson, unlike the previous coach, who would talk about “line matching” and the like.
“I felt he could play better,” Oates said of Johansson. “You hope every guy uses his strengths and one of Marcus’ strengths is his skating ability, and I didn’t think he was skating. I was looking for a spark, something else.”
Johansson had another brutal neutral-zone turnover in the loss to Winnipeg. This time, unlike Saturday night at Tampa Bay, it did not lead directly to a goal.
But it remains to be seen how long the Johansson with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom experiment will last. Hey, it could be different come Wednesday’s practice.
When Oates said he was looking for a “spark,” he got it in the form of Matt Hendricks. Hendricks finished off the Caps’ most beautiful play of the game, nay, season when he scored off tic-tac-toe passing from Ovechkin to Backstrom to him on the doorstep.
“Obviously when he scored, I thought it was a big goal and I thought it was going to really get us going,” Oates said.
Hendricks then saw some time on the first line. Why not, right? And when the Caps were lifeless and the crow was listless, the 30-year-old dropped the gloves not once but twice.
“He’s a good player. He fights but a lot of the fighters in this league they couldn’t step in to the first-line role,” right wing Joey Crabb said. “I know that’s not his natural position, obviously, but when he does, he complements them just from his hard work. He can still make plays.”
Hendricks isn’t a heavyweight, he’s a scrapper. And he doesn’t fight just for the sake of it.
When he fought Jim Slater, the Caps had just fallen behind 4-1.
“I want to get the crowd into it, I want to give them some form of energy, get the guys on the bench going,” Hendricks said. “That’s the reason it’s in hockey games.”
That’s the reason, among others, that Hendricks is on this hockey team. Fighting isn’t all he does, and it’s not even what he does best.
But when you talk about “energy” players, Hendricks delivers.
“That’s the type of guy he is. That’s what I heard about him,” Oates said. “He showed it again tonight. He’s willing to win at all costs.”
It took Hendricks 30 games last season to get his first goal. That was when he was talking about wanting to get to 10 for the season.
After Game Two, he’s well on his way.
“Hendy, in my opinion, always plays good. I think everybody can start to realize that,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “He does it all in my opinion. He’s got great skills, he’s tough, he can skate. That was nice to see Hendy going.”
Ovechkin registered his first point of the season on Hendricks’ goal but was not much of a factor the rest of the game. Often, the captain would skate to the left wing, where he’s used to playing, an adjustment that he concedes will take time.
“I feel much better, but you know, I need more time, I think,” Ovechkin said.
Oates’ initial review wasn’t glowing, but he also didn’t give in to the temptation of ending the Ovechkin right wing experiment after two games.
“I thought he played fine on the right wing. I think he still ended up on the left side and had some rushes,” the coach said. “I would like him to stay there. But obviously I know he wants success as well as we do. But it is a team game and he needs other guys on the team to help him. … He’s going to get his power-play touches always. I thought he played fine.”
For the Caps to get more consistent offense going, Ovechkin might need to upgrade his play from “fine.”
You could argue that defenseman John Carlson was responsible for more goals against Tuesday night than goaltender Braden Holtby. Goal No. 1 went in off Carlson’s skate. Goal No. 2 came as a result of Carlson’s penalty for lofting the puck over the glass. Goal No. 3 happened when Carlson was burned getting back by Evander Kane.
At his peak, Carlson is an aggressive, snarly defenseman with offensive pop. But he was not at his best against the Jets.
None of the Caps’ defensemen played during the lockout. Have to wonder how much of a role, if any, that’s playing in the defensive-zone struggles so far
Holtby whiffed on Andrew Ladd’s power-play goal, but it was hard to fault him for any of the others. It was much like the season opener, when he was a victim of some poor play in front of him.
Holtby has a 5.04 goals-against average and .863 save percentage, and yet he’s not one of the Caps’ biggest problems.
“You know, obviously, whenever you let in 10 goals in two games, obviously it’s not good, but at the same time, I feel fine,” Holtby said. “When you break down the goals, they’re not trends or overly bad goals, other than the second one tonight [by Ladd], I felt. Myself, too, I’m trying to get adapted to everything, and I want to keep improving and getting better and learning from these two games.”
Oates said Holtby “fought the puck” early on but regrouped after that.