Washington Re-Capitals: Week Five

And after the high of last week, we got rudely dropkicked down to Earth with a two game loss streak against Montreal (6-4, regulation) and Dallas (4-3, overtime). The Great Canadian Road Trip ended with the Capitals going 2-2-0, and while the Stars kicked our butts at home, we can rest easy knowing that we don’t see either of them again until the Capitals return to Montreal on the 19th of November. With a slight dent in their home record, the Capitals kick off a four game homestand this week.

Can the Capitals make the best of home field advantage? Or, like One Direction, will we be left waiting for them to go on the road again?

Status Cup-date

Record: 5-4-3 (Home: 3-1-2 / Away: 2-3-1)

Standing: 6th Metropolitan / 10th Eastern

Goals For: 46

Goals Against: 47

Team Leaders:

  • Goals: Alex Ovechkin (10)
  • Assists: Nicklas Backstrom (12)
  • Points: Evgeny Kuznetsov (17)
  • PIM: Evgeny Kuznetsov (16)

Game Recap-ital(s)

1st November: Washington Capitals @ Montreal Canadiens, 7:30pm EDT (L, 6-4)

The Capitals have handed out three first NHL goals so far this season, over eleven games played — the first to Par Lindholm (10/13 vs TOR), the second to Evan Bouchard (10/25 vs EDM), and the third to open the scoring in Montreal to 2018 3rd overall selection Jesperi Kotkaniemi, his second point of the season and his first goal of the night. Apparently once the Goaldroughtkaniemi broke, the shooting percentage just leapt on up from 0% on to 50%. Hockey season is the season of giving, and Braden Holtby is a kind, wonderful man.

Remember how I said Carey Price having a great night would make the difference here? I was wrong. Price got the W, but only saved 27 of 31 shots, while Holtby inexplicably saved 38 of 43 shots for a higher save percentage, but much lower faith in his own defense. Forty-three shots. FORTY-THREE SHOTS. What is the Washington Capitals defense doing? Brooks Orpik wasn’t there, which gladdened my heart, but what was this mess? I can’t imagine Orpik being there would’ve improved matters any (we probably would’ve lost 11-4 instead), but wow. Damn.

Anyway, I’m supposed to be giving you positives, so let’s talk about Lars Eller, everyone’s favorite Medium Dane, who tried his absolute best to get his goalie and his team the W. The first of his goals came at 6:16 into the first period, to tie the game after Kotkaniemi’s career first, off assists from Matt Niskanen and Chandler Stephenson. The rest of the first was surprisingly uneventful — after Gallagher and Kuznetsov took matching roughing penalties eight and a half minutes in, there wasn’t any special teams action until the last four minutes of the second.

The second period, on both sides of the ice, was an absolute bloodbath — Brendan Gallagher scored twice in the first three minutes of the period, earning himself and Tomas Tatar, former Detroit Red Wing, multipoint nights and putting Les Habitantes ahead, 3-1.

And who should come to our rescue but our dear old firefighter werewolf, Alexander Ovechkin, scoring his seventeenth goal in twenty-three career games against Carey Price, his first of the night. Less than a minute later, the Eye of the Tiger struck again — Lars Eller and Brett Connolly combined for an absolute beauty of a goal, tying the game at three goals apiece.

For five minutes, there was silence.

And then Ovi, master of the multigoal game, struck again to put the Capitals ahead by one going into the second intermission.

It is important to note, in the interest of transparency, that I had hope during the second intermission. Ovi had come seconds from turning that two goal game into a hatty, and I and many others hoped that the elusive Dadtrick would finally become a reality.

We were wrong.

Holtby’s wonderful denial of Max Domi and extrajudiciary discipline of Charles Hudon and Michal Kempny risking his moneymaker for the boys gave us unearned confidence.

Silence is never a good thing, and the scoresheet remained unchanged until 16:56 into the third period, when Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored his second of the season off assists from Lehkonen and Mete to tie the game at four. At this point, hope was still alive.

