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 4: DEVILS 3, CAPS 2 (OT)
NEWARK, N.J. | Let’s start with this: Once the Caps forced overtime, it felt like a victory. There are no moral victories in the NHL, but coming back from a two-goal deficit to get the first point of the season was one heck of an accomplishment for this team.
“It was important. I don’t think we got any lucky bounces with us,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “We’ve been working hard for every chance we got out there. It was good that we came back this game and at least got one point.”
Coach Adam Oates called his team “fragile” after Thursday night’s loss and said Friday night that he read Troy Brouwer’s comments questioning the work ethic. The Caps needed that point, that comeback, to show them they could be rewarded for hard work.
“It’s very encouraging,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “We’ve been a pretty weak-minded team the last few games so tonight was the first night we showed a little bit of resilience and actually battled.”
“Fragile” and “weak-minded” aren’t ways you want your team to be described. That’s why Oates was proud the Caps didn’t “crumble” against the Devils.
“We showed some resilience, some character,” right wing Joel Ward said.
All that said, the Caps should have won the game outright. And it should not have even taken overtime.
Suddenly undisciplined New Jersey took five third-period penalties, including two for too many men on the ice and one for abuse of officials.
Washington got two different five-on-three power plays. It scored on one, with perfect puck movement from Mike Green to Ward to Mike Ribeiro for an easy tap-in.
“Obviously five-on-three power play, you definitely want to score on those, for sure, because those can be game-changers,” Ward said.
With so many chances in the third period on the power play, including several times Ward had the tying goal on his stick on the doorstep, the Caps left at least a goal on the board.
That they were able to get one was a positive.
“We had a chance on power play, and power plays can either give you momentum or it can take momentum away from you,” Ribeiro said. “And a lot of times we couldn’t generate anything. Goalie made some big saves, we stuck with it, we stuck with it and we were able to score there and come back in the game.”
The Caps were 1-for-8 on the power play, falling to 3-for-20 (15 percent) for the season. That’s not a good thing when …
The penalties keep piling up. For the third time in four games, the Caps took two penalties in quick order and gave their opponent a five-on-three power play.
And for the third time in four games, the opponent scored. There was nothing goaltender Michal Neuvirth could do when Patrik Elias slammed the puck home.
“We’ve just got to stop taking penalties, I guess,” Backstrom said. “But it was the same for their team.”
On a night the Caps showed vast improvement, especially in their own end, giving up another power play goal and one right after one of their power plays expired didn’t help.
“Our five-on-five play was great. I thought we were doing a great job on the forecheck,” Alzner said. “Our special teams killed us again. They haven’t been good at all.”
The penalty kill is 16-for-24 this season.
Alzner and defense partner John Carlson were split up, but that didn’t stop Carlson’s struggles. The 23-year-old who just signed a six-year, $23.8 million contract in September, was on the ice for all three Devils goals.
Carlson has actually been on the ice for the past seven goals against and 12 of the league-worst 17 the Caps allowed through four games. That stat courtesy of Sky Kerstein of 106.7 The Fan.
Some of that is bad timing, but the Devils’ first goal was a case of Carlson not hustling back when Jacob Josefson and Stephen Gionta had a two-on-one break with Tomas Kundratek back.
Brouwer raced to get back into the play while Carlson was lagging. He made little effort to stop Josefson until it was too late. Soon after, Gionta had an open shot and scored.
For Kundratek, it was a tough break.
“[Josefson] kind of walked around me,” said Kundratek, who was playing just his eighth NHL game. “I turned around, poked the puck away and it landed right on the other guy’s stick and they score on it. … It was bad luck.”
Carlson played with John Erskine at New Jersey. Alzner played with Green. It remains to be seen what the pairings will be for Sunday afternoon’s game against the Buffalo Sabres.
Ribeiro said after the overtime loss: “Obviously there’s some players like me, I can play better. Ovi can play better.” Alex Ovechkin still has just one secondary assist on the season.
And he’s at least partially responsible for Ilya Kovalchuk’s game-winner. The captain was carrying the puck up the right wing when he lost footing on his right skate and coughed it up. He wasn’t quick to get back and chaos ensued in the Caps’ defensive end.
A few passes later, Kovalchuk beat Neuvirth, who didn’t even see the puck go in.
“Yeah, I’ve seen that before,” Oates said of Kovalchuk scoring. “I used to like it.”