CHICAGO — The Capitals surrendered three unanswered goals in the third period to lose 6-4 to the Chicago Blackhawks in the season-opener Tuesday. They almost spoiled the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup banner-raising celebration, but Washington’s defense failed to make Mikhail Grabovski’s hat trick and the team’s three power-play goals stand up.
Here are a few thoughts and observations about the game:
Goalie Braden Holtby was characteristically hard on himself about three goals, including defenseman Johnny Oduya’s game-winner with 6 minutes, 7 seconds remaining. It was a sour turn after Holtby made several difficult saves to keep the Capitals in the game.
He had a clear look at Oduya, who shot the puck from the left point. But forward Joel Ward deflected it as he tried to close out Oduya, and that was enough to affect Holtby. The puck went in off Holtby’s weak glove hand.
“I knew it was going to be kind of a knuckler, but it kind of just sunk out of my sight,” he said. “I don’t know why. I have to watch on the replay why. It just completely fooled me.
“I just kind of lost vision on it,” Holtby continued. “I was not expecting it to hit me in my glove there, that’s for sure. I was expecting it to go well wide.”
Holtby was pleased with his rebound control but insisted he wasn’t sharp overall.
“The first one (a rebound from close range by forward Brandon Bollig), I know I can get over there and get my blocker on top of that and give them nothing,” Holtby said. “Then the fourth one (game-tying goal by forward Brandon Saad), as well, a long pass like that gives me plenty of time to react and skate over there, and I just kind of didn’t get a very good push and got a little sprawled out and not on top of the puck. Those two are two I feel I should have.”
The Capitals took a 4-3 lead on two power-play goals to in the first 5:16 of the third period, but those good vibes dissipated after they failed to tie the game during a five-on-three advantage that lasted 1:26 later in the third.
On that two-man advantage, they had four shots on goal, two shots that were blocked and one that missed the target. Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford played his best in that decisive sequence and left the Caps full of regret.
“I saw him make a couple of good saves, and I saw that a couple of the one-timers that got blocked,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said. “I think in a sense they got lucky because they went in the stands. Sometimes when a guy blocks a shot it stays on the ice, and that helps the power play because now they’re moving around, where if a guy blocks a shot and it happens (to go) in the stands, we have to reset and we have to win a draw again. That hurt us a bit, lost a little momentum from that.”
Added forward Nicklas Backstrom: “They did a good job blocking and the goalie was making saves there. We should have scored there on the five-on-three.”
Pressed on the matter, though, the Capitals were encouraged by their power play. They generated three goals on six opportunities against a Blackhawks penalty kill that ranked best in the NHL last season. Washington passed the puck well, created open shots and took advantage of the attention the Blackhawks paid forward Alex Ovechkin.