And then Max Domi scored, with 12 seconds left in the game. The Caps pulled Holtby for an extra attacker, hoping to score a fifth goal and send the game to overtime. The Caps are good at overtime (kind of). The Caps can do that! It was a spectacular plan, except for the fact that it didn’t work. Joel Armia scored on an empty net two seconds later, and that was it.

There was simply no time.

3rd November: Dallas Stars @ Washington Capitals, 7:00pm EDT (OTL, 4-3)

The Capitals went full East Coast Sharks this week and only allowed one goal by the first line (yay) but allowed three goals by such Illustrious Names as Tyler Pitlick, Jason Dickinson, and the ghost of Jason Spezza in a 4-3 overtime loss at Capital One Arena. Once again proving that John Carlson’s plus-minus stat was the sacrifice that won them the Cup, Johnny C ended the night in the negatives for the fourth time since Washington vs. Vancouver on the 22nd of October. Plus-minus is meaningless, I know, and I hate it with all my soul, but the numbers are where the numbers are. At this point, a very realistic possibility we should consider is that Jay Beagle has cursed the Caps. There’s too much evidence.

Let’s get down to the deets, shall we?

The Stars were without Alexander Radulov, Marc Methot, and Connor Crrick, due to injury, but kept roughly the same roster as their win in Toronto, which should’ve been a warning. They played Bishop rather than Khudobin, which should’ve been a warning. But, as we all know, the only team in this league that knows what a warning is is the Carolina Hurricanes and that’s because they love their warning flags. The Capitals, as always, remained delightfully, blissfully ignorant and rolled into this game with their hearts on their sleeves and bright smiles on their faces, ready to get Alex Ovechkin another multigoal game but lose in the process.

The first period was awful. The Stars scored twice (Spezza from Gemel Smith at 10:51, and Tyler Pitlick scored unassisted ten seconds later), the Caps’ lone power play of the period (Blake Comeau off two minutes for slashing) was ineffective, and the Capitals went back into the locker room for first intermission two in the hole and very upset about it.

The second period was when the Capitals really came to play. Thirty-eight seconds in, Chaotic Garden Gnome Nicklas Backstrom saw a goal in his future and took the opportunity by the horns. This goal also marked Andre Burakovsky’s first point as a second liner this season (good job Andre!) and got Michal Kempny on the scoreboard for the first time since the shootout loss to Florida on the 19th of October.

(By the way, feel free to get way too excited about two Kempny points in two weeks, though. Kempny’s career high is 10 points in 53 NHL games last season, and although the majority of them came with Chicago, he scored those ten points with nearly three minutes less of ice time a night than he’s getting this season.)

The goal didn’t go unanswered — halfway into the second, Jamie Benn scored on assists from Spezza and Nichushkin, scoring his eleventh point in thirteen games. For all the criticism of the Stars that’s been floating around the Interwebs this season, you can’t give Benn or Seguin an inch of space or they’ll take a mile, and that’s if you’re lucky. If you’re not lucky, they’ll worm a marathon out of you and you’ll be none the wiser.

Thankfully, two minutes later, our third line came to play — Brett Connolly scored on assists from Eller and Jaskin, who proved that his promotion to the third line was well deserved and should be rewarded. The real hero of this goal is Connolly — Eller’s deflection may have made it in, but it’s Connolly who spots the puck, thinks quick enough to deflect it, and picks the right angle. With Bishop so far out of position, this was more or less an empty net goal, but Conno made it all possible.

Thank you, Conno, you absolute wizard.

Here’s a slow-mo replay of that goal, because it’s truly unbelievable.

To close out my “I love Brett Connolly” essay, I’ll leave you with this thought from Isabelle.

The second period ended with the Capitals trailing Dallas 3-2, despite drawing only one penalty to Dallas’ two (Holtby for high-sticking and Oshie for tripping), and full of hope that a productive third period could earn them the regulation win that they’ve been chasing since they played Vancouver on the 22nd. (Again, we’ve gone 1-2-1 since Jay Beagle’s ring presentation. Is no one considering curses here?)

