The Washington Capitals started off their season on the right foot (skate?) with a 4-3 victory over their division rivals, the Carolina Hurricanes. It was a terrific way to start off the season. Here’s what worked for the Capitals in their season opener, and what didn’t work.
1. The third line of Brooks Laich, Jason Chimera, and Joel Ward did a terrific job. Whenever they were in the game, they moved the puck well and were able to create scoring chances with relative ease. I was a little worried about this line at first because I wasn’t sure how well Joel Ward’s defense-first approach as the right wing would blend with Laich and Chimera. I like Ward, but he wouldn’t have been my first choice for an ideal right wing on this line. Huge props to Joel Ward for proving me wrong. Ward fits right in with the line because he plays the boards so well, and as he proved on Chimera’s goal last night, he is an underrated passer.
2. The Capitals offense showed exactly what I wanted to see: That they could still be electric while focusing more on defense. They took smart risks, and the breakaways that the Capitals used to always allow in recent years did not happen. Semin proved how deadly he is when he gets on a breakaway with his goal in the second period courtesy of a beautiful pass from John Carlson. Ward took a risk with his pass to Chimera for his second goal, but it was one that definitely paid off. All night long, I saw the Capitals moving the puck and taking risks when appropriate. The offense looked extremely efficient, and I hope this continues because when an offense is efficient and moves the puck like the Capitals did last night, the goals will come.
3. The Carlson-Alzner defensive line last night did an outstanding job. They wound up letting in one goal at the end, but other than that, they did their job as the shutdown line. They forced the Canes into taking bad shots and did a great job at keeping the Canes chances in the middle of the ice to a minimum. What impressed me the most was how well both of them moved the puck while the Capitals were in their attack zone. Rarely can a team afford to have their two best defensemen on one line, but thanks to the Capitals’ depth, they can afford to do it.
4. The power play lines took a while to get going, but once they did, they were incredibly efficient. They moved the puck very well in the third period and overtime, which I was pleasantly surprised to see. After last year, I think it’s safe to say that going 2 for 5 is a good start.
5. Alex Ovechkin is no longer the puck-hug-one-dimensional-sniper that he has been known to be. He’s starting to do the things that the great captains do. He’s more than willing to help in any way he can. He’s doing all the things that you can’t measure on a stat sheet: forcing bad passes, getting takeaways, etc. He might not be the goal scorer that he was, but he is still a threat to score 40-50 goals pretty much every year and now he’s a much more complete player. I’ve been hard on him before due to his questionable leadership, and I’m proud to say that he’s proved me wrong. I can’t think of a better guy to captain this team.
What didn’t work:
1. The PK last night was unimpressive to say the least. They forced Michael Neuvrith to bail them out for most of the night. The first Canes goal was scored way too easily, and they should have seen that play coming from a mile away. You can’t let teams pass the puck around like that and expect to kill penalties. The stats say that they killed 2 of 4 penalties, but that doesn’t tell you the whole story. Most of that was thanks to Neuvy. The Canes were able to stay in the game thanks to their power play goals. To be fair, the PK has undergone a little rebuilding with new members and new lines, so they will hopefully get better as the season progresses. If they don’t, the penalty kill unit could be a problem that haunts the Capitals all season long.
2. I do not expect the Capitals to score on every single power play. That is simply not possible. What I do expect is to see them consistently take shots and take advantage of a man advantage. In the first period, they had two power plays, and didn’t do anything with them. They didn’t move the puck like they should have, they weren’t aggressive, and they weren’t taking advantage of having a 5 on 4. The Capitals power play still needs to be more consistent, because if they can consistently take shots and create chances, even if you don’t score during power plays, you’ll tire out the other team pretty quickly.
3. The Capitals have to stop taking stupid penalties. It’s that simple. It gives the other team a power play, and that is never something that you want to do. Carlson’s penalty after Chimera’s goal, while it might have been a bit nit-picky, was still pretty boneheaded. You can’t put the puck over the glass, even if you’re celebrating. That’s common sense. Semin’s penalty at the end of the game was unacceptable. It was deliberate and worst of all, he really could have hurt someone. Boarding is very dangerous, and he’s lucky he didn’t get a major for that. I will say props to the Caps for backing Semin up in the scrum after the boarding call. All I can say is I would never want to meet Alzner or Laich in a dark alley. They are vicious.
Overall, I was impressed with the win, but they are some things that need to be worked on.