Unfortunately, that was not to be — despite a beautiful goal by Kuznetsov, Oshie and Backstrom to tie the game at three, the Capitals seemed fated to go to overtime for the fifth time this season. Overtime has been a mixed reviews spot for the team — their win-loss record in games that went to OT was .500 going into overtime against Dallas. Suffice it to say, everyone was hoping that this overtime was when the Capitals would turn the sinking ship around. After two shootouts in the past month, one ending in a win and another in a loss, nobody was keen on heading to the shootout again, especially not when our shootout order is… well, let’s just call it magical. Magical could be good or bad, right?

But, as we all know now, Jason Dickinson, he of the second period interference penalty, scored to extend Dallas’ win streak to three games, and the Capital’s loss streak gained another marker to take us up to two. With next week’s schedule being as packed as it is, maybe it’s a good thing that the Capitals won’t be seeing the three to four day breaks they’ve had recently, but given that a two day break between games looked like this… I don’t know what to hope for.

Roster Spot Musical Chairs

Notable transactions this week include:

  • To IR: Brooks Orpik (lower body injury)
  • To Waivers: Nathan Walker (sorry buddy)

Next Week’s Games

  • 5th November: Edmonton Oilers @ Washington Capitals, 7:00pm EST
  • 7th November: Pittsburgh Penguins @ Washington Capitals, 7:30pm EST
  • 9th November: Columbus Blue Jackets @ Washington Capitals, 7:00pm EST
  • 11th November: Arizona Coyotes @ Washington Capitals, 5:00pm EST

Weather Forecast

Next week is the busiest so far this season — the Caps haven’t had a four game week yet, and given how they’ve done with extended breaks so far (not well), I’m actually happy for it. These four games close out a five game homestand that started against Dallas, so it’s essential to bulk up the impressive home record a little more before the Capitals go back on the road.

The Edmonton Oilers pose a little more of a threat than they would on paper — former Capital Alex Chiasson is on a hot streak that can’t be ignored. (Side note: a PTO signing cracking your top six cannot look good to your players.) But will the Oilers keep their pace or collapse in the face of the Caps’ challenge? The Caps on the road have been different animals than the Caps at home (anemic comes to mind, as well as confusing and terrifying), and the Caps have a chance to split the season series. They should take it.

The Penguins, who play the Devils today before swinging through D.C on the 7th, make their way to Newark in the midst of a three loss streak during which they’ve been outscored 14 to 5 by the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s right, they lost to the New York Islanders twice in the last five days. That’s got to burn, even without the 5-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on the 3rd to put the sprinkles on the metaphorical flaming bag of dog poop. The Penguins are hungry, coming into D.C., as they always are, and we haven’t beaten them since Round 2 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Everybody’s got something to prove. This game better not go to overtime, but I have a terrible feeling that it might.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are determinedly keeping their heads over the .500 waterline, and with games against the Ducks and Stars before their field trip to Capital One Arena, they’ve got opportunities galore to pick up at least one good quality win (against the Ducks, obviously, because John Gibson can’t play like a god amongst preschoolers forever). However, besides Cam Atkinson and Artemi Panarin, not a single person on their team has broken ten points on the season yet. Josh Anderson and Zach Werenski are close, with Duclair, Dubois, and Foligno waiting in the wings, but with offense, defense (every defender but Murray and Nutivaara are negative in both relative Corsi For and Fenwick For), and goaltending messier than the Capitals’ (Bobrovsky and Korpisalo both have GSAAs of over -3, which is far from ideal), the Caps may have a chance to swipe the floor out from under the Blue Jackets.

As Sunday comes to a close, the Arizona Coyotes are sitting pretty on a five win streak during which they’ve outscored their opponents 24 to 7, always by at least one goal, but usually by three or more. This run of luck, however, has come against the Blue Jackets, the Canucks, the Lightning, the Senators and the Hurricanes — two very good teams with bad luck on offense (the Lightning and the Hurricanes), two aggressively medium teams (the Blue Jackets and the Canucks), and, well… I guess the Senators were there too. While an overall goal differential of +11 and a win streak that not so coincidentally began with the return of First Line Center Alex Galchenyuk from injury spell a bright future for this team, could the Caps escape being blinded? We know Connor McDavid’s got some shades he might be willing to lend out.

This Week In Review

I’m gonna be frank with you all, because I haven’t lied yet and don’t intend to: this was a shitty week to be a Capitals fan, except for the fact that Brooks Orpik needed an extended vacation, allowing us to see Bowey and Djoos on the ice at the same time. When I told a friend this was a dream of mine, they laughed in my face. Either way, I’m happy to see the baby Caps get an opportunity to play that doesn’t come at the expense of each other. There will be growing pains, but there’s always some sort of pain in hockey. It might as well be for a good cause. And Reirden, who said that Bowey is making a good case for himself in Orpik’s absence, certainly thinks to think so.

Speaking of good causes — first line Jakub Vrana! Second line Andre Burakovsky!

Jakub Vrana proved his mettle in the Montreal game, as disappointing as it was overall, by scoring an assist on an Ovechkin goal, and sure, it was a secondary assist, but hey. The kid’s making moves, and the fact that he was in on a scoring play at all when competing against linemates like Ovechkin and Kuznetsov? That’s a pretty good sign. He got blown out harder than a toddler’s diaper in the Dallas game, sure, but everyone did. Plus minus doesn’t mean anything. Vrana was involved in two turnovers, however, which probably worry Reirden and co. a little more. Isabelle Khurshudyan got an impressive quote out of Reirden after the Dallas game — “We’re going through a situation right now where we’re giving players an opportunity with Wilson out, so guys are getting opportunities. Some are taking advantage of it, and some aren’t.” Personally, I think he had a tough game. Sometimes that happens. I’d hope to see him in the 1RW spot again against Edmonton, but I guess we’ll have to wait until the lineup is released to see where he lands. I don’t see who else amongst the younger Capitals is left untested in that 1RW spot other than Andre Burakovsky, Chandler Stephenson and… potentially returning from injury this week, known Barry Trotz impersonator, Travis Boyd.

Speaking of Burakovsky, Andre is one point away from cracking the Capitals’ top ten in scoring, which isn’t impressive, with only two points on the season, but his Corsi For is above fifty (52.2%, to be exact) and it’s climbing back up as he gets more ice time. While he’s still a negative on the Fenwick front, it’s only got a tenth’s place digit. He notched a primary assist on Nicklas Backstrom’s goal against Dallas, which means he’s more than cap-able of keeping up with the Capitals’ second line. He’s got the skill and the speed to do it and his work with his mental coach seems to be paying off after a rough patch to start the season. Breathe easy, Capitals fans of all genders — Burra is coming back around.

To quote Reirden again, via Khurshudyan, “the difficulty about being [a] top six player in this league is that you have to be on every night and that consistency [from] shift to shift is huge and that’s what makes elite players”. Reirden went on to say that part of success in a top six position is getting the opportunity, but that learning and growing from it is equally important, and that space is easier to give a young, untested player who might fail or prove to not be ready for the role you put them in around Game 11 or 12, but not so much when Game 70 rolls around. The important thing to note from Reirden’s postgame interviews, however, is that he was happier with the Dallas game than the loss to Montreal, and was happy with the effort he saw, even if it didn’t end in the W.

The Montreal game was harsh, yes, and it tested patience and courage and a whole lot of other things, but reminded many people of something we’d forgotten while basking in the glow of the Cup win. This team is so ridiculously powered by spite and the concept of being underdogs that a comeback situation, even if it falls flat every so often, is where they feel most at home. Of course, we as fans would rather they got used to winning more and stopped pulling these shenanigans, but there’s a whole 70 games left this season. There’s more than enough time for shenanigans like the Montreal loss to fade into our memory and become something worth laughing about. Where I’m starting, if you need some guidance: Brendan Gallagher didn’t get a hat trick. Good riddance, rat boy. Brad Marchand will always be better at being what you aspire to be than you are and you’ll just have to live with that for the rest of your life.

I guess the lesson we learned this week is that, when faced with losing by a small margin in overtime and getting our asses kicked in regulation, the fans and the team both prefer neither. The Capitals haven’t won in regulation since the 5-2 rout of the Canucks, and they’re long overdue for the tide to turn their way.

With four opportunities heading in their direction, seizing the day a few times wouldn’t be the worst idea.

(Picture Credit: SportingNews.com)

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